It’s a banker’s life
Just over 38 years ago I embarked upon a brief career as a German banker, which in the end lasted only two years; at the end of that period I moved back to Ireland and became a law student at a Dublin university. But during those two years I sat behind a bank counter and dealt with customers in relation to such matters as foreign exchange and small loans. My bank opened to the public every weekday morning at 8 am and closed at 5 pm; except on Thursdays, when we closed at 6.30 pm. Chiefly, this allowed customers in full time employment to use our branch services. We had the usual German public holidays, but every year after Christmas we opened the branch again on December 27 (unless this fell on a weekend).
That was 38 years ago. Last Friday (Christmas Eve) I had to visit my bank in Dublin, as I needed to make an international payment by way of a transfer of funds. Stupidly I didn’t look at my watch and arrived at 9.45 am, and so had to wait for 15 minutes for the bank’s normal opening time. Once inside, I was asked to complete a rather long form, which the lady at the counter stamped, and I was then told to join another line for – well, to be honest, I have no idea what for. When I got to the top of the queue, the very polite gentleman at the counter told me he would have to send the form to another office of the bank. However, because it was Christmas Eve, this couldn’t be done until after Christmas, meaning December 30, as the bank would be closed until then. He was very willing to apologise for this, and hoped my payment wasn’t urgent, but, as he disarmingly put it, ‘such is life’. Indeed it is, if you’re dealing with a bank.
The Irish banks’ concept of service was pretty amazing when I opened my first Irish bank account in 1974, and it is astounding now. Even in Britain banks are now much more customer-focused, opening at times convenient to the public and with fewer bureaucratic restrictions. In Ireland we have not reached such insights yet, and the convenience of the customer is neither here nor there. As we have seen recently, new charges are introduced to penalise account holders without any explanation in public, and banks remain closed at times and on days when customers most need them. This is no longer acceptable, and I don’t particularly care if this is all because of some long standing agreement with the trade unions.
I should emphasise that my experience of individual bank employees has almost always been very good – it is not a personal issue, and I have no complaints about the willingness of bank officials to help. But now that the taxpayer owns most of the banks, I hope the government forces through the necessary reforms before releasing them back into private ownership. It is high time.