Posted tagged ‘banks’

Pinpoint accuracy

January 28, 2012

Observed and overheard this week inside a branch of  a well-known bank.

Customer (man in his early 40s or so) to bank employee: ‘You’ve sent me a new bank card but when I enter the number it doesn’t work.’
BE to C: ‘You mean the PIN number?’
C to BE: ‘No. The number if I want to use a cash machine.’
BE to C: ‘That’s the PIN number. Put the card in here and try it.’

The customer inserts the card and a rather histrionic pushing of keys with expansive hand and arm movement follows.

C to BE: ‘See, it doesn’t work.’
BE to C: ‘Could you enter it again.’

More histrionic key pushing.

BE to C: ‘Er, sir, you entered a completely different number this time.’
C to BE: ‘Well of course, it would be far too risky to keep using the same one.’

I had to conclude that this customer was not yet ready for a bank account, and probably should be kept away from sharp objects.

It’s a banker’s life

December 27, 2010

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.

Bonus question

December 11, 2010

It is sometimes remarkable how certain groups of people are unable, or maybe unwilling, to understand their own circumstances and to relate these appropriately to the interests of the society in which they live. In the current economic conditions and in the light of the decisions that have had to be taken to facilitate a recovery of the national economy, this is not the time to be claiming or receiving bonus payments on top of a salary, other than in most exceptional cases. Given that our financial institutions caused most of the problems for which the people as a whole will now have to pay, it is almost beyond belief that employees in these institutions are still in receipt of large bonus payments.

As we achieve a reasonable recovery from our current problems, and if at that point individuals can be identified who made a special contribution to that beyond the call of duty, then maybe a reward would be understandable. But right now it will seem to many taxpayers that they are having to face hardship in order (at least in part) to fund special payments for those who got us into the mess. Of course it is always more complex than that, but right now there is a social reality that employees in the financial institutions simply need to understand and accept. No bonuses should be paid, and any attempt to use the law to enforce payments should be faced down.

For the sake of balance, I should stress that I am not against incentive payments, which can make a valuable contribution to success. We should not allow our current crisis to create opposition to legitimate bonus schemes in the future. But making incentive payments at a time of corporate failure in the banks is madness, and accepting them demonstrates an unwillingness to play a part in our national recovery. This shouldn’t be happening.

Vox pop

October 20, 2009

Over the last three days I overheard two things that, in different ways, seemed to tell something about the times we’re in. The common element is banking.

First, overheard on Grafton Street, Dublin – teenager begging at the side of the road with the shout: ‘Any spare change for NAMA?’ [On second thoughts, maybe he really was collecting for NAMA…]

The second occasion was in a London cafe, where two middle aged ladies were in conversation as follows:

‘Do you remember our French neighbour, Monsieur Chouin?’
‘Yes, indeed.’
‘Do you remember I told you he had voted for the BNP [British National Party, see my previous post] at the European elections?’
‘Yes, terrible.’
‘Yesterday he told me it was all a big mistake, he thought it means “Banque Nationale de Paris”.’

Leaving aside the total weirdness of that exchange, I could not help wondering what would now be considered the lesser evil at the ballot box, a banker or a right wing extremist. I’d say it would be a close call.

A reprieve for ideology?

November 28, 2008

I have been very interested to observe the debates going on in Britain in the aftermath of the UK Government’s ‘Pre-Budget Report‘ that was issued earlier this week. When considered together with other measures and steps the government took previously, from the nationalisation of Northern Rock onwards, it has led some commentators to ask whether, in Britain, ‘Old Labour’ has returned and buried ‘New Labour’. And from that they conclude that old-fashioned ideology may be back, with a seriously redistributive party (Labour) battling it out with a free market one (Conservatives).

It’s hard to be sure about all this right now. After all, some of the ‘Old Labour’ measures were following the earlier lead of US President George W. Bush, not perhaps a socialist by anyone’s definition; and yet Bush spent more public money (and not just on Iraq) than any President in US history. And in any case, current times are just so – well, strange – that it is difficult to say that any pattern of behaviour we observe is really part of a pattern that can be reduced to ideology. I’ve been listening to senior UK government officials suggest they have (or think they have) a strategy for the financial and economic crisis, and it seems some are happy for this to be given an ideological slant by the media – but in reality there isn’t much ideology there, just a sense of desperation that something needs to be done to get things moving again, and this just happened to be the ‘something’ that came to mind.

In fact, I rather doubt that the ‘slash-taxes-now-and-much-more-taxation-later’ approach will achieve anything very significant. Taking a few pence off retail items (while knowing that this is for a limited time only) will not, I imagine, create a consumer boom, though it will have a strong (i.e. negative) effect on the exchequer. I just can’t see that working. Neither can I see much sense in UK opposition politicians screaming at their government to force the banks to lend more money, now that the taxpayer has given it to them. As I understood it, lending money where there were doubts about the ability of the debtor to re-pay is how we got where we are in the first place.

But leaving all that aside, I can’t see anything in this hotchpotch of policy-making and policy-opposing that has any real ideological profile. Which is a pity, in some ways, because I wouldn’t mind seeing someone step forward with proposals for resolving our current problems based on a frame of reference that is likely to produce calm consistency in decision-making. But for those who think that, after all this time, what is happening is the old cry for public ownership of the means of exchange, I would say don’t celebrate yet. Whatever may be happening, I seriously doubt anyone doing it had an open copy of Das Kapital in front of them.