Archive for February, 2009


Tuesday, February 10th, 2009

In a high street near me there are a number of banks. The first one calls itself a bank, although it used to be a building society, however I once heard a cross customer say it couldn’t call itself a bank if it was “too small to handle coins” and “didn’t do foreign currency”. As it happens I once asked for some 50ps for parking at this bank and they tried to oblige but the place where the coins were kept was too small to get at and the cashier got his hand stuck, (in the till so to speak).

In my view this branch of this “not quite a bank” bank has other flaws. The code of conduct which must be taught at the School for Banks is very well practised here. It is the art of not catching the customer’s eye when having a nice chat and tantalisingly and deliberately never opening another till even when a child is screaming and all the old people have collapsed.

Like the cross man at the first “bank” I myself have had run-ins and small adventures at other banks in the town. The next bank was also once a building society but is now a “bank”. Surprisingly as it has no money and has been sold on several times until it hardly knows who owns it itself, it also always has a long queue.

The staff here have cleverly mastered at least page one of the personnel manual which states “All self-respecting employees go for coffee at 11am when it starts to get busy” and “staff-training is whenever we feel like it, sometimes on a Wednesday first-thing but not always”.

Before the recent banking mayhem this bank was re-fitted, (to increase the number of tellers you might think, but no), a large glass box was set-up in which you may be asked to sit [presumably under controlled conditions] to be told how to look after your finances, at a pre-arranged time, (ideally not 11am) should you still trust anyone in banking to be of assistance that is.

I recently attempted to pay in six cheques at this branch all at one go, and was frowned upon as apparently paying money in slows things up. I was informed that if this were to happen again I must write the sort code on the back of each cheque as it would “save me time”. I was also directed to the Quick 3-Step Pay-in System which I pointed out was not quick, writing on the back of my cheques would save the bank time but not me and I wasn’t in any case just paying in. On this occasion I wasn’t asked if there was anything else that could be done for me as already they felt they had done far too much. And I hadn’t even sat in the box. I am not popular at this branch.

Opposite this “bank” there is a real bank, in the sense that it hasn’t changed its name or logo, if that means anything; it might or not. It also has a quick-pay-in-system but one operated by a person and is clearly signed. To stretch her legs from time to time, and because she has few takers this person bobs along the line asking people if they are just paying in, in case they hadn’t seen the notice. This is usually done with extreme largesse, (also taught at the School for Banks), as if she were granting each and every customer a special favour and temporarily suspending all other important work in order to especially attend to their very own needs, but just this once mind. Or in case there is a simpleton in the queue.

You can also open new accounts at this desk when she is sitting not bobbing but not in your maiden name, even with birth, marriage, decrees nisi, utility bills, passports in fact all singing & dancing documentation, even though you have banked with this bank for 40 years, twenty five of which were actually in your maiden name. Money laundering you see. Let divorced women like me in and the floodgates will open.

Presumably because it is not keen to open new accounts to once-married women who are wanting to be themselves again this bank is trying to attract customers in other ways; by opening on Saturdays for instance, (an astonishing new idea, whatever happened to “Keep Saturday Sacred?”) and by allowing you to talk with a real local person instead of a star button in a foreign country.

My son has had dealings with yet another “bank”. This time a building society which doesn’t seem to pretend to be anything other than what it is, although it has the same convoluted rules and regulations. Wishing to withdraw money shortly after his 18th birthday he found his child account was blocked although he hadn’t yet received his new “grown-up” account card. And even with his old “child” card, his account number, his passport, his driving licence, (no cesspit emptying bill as he still lives at home……..would this have clinched it?) they simply wouldn’t budge. Normally when teenagers stand in banks with mothers making a fuss, they cringe, disassociate themselves and drag you away but he stood firm as even he could see how totally ludicrous this was. On Crimewatch you just don’t see teenage robbers demanding money with menaces brandishing passports & driving licenses accompanied by harassed middle-aged women.

Anyway, to return to the first point. Come to think of it I have never heard anyone answer YES to the “anything else I can do for you?” question. So I wonder what on earth else they do do? I think I have always assumed this pleasantry to be the British equivalent of the American “have a nice day” or a kind of auto-speak like “please enter your pin” and best quietly ignored. Perhaps they give you leaflets rather than just hope you will pick one up………that could be it; banks always have a lot of spare leaflets, although obviously no spare money.

I did once ask at the bank with the new glass box whether they did travel insurance and the girl gave me a leaflet. When I said this didn’t seem to help she suggested the travel agent opposite. I then tried the travel agent but they are only allowed to sell you insurance if you’ve booked a holiday with them, (money-laundering/equal opportunities/freedom of information/human rights/ the whole shebang?) but what this clever girl did was direct me back across the street to a place where miraculously I got cash, euros and travel insurance all in one wonderful fell swoop.

This was a proper bank at last. And in a high street near me. And one which, for my money, unlike all the other “banks” deserves propping up and special treatment.

And that also gave the correct answer to the original question. It is obviously not a polite “No thank you” but “Can you direct me to the Post Office?”

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