Bad banking - Chris Cork - Monday, March 07, 2011

Source :

An indicator of the health of the nation – or at least of the ability to soldier on regardless – is provided by the ATM system. We take for granted that those of us with those little plastic cards and a current account can go to any one of thousands of banks across the country at any time of day or night – and take money out. We can pay our utility bills at some ATM points and some of the banks are offering payment of utilities online as well. We are seeing ATMs out posted to shopping malls and bus stations and IDPs are issued the magic cards in order to draw money. They have become ubiquitous, and will eventually become the principal point of sale for retail banking services. Few of us would think of the technology that sits behind the cash point but I can assure you (because I looked it up) that it is both complex and expensive and requires a high level of technological expertise to keep it in working order.

When the ‘failed state’ argument gets waved in front of me I often point to the ATM system as a mark of our failure to fail. It is robust, reliable (mostly) and is one of the very few places where we form an orderly queue without being beaten into line by heavies wielding electronic cattle prods. But sometimes the system fails, as has happened to me recently prompting me to go inside the bank and attempt that much trickier interface than the one we have with a mute machine – that of human to human.

For many years I have used the same branch of the bank which for legal reasons I cannot name so we will call it ‘Bank Aitch’ to stay on the right side of the libel lawyers. The staff were always friendly enough, and helpful when necessary. They were particularly helpful a year ago when all foreigner accounts were frozen while our identities were verified. The wheel came off when the bank in its infinite wisdom decided to move my account to another branch – and did not tell me. The first I knew of it was being politely told that the cheques I was depositing and cashing would be the last such as this branch will no longer be accepting your cheques. We have merged with another branch and your account has been transferred, said the slightly apologetic bank clerk. The branch to which I am relocated is almost a mile further down the road (measured it on Google Earth) and inconvenient to say the least. Of considerably greater inconvenience is that my bank sort code has changed – which means that I had to contact my bank in UK and then get my wife to immediately do the paperwork that was necessary at that end. Then I had to contact a magazine in Nepal that I occasionally work for to tell them that they could not wire my fee to me because my bank had shifted my account. The woe went on.

‘But Head Office sent you a letter’ plead the bank. Well if they did I never got it. As an example of poor customer service it was a classic. ‘Head Office’ may well have sent me a letter, but the merger of one branch with another is not something that happens overnight and it would have not been beyond reasonable expectation that somebody at the bank – where I am visiting at least twice weekly – actually took the trouble to tell me about it. Wonderful things, ATMs. Great service. Shame that the humans behind them cannot deliver similar.

The writer is a British social worker settled in Pakistan. Email:

No comments:

Post a Comment