Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Financial Antique

I am sick to the teeth of British banks. Not that American ones are much better, but at least from US banks you can expect some semblance of modern business practices.

Let's have a look at my bank, shall we? Let's call them, oh, I dunno, DouchEast. DouchEast says they close at 5 on weekdays, but that actually means they lock the door and clear the place out by 4:15, a good two hours before most of their customers leave work. Cheque deposits, done by machine or in person, take 8-11 business days to become available to you, despite their ability to be processed instantaneously. DouchEast can rarely do anything for you in-shop--most things you request must be mailed to you, and will arrive in 7-10 days. Even if they're just documents that could be easily and securely printed off in office.

DouchEast's business practices involve a great deal of pressure--both on the employees and the customers. Employees are expected to maintain a quota of account openings per week, regardless of what their customers come in there for or the number of people in the country who need to open bank accounts. They are pushed to use every tactic available to them--up to and including flat lies--to lock customers into the ugliest, most expensive accounts and credit cards they have. When modern, skeptical customers shake off this pressure, employees are reprimanded for not meeting goals, and may eventually be fired for not being good enough salespeople. Likewise, employees are required, for PR purposes, to use their unpaid time to volunteer in the community in some capacity. Rather than be at work, where the community needs them most.

I believe DouchEast has, after helping as best they could to collapse the economy, had to make some HR cuts to maintain top-tier bonus packages. Naturally, most of these cuts have had to come from front-line plebian services, as of course the investment bankers who caused the depression are too valuable to let go. Most of their branches have desks and windows for up to 8 cashiers, but rarely have more than one person running them. Likewise, they have offices for up to ten people at a time to discuss their accounts, but typically have one person or no one available to do this. This causes queues--and fury. In banks, even a queue of five people can take an hour to slog through, as there's no telling what people are coming in to handle. It's not like checking out at the grocery store, or even getting on a roller coaster. These days queues are out the door, with fifty people or more waiting for one stressed, exhausted clerk to call them. Fifty people who have stepped out early on their lunch break because it's the only time they can be there when the bank is open, and will be delighted to discover that they won't actually have their inquiry addressed until their office closes for the day.

What makes this even more fun is the fact that their operation model sends most of their employees out of the building for lunch breaks at exactly the same time as most of their customers arrive. This is not a new problem or phenomenon--most people have jobs these days. Even back in the day when women generally did not have jobs, they had no need to go to the bank because they also weren't allowed to manage accounts. Banks have Always had to deal with most of their customers at lunch time. And they've always been short staffed at lunch time.

There are several very simple, practical, and inexpensive solutions to this problem. One is part-time shift labour. The morning shift arrives at 9 and leaves at 2; the afternoon shift arrives at noon and leaves at 5. The office is double-staffed for two hours right when most of their customers show up, everyone works a reasonable amount of time between meals, you can stagger in a few 15-minute breaks for tea, snacks, and cigarettes, and everybody gets a fair day.

Alternatively, you can have lunch-cover employees. Backstage administrative assistants most of the day, this team eats first, then comes in and takes people's places as they leave to eat in groups arranged by the size of the cover team. Once lunches have cycled through, they may go back to stapling forms and playing solitaire like normal.

Another option is to do what several companies I've worked for in New York do and call in lunch for the whole office. You buy a variety of foods, making sure to account for everyone's eating preferences and allergies--some online services even allow everyone in your office to login and, within a price cap set by the company, select a meal from up to 5 delivery places a day--and then let folks sneak off for fifteen minutes at a time to eat.

What you do not do is let most of your staff disappear for an hour the hour they are needed the most. That is stupid. And it makes people angry. Angry enough to take their money elsewhere.

Oh but wait. Everyone else behaves exactly the same way.

If it weren't for the existence of banks, no one would believe that an industry could actually survive being run so poorly. People have complained about banking services, opening hours, fees, and money-making practices since the invention of the bank. They're run badly, and they're not run with the Main Street consumer in mind. I recognize that banks are businesses and need to make money. I'm not averse to the idea that employees need to be paid. I have no real problem with bankers investing my money in rational ways for their profit, provided my money is kept safe and made available to me whenever I need it.

I Do, on the other hand, have a problem with banks being under-staffed, causing queues which waste my time and the valuable time of others. I have a problem with inefficiencies, like having to wait a week for a document I need now that can and should be printed immediately. "oh, but it's printed by our secure printing service in the middle of nowhere..." bah bah bah you could get it for me but you won't because of a policy that was established in 1870.

Everyone else has modernized. I can get free wifi on the grounds of ancient ruins. I can ride into the city in air-conditioned silence at 80 miles an hour in a train wherein, if I wanted to, I could roll a football down the aisle from the conductor's cabin to the rear fire exit. I have watched a hotel be built on its settled foundations in under a week. We have a probe ORBITING JUPITER. But you. You can't go to the printer behind you, pick up the official letterhead in the sheaf next to it, and print off six pages of bank statements for me because that's just not how you've always done things.

Banks, governments and churches. They must hold everyone else down in order to stay on top, and they have the power and money to do so.


In other news, I'm conviced the Mimic Octopus is far more intelligent than any human.

1 comment:

Kim said...

Interesting post, K. Sounds unendingly frustrating.