Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Thursday 18 September 2014

"...and two sugars while you're about it,"

There was a truly delightful moment this week, while writing a tongue-in-cheek apologetic e-mail to a colleague, when Autocorrect stepped in with 'mea maxima cuppa'.

Of course, being a machine, it has no intelligence to apply to the situation; it simply follows its programming, however inappropriate to the circumstances. Oddly enough, you could say much the same thing of the staff at my recently refurbished local branch of 'The bank that likes to say "F*** off!"'.

Having failed in my bid to take my business elsewhere during the lengthy closure (see previous post), I reluctantly found myself in a gleaming new atrium complete with rows of hole-in-the-wall machines to put your money in, take your money out, do the financial hokey-cokey and move your cash about so that, with any luck, the staff don't have to bother with you at all.

Those unwelcome customers who do venture between this robotic Scylla and Charybdis must now head deep into the windowless rear of the building to where four tellers sit in judgement behind raised desks. Although they look human, yesterday's experience has given me cause for doubt.

Having established that I wanted to pay several cheques into a savings account, the cashier asked me whether I was happy with the rate of interest.

"No, I'm not, but it doesn't matter; once the cheques have cleared, I'm thinking of moving my account to another bank."

The response to this was a blank stare for several seconds, a vague, "Oh. Alright then," and, after another pause, a brightly artificial, "And is there anything else I can help you with at all today?"

I'm sure this cashier must have passed some kind of training in customer service but, faced with a real live dissatisfied account holder, her instructions simply did not equip her to react. Instead, she clearly dismissed the problem from whatever she was using for a mind and carried on according to her programming.

During the long trek back to the door, I stopped to ask one of the suited managerial types lurking complacently on the sidelines why there had been no prior notification of the four-week closure. There was no need for it, he replied, with a barely concealed sneer, because all facilities were available through the bank's online service.

It appears that I was right when I suggested the omission was a deliberate attempt to force unwilling customers into online banking. Having seen Leg-Iron's passing mention this morning of computerised payment methods allowing us to be tracked and monitored, I am starting to think that this is why the bank is so intent on driving us into the arms of cybertechnology - it's not so much about cost-cutting as keeping us under control and, preferably, in debt.

Those who still persist in using cash, passbooks or cheques will presumably be increasingly regarded as dangerous subversives and, as such, will be reduced to a second-class service, something already happening with interest rates. There are still plenty of us around  - a recent discussion with friends suggested that this is because more than a few are haunted by what happens to female bank customers in 'The Handmaid's Tale'.

Visitors to the refurbished branch yesterday were obliged to skirt a table festooned with banners and bearing dishes of crisps and bottles of orangeade, while each of the counters at the rear was furnished with a large bowl of Haribo sweets, all presumably intended for the consumption of customers - another manifestation of how they try to infantilise us and a thought-provoking indication of the taste and maturity of the new manager.

This ostentatious welcome would have been far more convincing had there been any effort to find out why a customer was sufficiently dissatisfied to want to close an account - any one of those idle men and women in suits could easily have taken a few minutes to sit down in a side office to discuss what was wrong. An apology for the inconvenience would have been a good start.

And they might at least have offered me a cup of tea.


  1. Some years ago I read that most banks would like to dump a substantial percentage of their customers.

  2. who do venture between this robotic Scylla and Charybdis

    A reminder of why I come here. :)

  3. AKH, that wouldn't surprise me at all; the overheads of maintaining a high street presence as well as an online and phone operation presumably far outweigh the income generated by those customers who have neither significant assets nor serious overdrafts.

    There is a certain irony that, while I am getting the cold shoulder in no uncertain fashion, the same bank is actively courting my student-debt-ridden offspring.

    Thank you, JH; a reminder of why I write here.


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