Monday, 28 August 2017

Banking on the future


An expression you hear a lot is that “things are not as good as they were in my day” I suppose our generation use it particularly to our offspring when we want to express our frustration about the way things are, compared to the way things were. The truth is of course we look back at the past through rose tinted glasses; we filter out the bad aspects and only remember the good bits. “My day” is a euphemism for the good parts of the past.

I reckon though that banks were better in “my-day.” For instance you always knew who your bank manager was. In fact you knew who all the bank managers were. They were important people in the town. They were big men, some quite literally, and they were invariably always of the male gender. You were particularly well acquainted with your own bank manager, though sometimes you wish you weren’t. At a function recently, in a totally unscientific survey, I asked a number of businesspeople, about ten in all, who their bank manager was. Not one could tell me.

I was reminded of all this last week when my bank took out some glossy newspaper advertisements (well coloured; not necessarily glossy) to introduce nine new “relationship managers.” These people to be collectively known as the Wairarapa Supporters Club. On close inspection however I note that only one of these “managers” actually resides in the Wairarapa, so their loyalty might be a bit suspect.

I’m not all that sure that these relationship managers are for real. They’re a nice looking lot, but I have sneaking suspicion they might be photographic models out of Los Angeles. Even their names are surreal, like Aaron and Anna. They sound too good to be true.

Now I hope this doesn’t sound ungrateful, but I would rather have had nine new tellers.

My bank has this swept up, highly polished, native wood counter with many gaps where tellers are intended to reside, but most of these apertures have jolly green signs on them that say: Next Teller Please. Directly in front of these signs is a queue of people who wouldn’t know a relationship manager if they fell over one. In “my-day” these gaps in the solid wooded counters were filled up with people who were there day in and day out and actually knew who you were. I think it was that great philosopher Alfred E. Newman who once proclaimed that most people who go into banks aren’t looking for money; they’re just looking for attention.

My bank opened its Masterton branch around 1932 and our family company was among the first to join its ranks of customers. I know this because in 1982 (give or take a year) we were invited with a select few, to the bank’s 50th birthday celebrations. We were showered with gifts, and speeches were made in our honour for our loyalty. I recall that this was a particularly proud moment for my father. Now, nearly twenty years later, when I walk into my bank to cash the company’s wages cheque the young lady behind the counter wants to know who I am and requires some form of identification. What I would dearly like to do is whip out a mirror, look intently in it and then announce that yes, it is me; “It’s meself,” I’d love to say. But probably my sense of humour has passed its “use by” date.

And then in “my-day” if you inadvertently crossed the wages cheque, thereby making it technically uncashable, you simply had to cross out the not negotiable indicator, write on it: “please pay cash,” sign the alteration, and the cheerful teller would cash the cheque. Last week I absentmindedly crossed the wages cheque and was made to go all the way back to my workplace and write out another one.

In “my-day” the army of staff was tucked away in offices beavering away at handwritten cash books, hidden from the patrons. Now bank employees are strategically scattered around the customer area, staring fixatedly at computer screens in full view of the frustrated clients waiting to be served. Ironically these computers generate more paper than the cashbooks did. Queue-weary customers just wish they’d leave their screens and fill in the vacant teller spots and reduce the lines of people that snake past their exposed desks. This is not practical of course. They have their work to do, but in “my-day” they were out of sight and out of mind, so the frustration didn’t build.

If I ring my bank I get someone in another centre; Wellington or Auckland, I’m not sure which, but it is quite a rigmarole to actually get through to the Masterton office. A friend, who is loyal to another bank, told me he rang his local branch the other day and got Sydney!

If it wasn’t so tragic it would be laughable. The banks are surely at the cutting edge of the free enterprise society; the epitome if you like of the market economy, and yet their customer ethics are akin to the worst of the government departments of yore.

It’s possible I have a psychological problem about this. I remember back before the ‘87 share market crash deciding that a change of hair style might be appropriate for the yuppie era. I told my hairdresser to fashion it like a banker’s. In the event I looked a mess, though to be fair the haircut was only half to blame. 

When I got home my wife ventured that this was the worst haircut she’d ever seen. I told her I wanted to look like a banker. “Well.” she said, “At least it rhymes.”

(First published July 21st 1999)

“The human species, according to my best theory I can form of it, is composed of two distinct races, the men who borrow and the men who lend” - Charles Lamb


  1. Thank goodness I have found your 'Blog' Was gutted today to hear you have been ' let go' from Wairarapa News :( Your column was the best part of that little Paper.
    I love your style of writing as you say exactly what I think but am not half as eloquent. You have a subtle style of humour which I love
    Keep them coming Rick

  2. I agree that your column was the best part of the Wairarapa News. Can't understand how Fairfax execs could be so silly to drop it.