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Banks Go Phone Booths Way

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More and more local branches will disappear soon like the Red phone booths. Bikram Vohra comments on the cold modern banking system for Asian Lite News

UK-LONDON-SOLAR BOX-FREE MOBILE PHONE CHARGERAs technology adds to the chill, the customer is increasingly made to feel like an intruder and most of us are intimidated entering a bank more often than entering a police station.

This global phenomenon has increased exponentially in this century and much like the medical doctor who no longer comes home, cheers you up, has a cup of tea, psyches you out your illness with that remedial personal touch, the banker also looks upon the masses as an exploitable commodity.

That’s primarily because the dice is loaded in favour of the bank. They are never wrong and the servants of a bank can crush you with buzzwords and documentation without even giving you a chance to defend. Also, banks never apologise for an error on their part. Till the error is located by good fortune or sheer persistence the customer is actually traumatised by implied threat. Threat of getting blacklisted, violent action, retribution, or even jail. You have midnight visions of being carted off in handcuffs.

I had a peculiar experience recently. My ‘friendly’ bank, which has helped me over the past 30 years, suddenly discovered I owe them a sizeable sum of money. Shaken to the core since we have had no correspondence for over a year I insist I have not taken this money so how can I owe it. They are courteously rude and politely aggressive and I am totally cornered because there is no question that they are wrong. It is like a wall. You begin to feel the liquid guilt dripping down your back and there is a lot of cross talk between them as they marvel at my pathetic defence as if to say ‘they all act like this.’

Finally, it comes to pass that this OD was covered by a blocked account that more than happily covered what was ‘owed.’ Fine. Can occur. Point is that there is no change in body language. No surrender of space or remorse for causing several days of agony and trauma. They are truly not trained to say sorry, make amends or concede. It is integral to the shrug of indifference.

You should be grateful they allowed the truth to surface. There is no such thing as compensation. This is just your account with your money. Move the code of conduct into the realm of credit cards and loans and it is a whole new ball game with you as the ball to be kicked. On our part, much of it occurs because when we are in need, we do not read the fine print and cheerfully sign on the dotted line, impervious to what we are committing ourselves.

The banker now has you on the hook. Any default on your part will now make you vulnerable to calls, dire consequences and a life of nerve-wracking messages and deadlines. Any default on their part will not count for anything including not being acknowledged.

Like Caesar’s wife, banks are above reproach.

Ironically, even as banks entice customers with social media, a survey done in 2014 by the Carlisle & Gallagher Consulting Group, points out as high as 87 per cent of customers found banks’ use of social media “annoying, boring or unhelpful.”

The findings show negative attitudes toward interacting with banks on social media for problem solving, and show that customers doubt the overall effectiveness of the banks’ use of social media. The reason for the growing distrust especially in the international banks as compared to domestic ones is the chasm between the promise and the reality. This gap is further widened by the difference in the warmth and affection in the approach to offering loans, credit cards and other goodies and the volte-face in tone and manner when seeking its return with the interest.

When it comes to EMIs even a day’s delay sparks a flurry of increasingly hostile phone calls and messages all implying a specific threat. A well-known doctor describes his ordeal with an equally well-known global bank that refused to acknowledge his credit card payment because it was not reflected on the system. A glitch in the bank’s computer caused the confusion but he was still forced to pay a late fee and run around to get his money back.

All too often the collections department uses government as leverage to frighten people. Most members of the public fail to realise that federal reserve banks and central banks and their equivalents in most countries are there to protect them and their rights. Regrettably the impression given is that these institutions are something to be afraid of. On the contrary, if you have done nothing wrong they have dedicated cells to help and support grievances.

Our ignorance and myth that banks can take unilateral action because they hold a blank cheque to shame and name us is not necessarily the case.

Since collection departments are trained to speak in an escalating fashion the fear factor kicks in.

Financial writer Joe Nocera, writing in The New York Times describes his experience: “A few months ago, I was standing in a crowded elevator when Jamie Dimon, the Chief Executive of JPMorgan Chase, stepped in. When he saw me, he said in a voice loud enough for everyone to hear: ‘Why does The New York Times hate the banks?’

“It’s not The New York Times, Dimon. It really isn’t. It’s the country that hates the banks these days. If you want to understand why, I would direct your attention to the bible of your industry, The American Banker. On Monday, it published the third part in its depressing – and infuriating – series on credit card debt collection practices.

“You can’t read the series without wondering whether banks have learned anything from the foreclosure crisis, which resulted in a $25-billion settlement with the federal government and the states. That crisis was the direct result of shoddy, often illegal practices on the part of the banks, which caused untold misery for millions of Americans.”

One of the best-known bloggers in Australia, Chris Skinner makes a telling point: “Banks are disliked as they play an integral role in stifling our ability to enjoy life. Banks, or rather monetary flows, stifle our ability to relax.”

This is so true. Thousands of us know how the sun is snatched out of the sky by that intrusive phone call about a non-payment or even a slightest delay.

A doctor says he paid a trifle less than his bill and he received 17 calls in one day, which must have cost more than what he owed. Worries over monies are a core challenge for the majority of society who are poor or unable to pay bills. This was illustrated by a very sad case of a pensioner who committed suicide over an £800 bill. In other words, it’s not banks that are hated but their role of controlling money, wealth and credit.

A Gallup consultant Beth Youra puts in a nutshell: Until the banking industry decides that it can, or even wants to, fix its perception through better PR, improved government relations, or ideally both, individual banks will have to carry the weight. The only way for these banks to improve is to keep doing what works – improving perceptions of one customer, one financial life-saving moment, one personal financial dream at a time. This is why every bank has to pay the ‘collective’ price of imaging even when its own house is in relative order. While people might have happy personal experiences their general attitude is one of being foe not a friend.

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