Monday, November 09, 2015

Viewpoint: Another whammy from bank

BOI: Strike out 'small'?
The hullabaloo about banking of the last few days probably isn't going to change the minds of those at the top of the institutions to which we entrust the management of our money, writes Brian Byrne.

'Our money'. Just keep that phrase in the back of your mind as we explore this further.

The Richie Bouchers of this post-recession years know who they're working for. As always, the shareholder. Reduce costs. Increase charges. Eliminate time-wasting interaction with people. Hmm, for time-wasting, read 'unprofitable'; for people, read 'customers'. Except that, unless you are negotiating an overdraft, a mortgage, a pension, or insurance, or another 'service' from your local bank, you're no longer considered a customer.

Shorthand for all of the above. Bigger dividend to the shareholders. (Reminder, from 'our money'.) Money that we give them to 'mind' for us, so we don't have to keep it in biscuit tins under the bed. If the biscuit tin was safe, why would we bother?

But if we have to use the biscuit tin to build up enough cash to be able to make a lodgment at a BOI counter now, because we can't handle the queues at the single ATM in our local branch, that probably doesn't makes any of us in that situation the 'vulnerable' customers for whom BOI have (slightly) backtracked in a promise of help from the 'branch team'. That help is vaguely specified, and is unlikely to turn out to be anything more than pushing the buttons on a robot machine that doesn't even have a very good working record.

By the way, if all those 'small' lodgments that used to be made at the counter with a teller are now pushed, fiddled, and occasionally cursed into the machine, this will still require it to be emptied several times a day or it will be like a County Council bin, stuffed to stoppage. So if staff have to be maintained to do this, and manually count the cheques and notes which have been inserted to make sure they tally, why can't they simply continue to interact with the people who pay their wages (including Richie Boucher's wages)?

Here's an analogy. Maybe not quite accurate, but worth a thought. If I went across the road from the bank to Mary Masterson's pub and ordered a pint, only to have her say I can only buy seven pints at the counter, otherwise go to a machine in the corner that dispenses single cans of beer, how much longer would Mary be able to stay in business? Or if Brian Fallon decided to only serve minimum parties of seven, and any smaller number of customers should self-serve their meal requirements from a chilled food cabinet with a microwave beside it, same question?

The answer is that we'd take 'our money' elsewhere for our drinking and eating out needs. But we can't do that in many small towns in Ireland for our banking because there's only one bank, if they have one at all. And anyhow, if BOI get away with this one, all the others will be quick to follow — PTSB has already gone a bit down that road by curtailing the teller opening times.

We'll have to wait for the Credit Union movement to provide certain banking services, such as debit cards and the normal lodgment and cash withdrawal facilities, as is planned eventually. But in the meantime don't forget that, in Kilcullen CU, members can lodge and withdraw money directly from the tellers as it is. And they're open for business, and allowed to talk to you, for longer hours than is the bank even before these changes.

So, perhaps there is already a viable competitive alternative already here in Kilcullen, for the 'customers' the bank doesn't really seem to want any more?

(By the way, those other restrictions I wrote about a few weeks ago — Bank prunes cash services —  which gained a large and interested readership, have already come into force. A double whammy, we're getting.)