May 23, 2009
Crying all the way to the bank
After many dumb moves, what did a troubled bank in need of customers do? Act even dumber
By neil's world neil humphreys
British banks and their staff are like my baby and her diapers.
When the mood takes her, our little girl presents us with an impressive poop entirely of her own making.
It's messy, it spreads rapidly and takes us several minutes to clean up.
Our little girl usually gives herself a generous round of applause for such a damn fine mess.
Strangely, she expects us to applaud too as we bail her out of her dirty diaper.
Finally, our freshly cleaned baby smiles and poops for a second time.
British banks are no different.
We're in the UK on a working holiday and spend our mornings dealing with our daughter's mess. In the afternoons, we tackle the pile of poop left behind by our banks.
Both really stink.
Since our last trip to the UK, several high-street banks have been guilty of some of the worst investments since I bought a West Ham United season ticket the year they got relegated.
I won't name my particular financial institution because it has branches in Singapore and does not deserve any publicity (I'm not worried about being sued, the bank owes more money than I ever will).
But my particular branch has plenty of bankers.
At least, I think that's what some of the other customers were calling them. I overheard one East Londoner mutter under his breath that our bank was full of bankers.
I can't recall the details, but I believe my bank invested in sub-prime mortgages in the United States, a crumbling Icelandic bank, an Icelandic beach resort, an Icelandic suntan lotion manufacturer and a range of Icelandic bikinis.
So my British bank and its investment bankers have lost their customers' money, in some cases serious money. One or two customers could not have lost any more money if they had withdrawn their entire life savings and thrown the cash in a wind tunnel.
So my bank should be pleading for our custom; it should be begging, crawling and grovelling for our forgiveness.
Every bank manager should be greeting their customers on bended knee, kissing their savings books and thanking them for not withdrawing their depleting funds and stashing the cash in a shoe box under the bed.
But my bank didn't. Of course it didn't. Instead, with breathtaking arrogance, the bank pooped on me again.
It was taken over by another bank - my wife's bank - and caused a bigger paperwork headache than a British MP filling out his expense claims.
First, we went to my wife's bank - we'll call the bank Dumb - to withdraw the remaining funds and close the account.
'You can't close the account,' said the cashier at Dumb. 'The computer says no.'
'But it's my money,' my wife exclaimed.
'You've changed your name. So the computer says no.'
My wife had changed her name when she got married, but she had taken along her new passport, driver's licence and a household bill - all in her married name.
The computer still said no.
'We need your original marriage certificate for proof,' the employee insisted.
'Hang on a minute,' I interjected. 'If we had the wit and ingenuity to successfully forge a passport, a driver's licence and our electricity bill, would we really be wasting our time trying to get the few pounds left in this account?'
'It's the bank's regulations.'
It's interesting that these regulations didn't come into play when the Dumb Bank invested in the Icelandic economy, which sank so fast the United Nations is now considering renaming the country Titanic.
So we returned later with our original marriage certificate and met a different staff member.
'Oh, you don't need that,' the chirpy employee remarked. 'Just take this piece of paper.'
She handed us a blank sheet of A4.
'All you need to write is, 'I, Mrs Humphreys, would like to close my account', and sign underneath.'
And that was it.
We were like kindergarten kids acting out a role play at the bank.
Who says global financial institutions are not being hit by more stringent regulations?
We took the money, closed the account and headed to my bank - we'll call it Dumber - further along the high street.
'You can deposit this money,' the cashier at Dumber said. 'But I can't update your savings book. I will give you this tiny receipt instead.'
'But if I lost the receipt, there would be no physical record of my transaction, no reference numbers or anything.'
'That's right,' she said, far too chirpily.
'Can't you just update my book?' I foolishly asked.
'No. Your bank doesn't exist now. While you were away, it was taken over by the Dumb Bank.'
'But my statement had the traditional Dumber Bank letterhead.'
'Yes, we didn't want to confuse the older, Dumber customers.'
So my bank has merged with my wife's bank, but only the name of my wife's bank will be retained.
That's a shame because the merged banks deserve a name that befits their performance and reputation.
Dumb and Dumber.
Neil Humphreys' latest book, Be My Baby, has just been reprinted in Singapore.