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That four-letter word

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The word “bank” is not an obscenity, though it is often used in conjunction with other, more colourful, four-letter words. Despite the television and print advertisements depicting scenes of smiling employees helping out satisfied clients, the reality is a lot are less cheerful. Yes, they are willing to offer their services, but only to those who qualify and only because it benefits their own financial needs. So much like casinos, another business enterprise that seeks to relieve people of their money, the truth about banks is as simple as it is inevitable–in the end the house always wins.

As T&T continues to endure these turbulent economic times, with companies announcing staff and wage cuts and even closing altogether, local financial institutions have not only succeeded in weathering the storm but are thriving in spite of it. At the end of the last fiscal year, two of our country’s largest banks posted a combined profit of almost two billion (TT) dollars. Spokespersons were quick to diminish the nature of this achievement, citing the losses that were sustained in some sectors and pointing to internal restructuring and portfolio diversification, blah blah blah, and so forth.

The average Trinbagonian probably doesn’t understand what all that means nor do they care to. The only thing that matters to them is the perception that the banks are getting richer and it’s at their expense.

Being one of the cornerstones of free-market capitalism, banks never miss an opportunity to introduce a new fee to cover their administrative and maintenance overhead. Some of these charges are understandable; they are, after all, a business providing a multitude of services. But then there are others that the customers believe are just plain ridiculous. It almost seems that there’s a charge just for holding your money, and then another on top of that when you want to use it. If it weren’t for the sense of security that banks provide, citizens might be better off resorting to the old practice of hiding their money under the mattress.

The increased cost wouldn’t be so hard to stomach if the public felt they were getting something in return.

Unfortunately, most would agree that the standard of service hasn’t gotten any better. Walk into any branch of any bank at any time of day and you’re sure to find the same thing—a long line of weary, grumbling customers.

In fact, if you want a guaranteed way to raise someone’s blood pressure, just ask them how much time they spend (ie waste) when dealing with the bank. It isn’t unheard of to end up waiting for an hour or even longer. And most of the time it’s because there aren’t enough tellers on-duty occupying the available booths. This means that customers have no recourse but to wait their turn, no matter how long it takes.

At a press conference held on Monday, October 31, former managing director of Scotiabank T&T and president of the Bankers Association, Anya Schnoor, revealed the implementation of a revised code of practice aimed at providing transparency for all fees and interest charges, as well as the procedures for conflict resolution (the code is not a legal document). In an interview published the following day in the T&T Guardian’s business supplement (November 1, p.BG7), when asked how Scotiabank faced the challenges to the sector during the recession, she said that they worked to improve their service, the products offered and the focus on their customers.

After reading it you might wonder if Miss Schnoor, or any banking executive for that matter, has ever actually visited a branch to see what really goes on. No one is saying that banks can’t make money, but customers shouldn’t have to needlessly suffer just to maximise revenues. Treating them with respect by appreciating the value of their time is a good place to start. Because unlike casinos that want to keep you in, banks should want to get you out.

Ryan Hadeed


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