Saturday, 7 May 2011

The Return Of Manual "Banking"?

There is no such consumer activity as "banking". Fiddling around with bank accounts is just something we do in the course of paying a bill, making a purchase, reimbursing a friend, investing etc. - an interim step in a much longer process. "Banking" is what retail banks think we're doing, because they only view the world, and how to make money, through the lens of their own products. Which are designed to make money for the bank, not to benefit the customer, as recent coverage of the PPI mis-selling scandal has highlighted.

Here's a little story.

In 2005 I opened a savings account that had recently been launched by the ill-fated Halifax plc. The only way they allowed you to access the funds was using a passbook, even though the Internet had been fully operational for a decade. So it was pretty clear they wanted me to shove my money in and forget about it.

The last time I'd had a passbook was in Australia in the '70s, so I was a bit nonplussed to be given one in 2005. But at least the Halifax IT system enabled the teller to complete all the little bits of paper they seemed to need each time you wanted to move money. You'd say what you wanted to happen, the teller would feed bits of paper into a printer, tap some keys, hand you the paper to sign, tap some more keys, and you could get the hell out of there. In my case, with a banker's draft - a cheque, for Christ's sake - that I had to then mail to a discount stockbroker before finally investing the funds. It was a miserable pilgrimage. And, sure enough, it declined in frequency from quarterly to annual. The bank did in fact get to hold onto my money for longer.

Cut to 2009, when Gordon Brown and I think one, maybe two other people thought it wise for the ill-fated Lloyds Banking Group to buy the ill-fated HBOS plc, the owner of Halifax. Then cut to this morning, when a Halifax teller patiently explained to me that, as a result of the recent transfer of my Halifax savings accounts onto the Lloyds Bank IT system, I must now complete all the bank's requsite bits of paper myself, by hand.

In other words, not content with the destruction of two financial conglomerates, mis-selling billions worth of products and becoming a drag on the country's finances, these people have spent the last 6 years removing any vestige of consumer-friendly automation from the process of accessing my money.

In fairness, the teller did explain that I can now sign-up for [trumpets] internet banking, to access these accounts. But I'm not convinced that would be a satisfying experience. I'd probably be expected to bring my laptop into the branch just to log-in.

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