The problem with banks…


I received a cheque today… remember those funny things that people used to pay with?  I haven’t handled one for over 10 years.

So off I went to the bank.  I couldn’t remember the best way to deposit it so I asked one of the relationship managers, who was standing idly by, if I should use the ATM. “The tellers,” he said.

So off I went and stood in the “Express queue. It didn’t move. So I played chess on my BlackBerry and posted a story on Facebook.  It still didn’t move so I tweeted Michael Jordaan, FNB’s CEO.  I put the tardiness down to the fact that this is Limpopo, where very little works the way it should.  (Halfway through the year, pupils still haven’t received school books.  Hospitals can’t carry out their duties because they don’t have medicines, or latex gloves!)

I was impressed by the subject matter on TV — not the usual rubbish but a behind-scenes-story about a FNB lighting installation for the Joburg Art Fair recently.

Queueing brought on a brainwave for how municipalities can make extra cash — by charging banks rental for pavement space when their queues snake many metres into the public domain.  That’s a regular occurrence at the local Nedbank.

Blacks and whites don’t talk to each other in queues in Limpopo.  But I’m not a local so I do.  I started asking my neighbours how they put up with such service. The sign said “Express queue” after all.

I was getting choruses of agreement and people in the queue were starting to smile for the first time… I was ready to start a consumer revolution… but then Michael tweeted back: “Sorry, use the ATM.”

On the way to the ATM I bumped into Hannetjie Craven, the branch manager, who asked if everything was okay. I told her of my experience and wanted to show her Michael’s advice, but she didn’t want to look at it… she wanted to kill the relationship manager — Using tellers is not only slower, but costs the customer an extra R14.00!

She ushered me into the ATM mall where there was a queue of one and asked the supervisor to help me. Now the “Chief of ATMs” (my phrase) is a real Mama.  She helps people with no tech-savvy at all handle their banking chores all day… and she does it with aplomb and speed.  What a star!  If anyone lives the motto “How can we help you?” she does.  Thank you Ouma Ngosana!

Ouma Kgosana, chief of the ATMs and the real helpful face of the bank.  Take a bow, Ouma!
Ouma Kgosana, chief of the ATMs and the real helpful face of the bank. Take a bow, Ouma!

So what’s the lesson from all of this?

So-called “relationship managers” are my bête noire — a total oxymoron and disservice to banking.  Most are poorly informed and over-reliant on process and technology… but that’s the way banks have gone, without using common-sense along the way.  Bring back the old Bank Manager who had wide-ranging discretionary powers, and who did have a relationship — one way or the other — with his or her customers.

I’ll never forget joining the partners of an architectural practice, Munnik, Visser, Black & Fish, for tea many years ago.  It was the first time I’d met Arthur Black, who managed the practice’s administration.   He spoke about his meeting with their new bank manager and explained his approach — which briefly involved the manager coming to him, to explain how the bank would service their needs.  After all, the customer rules…

There are stars… like Hannetjie Craven and the ‘Mama of ATMs’.  Some months ago, relationship managers spent two months trying to rectify a bank problem with my account.  When I reached the end of my tether, I spoke to Hannetjie and she sorted it out within a couple of hours.

So why bother with relationship managers?  If you’re in banking management, go figure… you’re wasting resources and pissing customers off.

Yes, this experience was at FNB, but they are streets ahead of other SA banks.  I like them and they do try to do better.  By contrast, Absa is a master of cover-up and denying responsibility.  You can read about that here.


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