Tuesday, 9 June 2009

LIBERTARIAN SUS: Don’t bank on it

You can’t bank on the Wales, says Susan Ryder, no matter how long you wait.

susanryder It’s like a cancer. It starts slowly, undetected, before spreading insidiously, gathering momentum in its wake and eventually taking over.

I speak of environmentally-friendly advertisements. Especially those on television.

Not that I dislike clean products for the sake of it. I don’t. It makes good sense to utilise clever, cost-effective, waste-reducing technology. One of my favourite television programmes is the UK’s Grand Designs, which often features fabulous new concepts in engineering and home design. My problem is that I detest bandwagons and those who jump on them, not wanting to be left out. It smacks of group-think and collectivism and Nick Smith. Enough said.

But it’s really too much when trading banks get into the act. Stephen Fleming selling me an efficient heating system is one thing – he’s making a bit of money by doing so and that’s fine and dandy – but being preached to by the bloody banks is, cough, a bit rich.

I speak of the latest Westpac ad. It screams sustainable-this and sustainable-that, although what that has to do with banking is puzzling. If there was ever an industry that was unsustainable, it would be one that indulged in fractional reserve banking. And if there was ever a bank that was unsustainable, it would be one that confused ten thousand with ten million too often.

“Sustainable” is the Greenspeakers’ favourite word. As long as something is sustainable, you can’t go wrong. Even Helen Clark proved that in the end. She peppered her speeches with “sustainable” so often last year that she lost New Zealand but gained the world. It was a bit like losing your purse, then winning Lotto. Or asking for ten grand and getting ten million.

So Westpac is officially on board Mother Earth. Well, kumbayah kids and light a candle. It’s a beautiful thing.

If only. I don’t bank with Westpac, but I have reason to visit a branch every so often. Like all banks, they make a really good impression of treating their customers with disinterest at best. Never mind how long the queue gets, don’t, whatever you do, put more tellers on. Which reminds me of a wee story ...

Earlier last year I was at Sylvia Park, a large shopping centre in South Auckland that features all the banks. I had to make a deposit at Westpac but saw there was a queue of five or six customers waiting for two operational tellers. I chose to run another errand in the interim and arrived back nearly ten minutes later.

Nobody had moved. I joined the line and glanced at my watch. From a few feet away, it seemed that both customers at the counter had problems that took some resolving. Another five minutes passed with no movement and I was starting to get cheesed off.

In the interim I counted five staff wandering behind the tellers at the back of the bank. Nobody was in a hurry; they were ambling. They would invariably glance at the immobile queue and carry on walking. The possibility that waiting customers might quite like to be served before closing time didn’t seem to occur to them.

Out in front, standing in front of an information counter bereft of customers, wearing the most incredibly high heels was Russian Bride. I called her that because she looked like one. She had more makeup than Max Factor, with that arched expression of boredom and disinterest that Eastern European women have perfected. In spite of having nothing to do, and to doubtless ensure its continuance, she successfully managed to avoid meeting the gaze of a single customer in the rapidly growing queue.

New Zealanders are generally very polite people and so am I. But I don’t appreciate being ignored. And sometimes, people just need a bit of encouragement ...

“Look, I have things to do – and I’d like to be served sometime today,” I called out to Russian Bride. “This queue hasn’t moved in ages – and I’m sure these other customers have things to do, too! Is it possible to get some service please?!”

The floodgates opened. “Yes!” said the Indian man in front of me. “This lady’s right! We’ve been waiting here for more than ten minutes! It’s not on!”

“And I came past about a quarter of an hour ago,” said a woman behind me, “and the same lady is still waiting at the front of the line! I’ve got two kids to collect from school and I’m going to be late!” - together with cries of agreement from the others.

The mutiny stunned Russian Bride, but not enough to get her to move. She resumed her position of ignorance.

“Excuse me!” I said. “We’d like some service and we’d like it now, please. Perhaps you could go and find those staff I’ve seen wandering out the back there. Two would be good, but three would be ideal!”

Instead of getting on with it, she shot a look of pure venom at me. Big mistake. She left me with no choice but to remove my virtual gloves.

“Hey, this isn’t bloody Candid Camera! Take your high heels off and get out the back and get some tellers, please! NOW!”

By this time, I was thoroughly enjoying myself, the other customers taken up the call and, more importantly, had caused staff to come running. They managed to staff two more tellers, the others went back to their ambling and that was that.

I wouldn’t mind waiting if they just acknowledged the queue with a “sorry about the wait, we’ll be with you as soon as we can,” but none of them do that. This isn’t a whinge about Westpac specifically, because they’re all guilty of not giving a toss.

The BNZ has flying pigs and the National Bank has Black Beauty turning up at weddings. The ANZ has a bloke scoffing “lingueeeni” and the ASB has Goldstein. And having dispensed with the smug arse on the megaphone, Kiwibank now has the world’s most irritating woman berating foreigners. They spend a collective fortune telling us day after day how important we are – and now how important the bloody planet is – when we just want to be served.

It’s nothing new. Twenty odd years ago, 60’s pop singer Peter Noone was in Auckland starring in Gilbert & Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance. After waiting ages in a Queen Street bank queue that stubbornly refused to move, he shouted in frustration: “Where the hell are we? Poland?!”

* * Read Susan Ryder’s column every Tuesday here at NOT PC * *


  1. Richard McGrath9 Jun 2009, 09:20:00

    Bravo, Susan. Your comment about fractional reserve banking being unsustainable is pure gold!

  2. "“Where the hell are we? Poland?!”

    Close.....except, of course that Poland's seen the light.

  3. Holy crap, YES. Well done. I get steamed up by this sort of thing all the time, but can never overcome my "polite kiwiness" enough to stage a revolution.

    I've suspected for some time now that more and more businesses find it easier to drop a ton on telling you they are great via slick marketing than on actually BEING awesome. Faceless corps seem to struggle so hard to differentiate themselves in reality, so they do it via expensive marketing campaigns. I see this all the time in the beer world - I don't know many people who can pick their favourite mass produced lager in a blind taste test, yet most of these people are ridiculously loyal to that brand anyway.

    My inner luddite wants a return to small markets with perfect information, and the way to get ahead was to just build a better mouse trap, bake the tastiest loaf, or be the friendliest barman in town. Marketing was direct, and word of mouth, not just "pay for it and change nothing".

    I think we should all be more like Sus, and start being better consumers. Express our wants and needs more clearly to vendors, and don't be afraid to cause a stink.

    Now, to see if I can practice what I preach... ;)

  4. On Me - full disclosure, I work at Westpac and am proud of the bank's values.

    On Service - Ouch, and could obviously do better. No excuses except that occasionally you do get a couple of difficult enquires that land at the same time and clogg the queues. That needs to be managed by us and your experience has been noted and will be looked into. Certainly effort is being put into delighting customers by boosting training and simplifying processes.

    On Sustainability - too much cynicism makes the world a dark and grumpy place. The point of the ads is to encourage and remind that no-one's perfect but every little step helps and surely its better to be doing something than nothing? The ads aren't preachy, they use a bit of humour. Most importantly there's a lot to back up what the bank is doing. It's not just words.

    Just some thoughts.

  5. too much cynicism makes the world a dark and grumpy place.

    I wasn't aware there was such a thing as too much cynicism.

  6. A cynic is what an idealist calls a realist. :-)

    Our experiences with Westpac here in NZ have been uniformly very good. Can't say the same for the Oz Westpac branches we dealt with though.

  7. We used to bank with Westpac, and had great service until my wife took in a couple of hundred dollars worth of coins to deposit into our son's account. Had to haul it in a backpack from one side of town to the other only to be told "we don't count coins". She withdrew all the money from our accounts there and then, and changed banks.

    I don't usually blame the company if I get shit service from staff, but I don't often go back either.

  8. I have had the misfortune of having to phone up an outfit that puts you on hold for untold time. In the end I hung up, wrote a letter which explained that we now are in dispute and have merrily ignored all protestations to pay invoices four and half months so far.

    Turn the whole show around. Be obscure, obtuse, needlessly formal, ignorant and unintelligible when it suits. Raise any irrelevant red herring you can dream up. Make certain that they experience real pain whenever they want to deal with you. Raise objections and obstructions, protocols and detailed rules. Be vague when it suits you. Offer minute and detail when it does not suit them. Make up huge stories and then alter them arbitrarily. Defer to nameless advisors and authority figures.

    What you do to guard your back is to write a few letters from time to time explaining that we are "in dispute" and that they can expect a possible response the "commercial and legal advisors have had sufficient time to confer on the present and past details of the matter to hand". Those benevolent gentlemen will then "move the matter progressively forward and once they have been able to arrange a time to contact me to further arrange a mutually agreeable time to present me with their frank advice and recommendations pending further instruction from me regarding you, then I will advice such to yourselves in due course." Does this shit fuck people up or what.

    Another thing to do is to tell them what their representative promised on the last occasion they dealt with you. For example, "I called you on the 23rd and in the first instance your representative, John, stated that I would be reimbursed for the overcharged amounts on the Dec, January and February invoices. It was also agreed that once these amounts were refunded to me by cheque, then I would then arrange to pay to you the agreed reduced amount on the existing outstanding invoices. It was already determined that these invoices would be reduced by 1/3rd. I still await your cheques and amended invoices as promised". It doesn't matter of this stuff is pure bullshit so long as you have a name to attribute it all against and a semblance of reality to your story.

    If those hopeless dolts do get to you by phone, you must always put them off by explaining that it isn't a good time right now to talk. "I'm at work and on the boss's phone", or, "I'm in the bathroom taking a dump presently and it is not a god time to speak if you get what I mean". Make something up.

    See how long you can torment these guys. They'll beg you to settle eventually.


  9. Hi Craig .. thanks for your comment. :)

    At the outset I feel obliged to repeat a couple of points:

    "Like all banks, they .." (and)

    "This is not a whinge about Westpac specifically .."

    I've served the public in the past, too, and I respect that certain customers require more time -- sometimes a lot more time -- than others. I can only reiterate my third-to-last paragraph.

    But as regards your comment that ..

    "The point of the ads is to encourage and remind that no-one's perfect but every little step helps and surely its better to be doing something than nothing?"

    .. I disagree. It's not a bank's job to "encourage and remind" about 'sustainability'. Any more than I expect my butcher to encourage me to go to church, or the staff at my local shoe shop to encourage me to explore the virtues of vegetarianism!

    National advertising is expensive. If I was a W customer, I'd rather they stopped spending a lot of money on ads to 'remind' me to do things I already do, that have no connection with banking services, and reduce my damn fees instead! :)

    Or operate smaller-sized branches (thereby paying less rent) by doing away with the extra counters that are NEVER fully staffed!

    I'm in and out of all the banks -- (except Kiwibank which I won't have a bar of, ha ha Jim Anderton!) -- a lot. I cannot remember the last time I saw all counters staffed.


  10. Ha! Word verif was 'goless'.

    Good advice! ;)

  11. Yes, all that crap about sustainability makes me wanna vom! And I am a Westpac employee. Tell you what though, if people were having to wait in a queue at our branch like that, our manager would have us by the balls (figuratively speaking since I am female and so are most of my workmates)

    I have a bone to pick with BNZ at the moment for not training their staff in NZ cheque law (two branches in particular).

    But as usual, a great post, and I must agree with Mr McGrath!

  12. My bone to pick with BNZ is their constant attempts at 'upselling' - I go in to make a deposit on my work's credit card, and every damn time they try and get me to open an account with them. I just want to get in and out and on with my business.

  13. Banks are a good example of an industry which in effect operates as a government mandated oligopoly. "You have to bank somewhere else you dont get paid. Nobody uses cash anymore where ya been etc."
    Any competition is from within the industry - between banks so to speak, as opposed to banks competing for business with other types of industries - perhaps gold deposits etc, I dont know a good example. Fractional reserve banking and reserve bank rates largely take care of their margins, so provided they have a critical mass of customers, the competitive advantage is assured.

    They do not need to compete outside the pie, so to speak. They just jostle for their slice of it, while managing their costs.

    Unfortunately, many New Zealand companies are bad at actually running themselves. It is all too easy for companies to be internally disconnected - that is, for example, the marketing strategy in no way reflects the actual customer experience.

    These are not even New Zealand companies.

    As an example of a highly successful competitor in the face of a virtual monopoly, look at Apple. Free market can do it.

  14. the drunken watchman10 Jun 2009, 23:18:00

    wow, a Russian Bride? Managing a NZ bank? Well fuck me.

    Any Russian immigrant good enough to get score a management job in a bank presumably has no need to trade on her brideabiity.

    I usually have respect for your judgement. I hope you are not momentarily succombing to peer pressure?

  15. the drunken watchman10 Jun 2009, 23:30:00

    On further reflection, Susan, I think you said more about yourself with that comment about 'Russian Brides'than you could have said in a thousand of your otherwise objective words of wisdom.

    I have noticed, you watch long enough, you spot the underbelly. Probably just a dumb Zulu proverb, or something. Just bloody natives, eh?

    Maybe you felt cafe-safe with that cheap shot?

    For all that I love about the Libz, I have got to say, they are not above some quality control.

  16. the drunken watchman10 Jun 2009, 23:43:00

    ... and besides, Transparent Susan the Libertarian, do you have a problem with a 'Russian Bride' trading on her brideability? (a capitalistic act between consenting adults)

    Looking forward to your reply on this one, Susan, having been an admirer of yours until now.

  17. Drunken Watchman

    What's up with you? Your objection is hardly of any serious relevance. Concentrate on the substantive.


  18. Ha! Hit a nerve, eh Drunk?!

    But you give RB too much, er, credit; (just my wee joke!). I don't think she was the bank manager -- certainly hope not, with her attitude -- just an employee who was doing nothing and chose to continue to do nothing while the queue grew. Customers, eh! Who needs 'em!

    Besides, do banks have managers anymore? I thought they'd replaced them with team leaders or camp mothers ...

    "Succumbing to peer pressure"? Not sure what you mean by that in this context. I'm certainly not politically correct, though. Urghh! Perish the thought!

    And "cafe-safe"? You've got me there, too, Drunk ...

    Don't take it personally, darling. I never do -- and the Russian Bride certainly didn't. Don't you know that Russians have thick skins?! ;)

  19. Shame on you Sus, Russian skin is just as thin as ours. It's just they're always pissed on cheap vodka, so it makes them less fragile.

  20. The solution to your complaint is simple - as in the US anyone with a transaction under $10,000 should be made to see an ATM.

    A Bank's primary job is to increase shareholder value. Retail customers and nitwit small businesses do not do that - they *cost* banks money and are simply (and quite rightly) not priority.

    Having fully manned teller stations and counting coin and kids money boxes is hugely expensive, and those days are long gone.

  21. "Retail customers and nitwit small businesses do not do that - they *cost* banks money and are simply (and quite rightly) not priority"

    In which the case the ongoing, expensive ad campaigns telling those "retail customers & nitwit small businesses" who constitute much of NZ how important they are, are bullshit.

  22. Absolutely. Why do you think offshore banks closed their retail arms here?

    There is no money in retail. The ads are pure marketing nonsense.

  23. I thought that the banks are private properties of the rightful owners. Sus, can we say, that if their services is slack, then abandon them to do business with other banks? This is the power of persuasions that PC often talks about here. They will listen when customers protest by taking their business dealings with those banks that are being slack away to other competing banks.

    Or shall we prefer a law that prohibits customer services being slack?

  24. Another law banning something? You old jester, you, FF!

    Yep, of course you can tootle off to another provider if you don't like your current one. As well you know! ;)

    Good luck with the banks. They're much like the petrol stations in that respect, don't you think?

  25. the drunken watchman11 Jun 2009, 21:14:00

    Yes I do take feminazism personally. And yes, I have a raw nerve for them as well. (Rank along with planners).

    Don't tell me you haven't noticed their animosity towards those cheeky arrogant pretty women coming in and tempting their men, who should bloody well know their rightful station.You can hear all about it down at your cafe.

    Anyway, you know what I'm talking about. No need to spin it, darling.

  26. the drunken watchman11 Jun 2009, 21:16:00


    whats up with me?

    Allergic to polictical correctness.
    Can't concentrate on the subject when I hear that femnazi crap

  27. the drunken watchman11 Jun 2009, 21:29:00


    Falafulafisi has a perfectly good point.

    When you are challenged, do you always go ad hominem?

    I'm geting a hunch what it is about 'Russian Brides' that's getting up your nose, but I'll keep it to myself.

  28. To The Drunken Watcheman
    Give over!

  29. Hello Sus,

    Your reputation precedes you from all the soundbites with Leighton.

    So while I am used to hearing you, this is your first written stuff I have had the pleasure to read.

    The job description of the Russian lady does not include monitoring length of queues.

    Perhaps your perfectly understandable frustration should have been directed at one of the tellers demanding perhaps, to speak to the Branch Manager.

    Leave the Russian lady alone. She's highly likely to be suffering from deja vu psychosis wondering if she really left Russia.

  30. the Drunken Watchman15 Jun 2009, 10:07:00

    Anonymous said "Give over!"

    Typical cafe-liberal response - rather than rebut, shut it down or go ad hominen.

    Instead, why didn't you just spend an equivalent amount of your time explaining to me why Sus' comment wasn't feminazi.

    Must've touched a nerve, eh Anonymous?

  31. Good Lord, this thread continues, albeit tragically!

    Drunk: you're working overtime. Don't wear yourself out. Trust me, Natalia Maxfactorova's not worth it. She is a working Russian Bride, I tell you. I know these things. :)

    Shari: nice to hear from you. Couldn't alert the tellers because the two of them were busy doing their jobs, both tied up with customers who obviously required a lot of work.

    RB, conversely, was doing nothing - literally; she was standing in front of the info desk watching passers-by outside the big glass windows - and was the only other staff member out front (as opposed to the vagrants wandering slowly along the back who didn't want to get involved).

    We were all going nowhere fast & I felt like a bit of sport ... ;)

  32. the drunken watchman15 Jun 2009, 19:50:00


    Can't see why ethnic bigotry isnt worthy of sustained objection. If you didn't want people to comment on it, you shouldnt have said it. You are still doing it, so clearly it will continue to bother anyone who doesnt like that sort of thing, just as you don't like some things, which you then repeatedly comment on. And I for one defend your right to say it ......

    So what then, approval only for comments that don't criticise or disagree with you?

    Nope, I'm not working overtime anymore than you do when you write about things you despise.


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