If there’s one thing you can bank on, says Bernard Darnton today, it’s tokenism.
In these days of financial turmoil, when Rolling Stone calls Goldman Sachs “a vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity,” there are plenty of people wanting to see bankers in the dock. The Bank of New Zealand has jumped the gun by sentencing its entire staff to community service.
On November 4th BNZ branches will be closed so that bank tellers can drag shopping trolleys out of streams. Bad luck if you wanted your bank to do any actual banking on that day.
If I were one of their staff members I’d be harbouring murderous intent towards the HR or marketing noddies that came up with this plan. The only thing holding me back would be the knowledge that killing one of them would get me another 300 hours community service.
BNZ’s explanation for this event is that they’re “looking for a way to help our communities to be better off.” How about encouraging saving and lending money to productive businesses?
If you have any good ideas about what 5000 banking staff could be doing one Wednesday (other than, say, opening accounts, approving mortgages, and taking credit card payments from people who haven’t worked out how to download the interwebs yet), the bank is taking suggestions from the public. Please try and be more inventive than all those who’ve proposed the minimum-wage scut work that makes up the bulk of the suggestions to date.
Some credit though to Mission Heights Primary School, which has asked that people from the bank come in and talk to the children about financial matters. First, teaching kids about budgeting and saving can only have good results once these newly financially literate children reach voting age. (Colleges of Education now only teach half a dozen guitar chords and how to count to three in Māori, so teaching the teachers about compound interest might be of some value too.) Second, it’s far more sensible to use bankers to teach banking than to have them cutting scrub on disused railway embankments.
I can hear the comments now: Don’t you believe in private charity? Yes, but… If the bank wants to encourage the four remaining people who use cheques to donate to kiwi conservation by offering prettied-up chequebooks they should go for it. My problem is with the idea that a bank has to “do something” for “the community” to make up for its usual activities.
“On 4 November we’re closing our stores and working for you instead.” No. I signed up with my bank so that they’d provide me with banking services, not so that they’d organise the church jumble sale. Now get back to work and earn that 19 cents per transaction.
This is tangential but it’s always confused me: Why do people complain bitterly about paying four dollars a month in bank fees but think nothing of handing over $20,000 a year in tax? There’s nowt queer as folk, as they say in Yorkshire, a land riddled with the economically illiterate.
Banks benefit “the community” by providing banking services. No penance is required. Every time I don’t get mugged because I’m not carrying a month’s wages round in my back pocket, I thank the bank. Every time I use a credit card to buy something from overseas instead of getting a foreign currency permission slip from Robert Muldoon and sellotaping it to a carrier pigeon, I thank the bank.
Of course, if the world’s central bankers were to stop work and spend the day picking dog turds out of sand dunes, that would be far more useful.
* * Read Bernard Darnton’s NOT PJ column every Thursday here at NOT PC * *