Thursday, 27 August 2009

NOT PJ: Slaving Account

If there’s one thing you can bank on, says Bernard Darnton today, it’s tokenism.

_BernardDarnton 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 * *


  1. I love the idea of "giving back to the commuuuunity" and plan to do so just as soon as it actually gives something to me first......

  2. A great read.
    The notion of giving back to the community is a form of atonement for perceived sins. It will have come straight from the spin department after a dodgy deli meal.
    What I expect from my bank is service and security. I need to know that my money is secure and available for me to send it to the taxman or whomever.
    I wonder how the Elf n Safe Tea dept is going to monitor all the unexpected hazards the bank workers are going to be exposed to?

  3. This idiocy by the BNZ is just another piece of pathetic spin which buys into and reinforces the subtle background idea that commerce is somehow 'bad'.

    These fuckwits are trying to assuage their (supposed) guilt at being a 'business' by paying a 'community penance'.

    Not only is this sort of bullshit laughingly transparent, but it is also deeply sad that we now have businesses which are essentially ashamed of their own existence and their reasons for operating.

    The National Bank recently opened what they call a 'green' branch (drinking their own recycled urine and lighting the place with organic silkworms or some such nonsense) and I was glad to see that this stupidity didn't catch on at the time. It was largely ignored.

    But now the BNZ has upped the ante. I wonder if BP will be installing drive-through shrines or will Vodafone perhaps introduce a carrier pigeon service for text messages on alternate Tuesdays?

  4. "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."

    Really? You must spend as much time thanking as Trevor Mallard does doing something that rhymes with it.

  5. If they feel so intent on 'giving something back', why don't they lower the fees for their customers (those annoying bastards who essentially pay their wages)? And if they don't specifically want to give money back, if they want to perform warm fuzzy 'feel good' exercises instead, why not offer to go and mow the lawns of their customers? The community has done fuck all for BNZ, but its customers have.

  6. Well, thats another trend I've come to expect from Libertarianz. Incesantly banging on about the need for charity to replace the state when it comes to helping people, and then doing nothing but sneering when an individual or business actually does try to do something charitable.

  7. To me it is a valid form of marketing that while may not be super efficient using bankers skills for other things. However it is a more worthwhile form of marketing than spending thousands more dollars on silly TV advertisements, as a form of marketing.

    And I think you are reading too much into it to think it is about penance. "giving back" is just a warm fuzzy buzz phase, they don't actually think that they need to in order to atone for sins or any rubbish like that.

  8. Gosh, I hope Westpac doesn't follow suit with this one. The ads on telly about sustainability are enough already. If we don't do our volunteer day, it reflects poorly on our appraisal. I got sucked into the last one, helping out the Salvation Army store with a spring clean one Saturday morning 3-4 months ago. Never again. I would rather do volunteer work quietly and without fuss. I am not into this bullshit pc crap 'being seen to care'

    Agree with Pique oil re form of atonement, and Dave Mann's comments(also a laugh with regards to National Bank etc). Another great post Bernard.

    (A little off topic, are you still considering some book orders? Can you email me if affirmative?)


  9. For one thing, FL, the BNZ is forcing its staff to do this on a working day, so they're hardly acting of their own volition -- with customers being put out as a result. Why not do it on a weekend when the majority of banks remain stubbornly closed, and staff can help if they're so inclined?

    And secondly, they're cleaning up publicly-owned land and waterways that ought to be tended to by the administering authorities who are paid to do so via taxes and rates.

    (It's just like 'KidsCan Stand Tall' giving money to families "for the basic necessities" who already get state welfare for the same thing).

    I'm a great believer in private charity and benevolence, etc. But the corporates invariably sound so bloody wet these days, as is the type of charity/community work they tend to support.

  10. "However it is a more worthwhile form of marketing than spending thousands more dollars on silly TV advertisements, as a form of marketing."

    You might be surprised if you did the sums on how much BNZ would be spending on this. It'll be about half a percent of their annual wage bill, which will be a massive amount of money (1 day paying people to not do banking, out of 200).

    I got sucked into the last one, helping out the Salvation Army store with a spring clean one Saturday morning 3-4 months ago...

    Corporates do have a mentality these days that they have to help out with charities, regardless of how useful the charity is. The last place I worked kept wanting us to volunteer to go down to the local soup kitchen and help make dinner for the bums. Now if bums have one thing, it's spare time, however busy taxpayers were being asked to go and peel potatos for layabouts. It would make much more sense for the company to take the money they were paying people to not do their jobs, and give it straight to the charity (or preferrably a better charity that was looking for a cure for cancer or something).

  11. FRANKIE LEE: The point to grasp is that a real business doesn't need to "give back," and whole idea that it does suggests that its day-to-day business involves taking.

    A real business does more "good for the community" in its real day-to-day business than it can ever do by weeding the sides the road.

    Frankly, it's better neither to give nor to receive, but to produce. Without production, you've got nothing to work with. That's what a real business does every day.

  12. @Frankie Lee... I don't know whether you would include me among those who are "incesantly banging on about the need for charity to replace the state when it comes to helping people" - but if you are, then I'd like to let you know that in the last month I have done around 20 hours of unpaid service, working for a genuine, highly skilled and long-established volunteer organisation. I have been doing this for 14 years now.

    What is your contribution? Or do you just think that social involvement and helping people is all the government's responsibility?

  13. Sus
    What you have said in your comment is spot on. That is why I said I hope Westpac don't follow suit. It is bad enough that we are 'encouraged' to do a volunteer day in the first place, let alone shutting up shop for a day and *telling* staff they have to do it. Interesting in that I wonder though how this will be enforced. I know that for the area of the bank I work in, we just cannot shut up shop for the day. Public holidays are different, because that is the whole country, but even Auckland Anniv, we have to have staff working. Such is the nature of the job. Tell you what though, if I was a BNZ employee, I would be very vocal in why I would not be contributing to whatever is being done on the day.

    Your point also about cleaning up public areas that administering authorities are already paid to do is totally true, which is why I will not do the beach cleanup which Westpac actively promote.

    Off topic, I didn't pay any attention to the KidsCan charity, and I certainly did not donate any money to it.

    It seems to me that it is all about being 'seen to care', just like these bloody supermarkets that charge for plastic bags in the name of Mother Earth.

  14. Can I sue you for my split sides?

  15. Frankie:

    First off, it may be helpful if you stopped thinking that this opinion piece somehow represents all Libz.

    Secondly, it has nothing to do with simple private charity! What Bernard is saying is that a business does not have to apologize for being a business by doing this community work -that there is no obligation for a business to engage in charity, which is the underlying belief of the whole idea of doing community service, simply because it's a business.

    Do you believe otherwise?

  16. You stupid idiots are reading way to much into this. They don't think that their business is bad. They just want to do some feel good things and to promote it using buzz words.

    And if you did read more into "giving back" than it being a mere buzz word. It would be giving back in the sense of repaying the good will from the community, not atoning for sins.
    To suggest that big banking bosses or even garden variety tellers actually think that they are doing sins by banking that require atonement, is ridiculous.

    At worse they may be playing on a public perception that most banks are bad, but what is wrong with exploiting public perceptions?

    Its a bit like sports people, if they retire then get into club or junior sport, they say they're giving back. But its just a buzz word to make them feel good about themselves. They really just do it cos they want to, not as a self imposed punishment.

  17. @Comrade MOT: I'm sure this is all just marketing. As far as I can tell, marketing involves little more than yelling cliches down the phone so I'm sure that this campaign is air-headed rather than evil.

    The point is that if a business plays on the perception that business is immoral that perception will be stengthened and legitimised and this country's relative decline will continue.

    I hope that my children will be rich so they can buy me whisky and port in my old age. I hope they don't have to do that by sending remittances from a first-world country.

  18. I did say
    "At worse they may be playing on a public perception that most banks are bad,"
    But when I said at worse, I meant it, I dont really think it is likely that it is about any percepion of business being evil. Its all about trying to be goody goods, as opposed to no longer "baddies". The difference may be small but it is significant, because it means that they are not conceding that they and therefore business as a whole have done anything wrong)


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