Wednesday 11 March 2009

Banking on new local realities

The difficult rebirth

Getting my mail out of the post box the other day there was a letter from a once familiar organisation with I had not communicated for about 4 years, because then they sent me a letter that they were being absorbed by another bank.

This one had a new logo but more or less the same name it had from when it was an autonomous entity – the credit crunch is doing things radical to the banking sector, in this case Fortis Bank which is now essentially a public utility rather than a bank since it needs government support has had to regurgitate the ingestions it took in over the last few years.

All these onetime seemingly well run banks that were acquisitive with reckless abandon using management models that made the acquired banks look like they were being run by charlatans now all seem to be run by charlatans – it is appalling to say the least.

Show me the building

So, my mortgage bank that was once in the belly of Fortis is now back as an autonomous entity alas I do not get a bailout that closes my mortgage book and lets me consider other things to do with my money.

Though we are all keen on the flexibility and convenience of online banking, I like to know that my money can still be found in some building built of bricks and mortar able to weather storms and having some human being with whom I can converse if I have issues.

I do however commiserate with those who had to queue up for miles round the streets for hours to get into their bricks-and-mortar bank when things seemed to be going belly up – a man cannot be persuaded of a greater cause to run to than to know that there is a run on the bank that he banks in.

Fought for by four

Walking down through the local shopping centre where I live we have 4 automated cash machines representing four banks, one of those banks – PostBank – has now formally absorbed in the bigger ING Group conglomerate but the cash tills have been retained – letters declared that too, sometime ago.

So we have PostBank, ABN Amro, ING Bank and at the far end of the shopping centre, RaboBank, all with walk-in offices apart from PostBank which is now part of the ING Group.

ABN Amro, the subject of the worst banking constipation and expectoration including the discomfort of food poisoning that could hit any bank, the nemesis of the Royal Bank of Scotland in the United Kingdom and Fortis in the BeNeLux had always had the longest opening hours including Saturdays.

Imagine my surprise when I found that my local ING Bank had refurbished its offices, extended its opening hours for the shopping evenings and also will open on a Saturday.

Crunch is global, service is local

Amidst the global consequences of bad banking decisions made by professionals who had forgotten the fundamentals of client service and risk, I would presume the seedlings of competition on the high street have been sown once again between banks.

Less of the adventurism that left many shipwrecked in waters far from home and back to the trusty, thrifty, parsimonious simple local customer who needs basic services, wants easy answers to nagging questions and likes to see the manager rather than being fobbed off by some personal assistant that has created the mystique of financial deity around the boss that their hubris resulted the chaos we now grapple with.

Methinks one should call in on Saturday for a hair cut even though I have none to lose – there should not be much between banks and the barbers, we have all been given severe hair cuts already – now, if I decided to move my account from some far-flung place to my local bank, there might just be a beer mat and pen in the bargain – such extravagance for pennies with the potential of pounds.

On reflection, I think Not!

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