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January 28, 2011

26-1-11 Bankers

26-1-11

Remember where were you when the US banks detonated the toxic debt bombs under the foundations of the World Trade structures? No, me either. It was a silent detonation that set off a chain of self-destructing financial instruments farmed out to sleeper-cells around the globe. Made the amateur efforts of September 11th look like joy-riders knocking over bollards on the ring-road. The reverberations are blowing holes in High Streets across the UK to this day, leaving the unemployed and repossessed high and dry, to, uh, sink or swim.
The men responsible were of course hunted down, like those sponsors of international terrorism in their enclaves in, e.g. Boston, Mass. Sorry, my mistake, that was Osama bin Laden. Yep, there was going to be a crusade… sorry, I mis-spoke myself… a surgical strike to get ‘the bad guys’ and bring’em back dead or alive from their hideouts in the Torabora caves.
Still looking.
They found the bankers, though, tried very hard to make them say sorry, bailed out the shattered structure they’d presided over and allowed them to collect six-figure bonuses to stop them selling their expertise to foreign powers. That showed’em.
So… I’m getting to know my new neighbourhood: the pharmacy, the local barber, the bank.
Mine’s the one with the horse rampant, rearing up to say ‘suck on this, taxpayers!’. They also run those TV ads where terribly cute button-eyed characters with curiously phallic noses live in a lovely lovely world to the sound of sopranos singing ethereal coloratura like Enya on helium, made even more comfortable by the bank’s handy plastic cards and its special eagerness to help on ‘the journey’. Auntie Julie Walters tells me so.
Meanwhile, in a freezing wind on the neighbourhood street I go to the ATM for cash to give the hairdresser and notice the loading-screen with a picture of one of the simpering personnikins inviting me to top up my mobile in 1,2,3 steps – ‘It’s That Easy!’
Well, I’ve used the local supermarket and WH Smith so far, but golly, time to learn to use this helpful facility there at my fingertips, 1,2,3. Easy as that.
I insert my card, Step 1. No sign of Step 2: select Top Up Phone. Cancel.
Try the card again. Again, the usual cash and pin services display. I try ‘PIN services’ in case it’s hiding there. Nothing doing. Cancel.
I go into the bank to try the machine there.
Same familiar screen. Cancel.
I’m worrying a little now in case all this activity shows up as suspicious, so I ask at the counter and a very friendly woman comes around to help me.
I try again as she does that new etiquette of looking away as I feed my number in. The same screen.
‘Hmm. That shouldn’t happen.’
Ah,good, so it’s not just me.
‘Try again.’
I try again and again she turns away and turns back and looks at the same screen.
‘I’m only visiting from my own branch and it always works there. I’ll get…’ er, call him Bill… ‘Bill, who looks after the machines in this branch.’
Ah, an ATM wrangler, now we’re getting somewhere. She goes back behind the plate-glass and confers with Bill. Bill comes out and asks me to try again. Same screen.
‘Hang on, I’ll try with my card… there we are!’
He-ey! Top-up shows up!
‘Try again.’ I try again. Familiar mundane services screen.
Bill goes back behind the plate-glass and disappears into a back office. He reappears and peers at a monitor behind the counter as I lean against the reassuring bulk of the outside ATM’s cash reservoir and several other customers file past to use the interior one. He scribbles on a piece of paper and disappears again into the interior.
Bill reappears and apologises. He has another call on his time but if I’d care to take a seat around the corner, another colleague will deal with it.
I take a seat and read as few pages of ‘Just My Type: A book about fonts’ by Simon Garfield – a shrewd late Xmas pres from my bro, who’s struck just my geek-level with this one. I’m reading about readability vs. legibility as I wait. More to say about this when I’ve finished.
The Colleague comes and sits beside me. Call her, oh… Mandy.
‘They say…’ Uh-huh, the antennae go up when a sentence begins ‘they say’. They rarely have good news.
‘They say that you can’t use a business debit card to do top-ups.’
Mmm, yes?
‘Because it’s a company card, there may be several cards issued and anyone might use them without authorisation.’
Er, wouldn’t that be one of the convenient uses for a business card? Wouldn’t the company accountant see who’d used the card and how?
‘Well, they say that because it’s a business card you can’t use it for top-ups’
I’m hearing the start of a little circular discussion familiar from previous dealings with banking problems.
But I’m a sole trader, there’s only one card.
‘Well they say that as it’s a business card they don’t let you use it for top-ups’
But if anyone is in a position to confirm that only one card was issued, it’s… uh, the bank.
‘Well, that’s what they say. They say…’
OK, so there’s no particular reason why I can’t use my individual card which will be recorded as unique. It’s just company policy.
‘That’s what they told me. you know, I can’t do anything about it.’
Could I use my credit card?
‘No, it has to be a debit card.’
OK, so I now know not to try to use the bank’s simple 1,2,3 steps to top up my phone. After all, the screen only says ‘It’s As Easy As That’, it doesn’t say how easy that is. That’s how easy it is, it’s simply impossible.
Twenty minutes or so to discover this.
On the way home I stop off at the local One-Stop convenience store. The blooming scoundrels don’t ask questions. I could be member of my own sales force trying to defraud myself out of £10; phone-card in and out, debit card in and out and I’m free and clear and on the lam, phone topped up and receipt in hand in less than two minutes.
Good job the bank employees weren’t with me on the journey home.

  1. Ah, the delights of being a business customer! It does all seem rather complicated. My own method is to visit the local Vodaphone shop two or three times a year. I hand the assistant a tenner (one of the thin, scruffy brown things that used to be made of Real Money) and my ancient brick of a phone. The assistant hands me the phone back. Easy as One, Two. I even get a receipt.

    Comment by Sue Jones — January 28, 2011 @ 9:04 pm

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