Kafka’s Shadow at the Bank

I recently heard the following story. I will just pass it on with a few comments here and there to simply encourage you to think.

A friend of mine, a client of a large Romanian bank, wants to set up his online banking programme, so that he could make monthly scheduled payments. He sees that he cannot add a predefined beneficiary to his list, so he calls the bank’s “hotline”. “It is possible for you to do that”, says the bank representative on the phone, “but you have to come to one of our subsidiaries to fill out an application, so that we will add that account to your list of beneficiaries”. Aaalright, I’m sitting and wondering, how is this online banking of any use to me, the customer, if I have to go to their subsidiary to fill out paperwork instead of sitting comfortably at my computer and saving a lot of time?

However, the client insists because he is a good man and he wants to make a monthly donation of 50 Romanian lei to an NGO that he supports. So, he goes to the bank to fill out the paperwork. Of course, knowing the (theoretical) benefits of online banking – even finding out that these benefits are real at other banks – he wants to make the most of them in order to save time. We all expect that at least, don’t we!?

But when he arrives at the bank, he obviously encounters none other than the incompetent teller, who either does not know how to list a form, or has to ask her superior before any move she makes, or does not know how to use the bank’s own computerised system, or has to consult the colleague next door, or just about anything…
On top of all this, the supervisor is no more than a typical “dude” in a tweed suit, tight on his body, with pointy shoes and a pink shirt, with the first two buttons unbuttoned, with gel in his spiky hair, who speaks non-stop on his mobile phone and does not help his subordinate at all. His help and engagement in the issue come down to: “Did you call I-don’t-know-who?”, “Call this person instead!”, “Deal with it!” and the like, with a bored tone and attitude, without even looking in the direction of our customer or speaking a word to him. That “I-don’t-know-who” person is called in front of the customer seven times, but does not answer.
The client loses his patience and asks for the situation to be resolved. He doesn’t have much time left, he is late for work, because he arrived at the bank during his lunch break, plus he really wants to make that monthly, scheduled donation, because he really supports the cause of that NGO.

After a long debate, he receives a form to fill out, but, to his surprise, in the IBAN section where he needs to write the account number of the beneficiary NGO, the initials of the bank’s account numbers are pre-printed there. So, he cannot write down an account number from another bank. He returns to the counter and informs the teller of this new problem, and she tells him that he’s right. So, our client lost another 10 minutes to find out (even before the incompetent teller did) that he can only make monthly scheduled payments if he were to transfer the money to accounts opened at this bank, and no other banks.

To my surprise, the client still does not burst in anger, does not throw a Molotov cocktail at anyone, does not instantly withdraw all his accounts from that bank, does not need to be hospitalised, on the contrary, he behaves in a civilised manner, demanding an immediate resolution of the situation. After all, he just wants to use his bank account as it would normally be used. Or how he thinks it would normally be used.

The teller, along with her colleague and their spiky-haired boss concluded, in an apotheotic end, that beneficiaries can be registered in the client’s database only through a written request at the counter, that monthly scheduled payments can only be transferred into an account opened at the same bank, and that the “I-don’t-know-who” person was called seven times in vain, because they have no phone… (Kafka, brother!) Another conclusion is established: “Distinguished customer, here is a sheet of paper, please make a handwritten request to the bank’s management team, maybe something can be done, although the bank’s procedure for online banking does not in fact allow your requirement to be solved”.

The client, as patient as a heroine mother from a Soviet novel, writes a handwritten request and puts it on the counter, hoping, however, to be able to donate the 50 Romanian lei per month to a good cause, using the online facilities available in the 21st century. With a last-minute revelation, he asks how much the bank’s commission is for the 50 Romanian lei, whenever that would be the case, in an illusory future; but he is full of hope, dreaming of a good future for the planet. The answer came promptly: “Wait, I’m going to look at the grid, uhm, yes, found it, 8 Romanian lei!”. Moment in which the client tears off the handwritten request and leaves. After half an hour of being persistent, in front of the counter of this Romanian bank, talking with an incompetent teller, supervised by a dude with spiky gelled hair and a boring mortgage life, who was however too busy talking on his mobile phone, the client was to pay a commission of 16 percent.

Overcoming all the illusions of customer service, online banking, saved time and lost time, modernity, automation, the 21st century, saving the planet and so on, the calculation says dryly and precisely that you have to pay a 16 percent commission for every 50 Romanian lei you want to donate. If we were to consider a donation of 600 Romanian lei per year, paying 50 Romanian lei per month, our client – sorry, yours – was going to pay you a commission of 96 Romanian lei per year.

I am starting to believe, when I hear about such cases, that I have nothing to live for in my life. I mean, in my life as an advisor to companies and brands, because otherwise I’m fine. Throughout my career I have practiced and uttered something that seems simple and common sense to me: the attributes and intangible values ​​of a brand are built on the tangible properties of their product or service. Without tangibles you can’t have a solid foundation for building a brand. Our bank does not seem to know that their “tangibles”, that means customer service, facilities, how much time the customer saves, commissions, are the simple quintessence of their business. That’s it. Is that all there is to the essence of a bank’s business!? I think so, that’s all there is to it. When one of these “ingredients” does not exist… Where’s the business? Where’s the brand? And, first and foremost, where is the customer? They are nowhere to be found! We know where to find our client, however; we can see him leaving the counter, angry, mentally preparing to leave the modern world and retreat to the mountains, to live with the partisans.

The story ultimately boils down to: a poorly thought-out product, deplorable customer service, zero facilities, wasted time, huge commissions. It’s like saying to someone “I love you” every single day, but you forget to say “Happy birthday!” to them and you only think about them when you need 8 Romanian lei to buy cigarettes, each day. I warmly recommend cash payment and the return of barter.

My cousin from Germany received a one-week loan of 4,000 euros from the bank that handles his salary, without commission, with a simple phone call. He wanted to buy a car, he needed that money quickly so he wouldn’t miss the opportunity, he knew he could give it back to the bank in a week, so he thought he’d make a call and ask. And the one at the other end of the line pressed a few buttons while talking to my cousin and that was it!

Finally, a little charade: resentful bureaucrats are “decaying”.