Sat | Aug 19, 2017

Tony Deyal | Fishing around

Published:Saturday | June 18, 2016 | 6:00 AM

The first banks I knew were in the family's 'rice land', where my father and other members of our extended family first built small clay or dirt walls, basically banks, to create little dams or water-catchment areas.

Later, in the rainy season, we slithered and slid through the mud, reaped the rice, beat the hell out of it, dried it on the road where I stood guard from the front step armed with some stones to throw at the birds and chickens which came for their share, and, finally, when they said, "It ready," watched as Saddoo ground it in his mill.

The banks also kept in fish and I watched as, with little bamboo poles, small hooks, 'fish' pots made with chicken wire and wood, and even with flour, as well as worms as bait, they caught fish with names like cascadoo (cascadura), wahbeen or guabine, some of which jumped out of the water, coscorub, catfish, mama-teta and cutlass fish. What scared all of us were eels (jangie, or zangie) which, I was warned, could 'suck out youh toe'. Since we all went barefoot in the muddy water, this was enough reason for me to stay on the bank 'helping'.

Then I learned a different kind of 'banking'. Technically, this is really 'bank fishing', and you stand or sit on a solid surface or bank next to a river, pond, lake or sea, and try to catch fish. This is different from 'boat fishing', but in Trinidad, if you sit in a boat trying to catch the fish that live close to the bottom (demersal), you are also 'banking'.

My first experience with banking, or putting my money into a financial institution for the said organisation to use my pittance for its own unspecified purposes known broadly as investing, essentially to make money for itself, build big offices and pay its staff more money than I got, was when, on the urging of my Aunt Doris, my father gave me money to open an account in what was then a national institution which, like all other national institutions in Trinidad, was based in Port-of-Spain.

This one was the 'Penny Bank'. The theory was that you could deposit small, as opposed to big, money and build up your savings over a lifetime. The fact that the Penny and other government-run banks failed during my lifetime, and, in fact, the penny itself was devalued many times, did not help me to build any confidence in banking. Actually, my banking for fish was safer since I was never sold down the river, thrown in at the deep end or found myself drowning in the murky depths of high finance.

 

'SCHEMES'

 

My second experience was in what was called a 'Post Office' bank, and my father again gave me some money to put into a savings scheme run by the government through the postal system. In Trinidad, confidence tricksters or con men" are also called schemers, and almost every government venture is a scheme. There is a National Insurance Scheme, endless housing schemes, and even more waiting in the political wings while the schematics are being prepared.

Needless to say, the one thing you can be sure about is that like the Post Office bank, the schemes eventually collapse and many people are left high and dry, mainly because they can use their few remaining assets to buy overproof, or 'puncheon', rum and in many parts of Trinidad there is a continuity of supply of running water.

My most recent banking experience also left me high and dry, but in the sense of being stranded. I've had a debit card from Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) (or Royal Bank of Trinidad and Tobago - RBTT) for the past 18 years. More than a week ago, it was declined at a supermarket. I went home, checked my online Internet banking account, and found that my money was still there. It was not fished, or phished, a term well-known to all forms of banking.

Satisfied, I tried another store. Declined again. I then called the card centre of the bank to be told that my card was stopped because someone had skimmed (another universal banking and fishing term) an ATM at which I had used my card and the bank then declared my card null, void and useless and would issue me another card whenever I could go to my home branch and get it.

I had received no notice from the bank about this and there was none posted anywhere. As far as I know there was no announcement. Because I have a secure Internet banking account, it should have been easy for RBC to send me a message, but I got none. In fact, I had more luck with fishing online (using nylon) than banking.

Fortunately, I called the manager of my parent branch, an extremely helpful lady, to send the new card to the branch closest to where I am now based, and after another mix-up eventually got it and PIN'd it. I was hooked once more on RBC's concept of customer service banking.

 

RECORD PROFIT

 

RBC is the largest bank in Canada with a record profit in 2015 of $10 billion. Because of its attempt to increase all its rates, fees and charges, it faces a widespread customer rebellion, and even withdrawal (which, as Onan found, has a relatively huge cost as well) in Canada and elsewhere (including the Caribbean). I saw a post on www.consumeraffairs.com listing the top 165 complaints about RBC. There are many complaints about its lack of customer relations and the nickel-and-diming which characterises its operations.

It is a pity because most of the lower-level workers and managers are very friendly but seem to lack any input into the decision-making. In fishing terms, they are in the same boat as the rest of us, and all we can do is carp until the liquidity goes and the money flow dries up like one of the little ponds my family built.

- Tony Deyal was last seen saying that the eels that suck off your toe also disappear when the dry season comes.