Fri | Jan 19, 2018

Banks - from a customer’s viewpoint

Published:Saturday | March 11, 2017 | 12:00 AM



I must declare at the outset that banking is a business, and in any business the ultimate goal is to make a profit, with proper management being the driver of these profits.

It is not expected, however, that the banks try to improve their bottom line by adding or increasing fees, as opposed to creating innovative banking products for customers to increase their utilisation of the banking system that would result in improvement of profits for the banks.

It is also not expected that making a profit is to be at the expense of service to the customer, or financial loss to others, namely, the customer.

In addition to dormant accounts and related issues raised by MP Fitz Jackson, there are other matters that need to be scrutinised with the view of making them more 'customer-friendly'.

Some of these issues we accepted because we, the customers, have no say in the implementation of these policies. I will mention a few, as seen from the customer's viewpoint:

- Foreign-exchange transactions - February 6, 2017, one US$ was sold by the bank for J$128.14; and the bank bought at J$120.60 cash and J$126.40 for cheques, etc. This means that for each US$ sold, the bank received J$7.54 on cash transactions. This, in my opinion, is too wide a spread since we are not talking about the exchange of a single US$ but a multiplied effect of hundreds or thousands of US$ passing through the system.

- Charges to change cheques - We remember the story of a particular bank that was charging more than $1,000 to change a cheque from 'other banks', but was reversed because of customers' protest. What were they thinking? Should they be allowed to treat people like that? Those decision makers are supposed to be human beings, living in the same world as us, the customers.

Still, another bank was charging $250 to change a cheque; last week, the same bank raised that fee to more than $300 - drawn on same branch, for a customer having an account at the same branch.

- Waiting time in banking hall - I have the need sometimes to utilise the tellers in the banks, both in the Corporate Area and in rural branches, and in a particular bank, the number of tellers are three most times - one serving senior citizens, one serving business customers, and one serving 'other' customers, even though the 'other' customers' line has in excess of 25 or 30 persons in that line at any one instance.

We are aware that there are Internet-banking possibilities and the banks are encouraging us to use them, but there is no way of getting everything done online. Also bear in mind that Jamaica is still not highly penetrated by cybertechnology access.

- Express deposits - Express deposit envelopes are no longer placed at the machine, and when you request one, a query is made whether it is a corporate cheque or personal - the personal cheques being for deposit to the smart ABM, where there is a delay in accessing the funds. If you wait in line and present a cash or cheque for deposit at the teller, you are redirected to these machines. This is wrong, and for matters like these, we, the customers, should have personal preference to wait in line and get your personal assurances, and not be dictated to, based on 'policy'.

These are only some of what the 'policymakers' in the banking system need to bear in mind when trying to improve their profitability and ignoring the customer satisfaction that should accompany such policies.

When MP Fitz Jackson took issue with the abnormalities in the banking system, the president of the Bankers Association, in a knee-jerk reaction, suggested there might be a rise in loan interest rates if the status quo was not maintained. How much time would he have had to do a proper investigation and come to that conclusion?

His comment was a demonstration of the stranglehold the bankers have on us, customers, and was a preview of how they will handle any future dissidence in the banking system.

It was really ill-timed for one bank to announce the highest quarterly profit ever achieved, at the time when high fees and other profit-making schemes were under scrutiny.

Unfortunately, the advisers to the Government, and ultimately the Cabinet, are bankers and affiliates of the banking system, so we do not expect much support for enhancing customer benefits.

Again, I call on all of us as customers in the banking system to support the MP in the quest to rationalise the banking system. This is not a call for regulations from the Bank of Jamaica or Cabinet; it is a call for the 'policymakers' to think like human beings and not like people who do not go to the supermarket, buy gas, pay bus fare, or send their children to school.

I sympathise with the employees of the banks since they are the ones required to implement the policies of the bank, many of which they do not agree with since they live in the real world also.

We, the banking customers, are people too.