Who will bell the 'banker' cat?
Banks no longer customer-friendlyFriday, October 23, 2020
Banks have always been a very powerful lobby group capable of influencing modern governments. In 1960, the banking community lobbied the colonial Government in Jamaica to pass a law now reflected in “Part 2” of the Evidence Act. In this Act we have an example of the special treatment shown to banks, in that it allows copies of bank documents to be received in evidence in civil and criminal court proceedings without being subject to the otherwise complex rules regarding admission of documentary evidence. This comes as no surprise, as governments, like us citizens, need banks to carry on our day-to-day business. This fact of life carries with it an inherent conflict of interest, where governments elected to serve the people are, at the same time, expected to protect them from exploitation by their own bankers.
What compounds this reality is that we are now wedded to the market economy, whose ideals give banks freedom to pursue profits with little or no State intervention. The challenge is who will bell the “banker cat” for the people's long-term well-being?
That old, indigent woman carried on someone's back to vote at the polls, once she has supported the Government with her vote, who will protect her from our modern banking rules when she has no smart phone, laptop, or e-mail address?
Long before our 2020 social distancing and pandemic protocols were put in place, our banking halls were virtually out of bounds, as banks are not concealing the fact that they no longer want us to come into their spaces to do our banking. We have been ushered to machines, which have replaced humans, at a per-transaction costs. Branches have been closed as they go lean and cost-effective, leaving us behind in the stampede to gain even higher annual profits.
Bank mangers will, in soft and timid tones, admit that they have lost their autonomy, unable to override the rigid rules dictated by their head offices. Like the cellphone service monopoly days, we have to pay to send and pay, at the other end, to receive the said funds. My friend tried, unsuccessfully, to print his online bank statement, forcing him to request his statement, wait days for its delivery, and then pay for the hard copy from his bank.
Senior citizens who are not Internet-savvy are no longer issued with “bank books”. In prior years they were able to read their little bank books at midnight, with no need to log on or plug in to know the balances in their accounts. Now, they have to patronise informal cafés to go online for a fee, and then give banking information to 'helpful' strangers, leaving them vulnerable to scammers and giving up their right to privacy in their financial affairs.
Try making a call or getting an e-mail address for your local bank and you are sent to an impersonal non-human, centralised, artificial intelligence voice system, unable to connect you to your bank manager in cases of emergency. My bank of 39 years, where I have at least two personal accounts and five business accounts, required that I send them a job letter to open another account!
The hardships of banking are deep-seated. Honest, self-employed citizens are discouraged from taking large sums of cash to the bank. Those who have saved through “partners” feel criminalised when they take their cash drawings to the bank.
As unfriendly as banking has become, using banks in our affairs is mandatory. If you doubt this fact, try saving under your mattress, and then take $1 million in cash to buy a car; that cash transaction can land you in trouble with the law.
Who in our Parliament is brave enough to take on the banks on the side of our senior citizens in our Third World digital divide reality? Are our representatives listening to a related and similar digital divide issue of the mother of seven, who needs her children to be schooled online, when all she has is one cellphone in her family?
May I remind our representatives that it is the banks' duty to operate in our interest, founded on the fact that our collective savings represents their lifeline. Is it because many customers of the banks cannot breathe why no one is hearing their cry?
Bert Samuels is an attorney-at-law. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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