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Sunday, 6 February 2011

Antediluvian antics at Barclays Bank. Stumbling across a good idea they make their staff’s jobs impossible. What else is new?

How can one single out a particular bank in for incompetence, rapacity and all round folly? It is hard; but I have always had a soft spot for Barclays.

They had a series of loopy marketing directors, all of whom as far as I can see went on to other good jobs after being found out, as is the way in the potty world such people inhabit.

One thought it a good idea to run commercials featuring the actor Samuel L. Jackson wandering around aimlessly talking to a pig, perhaps in the bizarre belief that an American actor, at that time famed for violent roles, was a convincing authority on the realities of British domestic finance.

Another started plastering the banks with matey slogans on the grounds, I imagine, that for instance calling an ATM a Hole in the Wall would endear the bank to customers. The signs and accompanying paraphernalia for this little conceit must have cost millions - with further millions to remove.

But somebody at Barclays had a good idea recently. They started sticking electronic kiosks in the branches where you can do all your transactions without having to queue at a counter.

My beloved, a born masochist - she puts up with me - banks with Barclays. She made a payment through one of these kiosks in London before we moved to Bristol then went to check her account at the kiosk in a branch here. It could tell her nothing.

Puzzled, she went to the counter to enquire. The girl pulled her details up on a screen to see what was going on, first checking name and address.

This proved challenging.

“Your address is 51, Ables Road?” No, it wasn’t. The poor girl couldn’t read the address that was there before her eyes on the screen. And even if she could it wouldn’t have helped, because believe it or not, the system doesn’t allow the people in the branches to get full details of what happens via the kiosk. Only head office can do that.

However, the girl at the counter did have a tag that gave her first name – let’s call her Dolly – under which was written “loves cats”. This was clearly a residue of the attempt to render the bank and its staff loveable.

It is hard to see how knowing which animals Dolly likes is any help when all you want is that she can read, write, handle transactions and tell you what you need to know. I don’t want to love the people in my bank. They can be infatuated with giant Peruvian rats for all I care. All I want is they be polite. Years ago, when they had some authority, being friends with them was a help. But now that everything they do is controlled by the dimwits at the centre, it’s of no use whatsoever.

Since Dolly who loves cats was unable to oblige we went to a bigger branch to discover that here too the kiosk would reveal nothing. The evidence suggests it may have been upset at being asked: it crashed.

It then transpired that even the lady managing the branch couldn’t find out the necessary details. So forty years and more after banks started having databases Barclays’ masterminds still haven’t grasped that you need a central one everyone relevant can look at - let alone that the people who really need access are the poor souls who deal with customers.

How bloody sad is that? My heart goes out to the manageress and all the underpaid people in banks who suffer from the ill-thought-out “strategies” of the head office boobies. If like Dolly who loves cats I had to work in a branch I fear I too would lose the ability to read.

Peter Drucker said years ago that there is only one profit centre in business: your customer. But that profit is only made possible by your staff. Why make their lives so difficult? Why not give them some control? Oceans of research show that people who feel in control do a better job.

But then the only thing that appears to interest those who run banks is their grotesquely swollen pay packets. In less forgiving times or more excitable societies they would have been strung up for incompetence. Only professional sportsmen and pop stars are so insanely overpaid. But at least they entertain us.

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