Hanging on the phone to an unresponsive bank is a futile task...

After exhausting all her options, COLETTE SHERIDAN had no choice but to ring her bank... it was an action she came to regret
Hanging on the phone to an unresponsive bank is a futile task...

The recorded message said a 20 minute wait — but Colette Sheridan spent 40 minutes on hold to her bank. Picture: Stock

SUCH are my Luddite tendencies that I felt helpless when, after three attempts to buy a cinema ticket online recently, my card was blocked. I don’t know what I did wrong.

There was nothing for it but to ring my bank. Hah! As if you could just make a quick call and sort out the problem.

The bank, inevitably, has long waiting times — at least 20 minutes, says the recorded message.

Cue annoying announcements and irritating music. Realising I was in for a long haul, I turned on the radio next to me so I wouldn’t resent wasting time hanging on the telephone. I hung on and on... for 40 minutes.

This went on for a few days because I couldn’t face going to the bank. And anyway, the recorded message said that to reset my password, banking staff couldn’t do it and I would have to use the bank’s automated service. Talk about frustration.

It really is disgraceful that you can’t get a banker on the phone to give you instructions. It shows a level of contempt for customers. The banks are happy to charge maintenance fees every month — but for what? There is very little service.

When I spoke to a few people about my banking problem, they commiserated and said glumly that there was no way the bank would help me if I walked in the door. They were going on their own past experiences.

But with no other option, I finally decided that I’d call to my local branch in the hope that I’d find someone who could unblock my card. I mean, how hard could that be?

But before I walked in, I gave myself a little pep talk. I was not going to raise my voice or take out my frustration on a staff member. However, I was going to be very firm, insisting that the bank solve my issue.

There was a queue at the cash desk. I was eventually told to go to the front desk and the person there would look after me. And you know what, he did. It was all very painless. I just had to come up with a PAN (Personal Access Number) and a password. (I have form with passwords. I can never remember them. I regularly experience near death by password.)

When the banker completed the procedure, I said to him: “I really appreciate this.” How pathetic of me! As if dealing with a customer’s request was something to be grateful for. What else are banking staff there for? (Apart from refusing mortgages and other unpleasant tasks.)

A friend, on the other hand, who also had her card blocked after trying to give hundreds of Euro to UNICEF to buy Covid vaccinations for people in poor countries, blew a gasket in her local branch. When she was told to key in 5, 2 and 1 (we had this detailed conversation on the phone), she pointed out to the bank person that she was confusing numbers with sequences. (What the banker actually meant was that my friend test her new PAN by hitting the fifth, second and first digits of her access number.) The upshot was that the banker said she didn’t need a lesson in English (and logic).

My friend told her to stuff it and flounced out the door, saying she’d open an account with another bank.

The banks would really want to cop themselves on. Between branches closing down and banks encouraging online access as opposed to dealing with human beings, they are just alienating themselves when you can’t even get through to customer support.

Across the Euro area, the number of local bank branches fell by 17.5% in a five year period (2015-2019.) In this country, 153 branches (14.9%) closed during the same period.

The Central Statistics Office has found the average distance to a bank is now 11.1km in rural areas and 2km in urban areas with over 900,000 people living over 10km away from a bank.

Even when bank branches remain open, the range of services they provide has diminished. Get this: Many bank branches are now cashless and do not provide over-the-counter services.

No wonder there is a lack of faith in the banks. According to The Future of Banking, a report carried out by the Financial Services Union, Irish people’s trust in financial institutions, at 42%, is the fifth lowest among 26 countries surveyed.

Across all countries, the general population lacks trust in crypto-currency (only 35% trust it) and so called robo-advisory (42%). On average, women trust these innovations less than men.

The banks really shouldn’t mess with us. I’d love to send my phone bill with its charges for ringing bank customer support and ask them to pay it. Failing that, I just wish they’d answer the phone. 

 

 

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