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Please remove brain before working at this bank

Little Britain, the UK comedy show, made a character that you
may think is extreme.  Her name is Carol, and she works for a fictional
bank, Midwest.  The way the sketch works is that each time a customer
comes into the bank, she rattles away on the keyboard and then delivers
the punchline: "Computer says no". 

"Can I have a loan?" 

"Computer says no."

"I'd like to open an account here please." 

"Computer says no."

"Do you offer any bonuses for loyal customers?" 

"Computer says no."

If you are unfamiliar with Carol, then checkout her endearing little mannerisms:

So what's the point?

Well,
as with all comedy sketches, there is an element of truth to Carol.
Some British banks are a little bit black and white.  They run on the
basis that employees should not be allowed to make decisions.  Instead,
everything should be run on a strict process basis.  Staff should not
be empowered.  The computers should run everything.

They might as well put a sign up saying, "This bank's policy is that all staff must remove their brains before starting to work here".

Now this may
be fine if you're dealing with some spotty youth in job training but
seasoned professionals, surely not?  If you are dealing with a banker
by background, with years of experience, surely they should be trusted
with decision making.  After all, not everything in life or banking is
clear-cut.  There will always  be some grey. 

Apparently not.  I met
my business banker last week, and he's been with the bank for 27
years.  He's a seasoned banker, man and boy.

I wasn't after
anything in particular, except to just say 'hi'.  And we chatted.  I
did mention that I receive and have to make many payments in euro's and
dollars, and how awkward it is that I cannot do this online.

"Yes,
and we charge you a hefty fee for conversions of currencies too", he
piped in, in his cheery way. He was trying to be helpful and nice.
"I'll see what I can do", he pipes up, "but often I can do nothing
because the computer says no."

What? 

But you've been with the bank 27 years. 

What do you mean: "the computer says no"?

"Well, ten years ago I had much more leeway to accommodate my customer's needs than I do today," he says. 

"Today,
everything is run by the computer.  It's because everything is focused
upon sales.  That's why the bank has brought in people from Marks &
Spencer and Thomas Cook, who have no idea about banking but they know
loads about sales and retailing. 

"However, because they don't
know about banking practices, they are carefully controlled by computer
processes in what they can and cannot authorise, say and do.  This
means that for people like me, who have been with the bank 27 years, I
now have to work with the same procedures and processes as a young
executive from TopShop.  I used to be able to make judgement calls …
not today."   

Now, being a nation of whingers, he was using my
counselling ear to air his frustrations and, to be honest, I enjoyed
hearing it.  What it tells me is that some banks no longer need humans
to deliver service – just procedures and computers.

The only
downside is that it means everything becomes disciplined, ordered and
rigid.  There is no leeway, no grey, no humanity or relationship.  You
just end up with fit in or get lost.

It reminded me of an HSBC
bank manager, who wanted my mortgage business.  I said fine, and in the
process I'd like to switch my main account from HSBC to First Direct,
an HSBC subsidiary.  Great, he said.

I was then rejected by First
Direct, because I didn't fit their risk profile.  This was for two
reasons.  First, I was changing address.  Strange that, as I was in the
process of moving house and taking out a massive mortgage with the bank
to fund it.  Secondly, I was rejected because I had just changed jobs.
Funny that, as the new job was the reason I was moving.

Even with
my HSBC manager asking First Direct, part of the same bank group,
personally to relent as it may mean he'd lose this mortgage account,
they could not.  The computer says no.  They couldn't change their risk
procedures, just to accommodate a piece of mortgage business elsewhere
in the bank.

So, automatons as bank staff who sell and retail but have no
empowerment, turns out to be fine for those customers who don't want
flexibility and those employees who don't want to think.

"Please remove brain before work."

About Chris M Skinner

Chris M Skinner
Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog, the Finanser.com, as author of the bestselling book Digital Bank, and Chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club. He has been voted one of the most influential people in banking by The Financial Brand (as well as one of the best blogs), a FinTech Titan (Next Bank), one of the Fintech Leaders you need to follow (City AM, Deluxe and Jax Finance), as well as one of the Top 40 most influential people in financial technology by the Wall Street Journal’s Financial News. To learn more click here...

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