jaguar hunting in a tree
PHOTO: Hidde Rensink

A friend of mine was waiting in a long queue in a small Irish town to get money out of a bank machine. It was a big queue. When he got inside he saw four machines, but only one of them allowed him to take money out. Three of them were exclusively for depositing money even though each machine has the capacity for deposits and withdrawals. My friend noticed a bank employee passing by and asked him why the four machines didn’t allow withdrawals as well.

“We want to make it easy for people to deposit,” he said. “We want to make it easy for people to put money into the bank.”

This bank employee saw no problem with long queues of customers waiting to get money out. He didn’t apologize for the long delay. As far as he was concerned, the system was working as designed.

Another friend had developed an app to help people manage their money. He was asked to give a presentation to senior management at an Irish bank. The app was very clever, using gamification to help people save and get the best out of their money every month. At the end of the presentation, one of the senior managers just laughed. “This doesn’t help us,” he said. “This helps the customer. We make money by getting them to overspend, charging them fees, stuff like that.”

Have you heard about the “largest scam ever perpetrated on customers in Ireland”? It was run by all the Irish-based banks and involved forcing people onto higher interest mortgages. (Funny how all the banks managed to come up with the same scam at the same time.)

“Bank of Ireland has admitted to thousands of extra cases where customers were denied a good-value tracker mortgage,” Charlie Weston wrote for the Irish Independent in November 2017. The bank had “discovered” an additional 6,000 customers who they had scammed. Actually, they didn’t discover anything. They were forced, under duress, by the authorities to admit they scammed these customers.

But here’s the amazing thing: 2,000 of these customers were their own staff. Yes, their own staff. Obviously, not senior management staff. Poor senior management will now not be getting their bonuses because they have been caught — yet again — scamming their customers and their staff.

Every year or so, Irish banks are caught overcharging their customers. When they are caught, they claim it was a ‘mistake’ in the system. Funny how they never make the mistake of undercharging.

I have the misfortune of being a customer of Bank of Ireland. (The other Irish banks are as bad or worse.) Whenever I was invited in for a visit, that was a big red light moment. All the predators would come out trying to give me ‘free’ advice and hard sell me their latest scam.

Whenever I ring their support, I typically get the message. “Due to unusual call volumes you’re going to have to wait a very long time.” On average, I have to wait between 10 and 20 minutes to get help because their badly designed software isn’t working again.

The culture in so many traditional organizations is that managers see themselves as predators and they see the customers as prey. The problem is that customers are getting tired of being preyed on, and the internet gives them a tool to fight back like never before.