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Richard Bird

Richard Bird

Richard Bird - JPMorgan Chase

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A post relating to this item from Finextra:

South Africa's Absa fits ATMs with pepper spray

15 July 2009  |  13184 views  |  2
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A plan by South African bank Absa to deter criminals from bombing its ATMs by fitting them with pepper spray backfired last week when a rogue machine attacked maintenance workers.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the ATM Bomb

16 July 2009  |  3054 views  |  0

Alright, I have to admit that sometimes a news story comes across the wire that is so patently absurd or bizarre that I cannot resist the urge to consider it and then comment. ATM machines that are trained to kill on sight certainly fall into the category of absurd and bizarre.

I am praying that bankers in Europe and America have not read this news article. Seriously, customer service is already so horrible in the United States that I don't need Absa giving our retail banks any ideas that might lead to me being tased or sprayed by my local ATM when I fat finger my password entry the second time.

Absa's decision, even with the harsher political, economic and social realities of South Africa, really reflects the greater problem within banking today - that customers are no longer treated as valued assets, but merely as cattle with pockets for moving our cash from one point to another.

There was a time, in the not too distant past, when Know Your Customer was a simple expectation and not a complex series of compliance and regulatory steps. I was struck by the elegant simplicity of a quote in yesterday's Financial Times (Wall Street: Back to the Old School), and the relevance that it has when considered against how impersonal and imperious today's banking establishment has become. Peter J. Solomon, in explaining why boutique banks have a competitive advantage over their gigantic counterparts:

"I don't want my reputation, no less my money, to depend on people I don't know well, trading securities I really don't understand in time zones I rarely visit."

Granted, Mr. Solomon is referencing his desires as a banker in doing business with other bankers - not in how customers are treated. But, his statement speaks to the universal problem. Nobody knows anyone anymore in the banking system. The position of trusted advisor, banker and financial advocate has been relegated to a dust bin of quaint ideas; much like friendly neighborhoods, local grocers and the trusted mechanic.


The trend towards treating your customers like punching bags isn't just limited to the poor guy on the street being attacked by an ATM machine . A bank that I worked for acquired another bank, and then made the decision that private banking clients with less than $10 million in net worth would now be serviced through a call center instead of by an assigned banker. Whether rich or poor, banks are too busy and too mighty to be troubled with your $10, or your $10 million.

So, Absa, please reverse your decision rapidly. While exorbitant ATM charges that amount to loan sharking are being pressed upon us by our banks already, I don't need to deal with the hassle of having to go to the emergency room for treatment whenever I need a spot of cash to go to the local farmers' market. That is the place where my favorite farmer knows I like fresh brown eggs and the lady that I buy honey from knows me by name even though I only buy from her once every three months or so.

Kind of like when my hometown banker used to know me, and I didn't need to don a flack jacket and flame proof shorts to access MY money from a machine.

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job title Vice-President Information Risk Manager
location Columbus
member since 2009
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Seasoned financial services veteran in; information and operations risk management, hedge fund administration, retail bank and treasury operations, commodities trading and M&A due diligence.

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