So I’m buying a house and have a conversation about the house buying process with a bank colleague.
He is adamant that this is where the branch comes into its own.
I disagreed, but accepted that it may be different in different markets, but that all markets are moving in the same direction over time.
He challenged this, so I explained that my mortgage process had involved a search online, the completion of a form online, a number of emails, paper mails and phone calls, and that was it.
In discussing the story and the process, I realised that there had been no requirement for me to physically visit an office to make an exchange in the process.
In fact, the only need for me to get off my butt and do something, was to visit the bank. Not the bank providing the mortgage, but my bank branch to make a payment.
Here’s the story.
I’m online and have to move monies to cover the deposit on the house.
I enter all the information and hit the enter key.
The message comes back:
Your daily online payments service is limited to a maximum payment transaction of £20,000.
So I call the bank and go through the authentication process. When I get the call centre human contact, I explain my problem and ask them to make the payment to my law firm to enable the exchange.
“Oh no”, she says. “For that sort of amount, you will have to go to the bank branch and ask them to make a CHAPS transfer”.
Whoever said that the low value and high value payments system were converging?
Luckily, I’m on a day where I can get to the bank branch, so I goes down there.
My bank branch is quite pleasant actually, but then it is in what you would call a high net worth catchment of London.
It has a nice open space, a welcome desk and two teller windows that are bright and airy.
It is very unlike my previous bank branch, which you would call an urban aspirational area.
In that branch, there were three gloomy teller windows, regular queues and no welcome desk.
Same bank, but very different branch atmospheres.
Anyways, I go up to the first teller – a mature gentleman who looks like he should have been drawing his pension years ago (and probably is, as there’s nothing like cheap labour in a bank) – and explain that I need to do a CHAPS transfer.
“A CHAPS transfer you say?” he barks through the audio system (yes, banks still have protective windows so you can only talk to each other through a microphone). “You’ll have to sit over there then and I’ll call someone to help you.”
CHAPS transfers are a specialist activity you see. Not for the everyday teller to transact.
So I go and sit at the welcome desk, whilst waiting for someone to deal with my transfer.
I resent this waste of time, but accept it as I purely want to buy a house (that’s the point of this transaction, and nothing to do with the bank who are not even providing the mortgage loan).
The branch is empty.
There’s no noise or conversation.
And then I hear a muffled “jfns kshdfi sdjfke”.
Then I realise that the other teller – who looks a bit like the mother of the first one – is calling me over.
“Hello dear, I hear you want make a CHAPS transfer?” she schmoozes.
“Yes”, I say.
“Well I can deal with that for you. Now what do you need?”
So we start the transaction at the teller counter whilst Roger, the fellow teller, gets a customer.
The new customer puts me off my dealings with Ethel, Roger’s mum, as they have a very loud voice.
“Hello young man”, she bellows. “I’ve just been collecting coins for a while now and would like to turn them magically back into bank notes. Is that ok?” she asks Roger.
Ethel’s doing some sort of admin on my account, so I listen more closely to the conversation next door.
“Yes”, Roger says, “what have you got?”
“Well I’ve got a bag here of £2 worth of 10 pence pieces, £2 of 20 pence pieces and £5 of …”
“No you don’t”, says Roger rather belligerently.
Even Ethel looks round.
“You have £1 bags there”, he says.
“No”, bellows the schoolmarmish customer, “I have £2 worth of silver in these two bags and £5 …”
“No you don’t”, Roger says again. “That’s a £5 bag.”
Then he starts to tell the woman that, according to the bags she is using, she either has £5 in 10 or 5 pence pieces in the bag, or £1 in 1 or 2 pence pieces, but you cannot have £2 worth of 10 pence pieces in a £5 bag.
Jeez. Jobsworth strikes again.
The woman looks a bit exasperated and I’ve forgotten why I’m in the bank branch in the first place.
Then Ethel says, “what would you like this transaction to be called?”
Ethel repeats the question and turns the screen towards me to show that I can give this transaction a name.
“Oh. Call it Peter or David, I don’t mind”, I says, still whirling from Roger’s stubbornness.
Then I notice that Roger is taking the bags off the school marm and re-bagging them.
He’s taking all the 20 pence coins out and weighing them and then bagging them in different bags.
He does the same with her 50 pence, 10 pence, 5 pence, 2 pence and 1 pence bags.
Yes, she has a lot of bags and a lot of coins.
I’m thinking she should have gone to Metro Bank, as they have coin changing machines in their lobbies,
Anyway, I’m now focused on my transaction which has reached a critical stage.
“So”, says Ethel, “can I just confirm you want to make this CHAPS payment to your solicitors today, and are happy to accept our charge of £23 for doing this?”
“What?” says I, “you’re charging £23 for this?”
“Yes Mr. Skinner, that’s the cost of using CHAPS I’m afraid.”
No, I think, it’s the old cost of doing business with a high value payments system. After all, it costs the same to transfer a penny today as a billion pounds. It’s called an electronic transfer but, with high value payments, the electronic transfer costs more for the cost of me walking down to the branch and taking up the staff time at the branch to do this.
The latter point was clearly evidenced when John was called.
Why, he’s the branch manager who has to check that Ethel’s set up the transaction correctly.
So whilst Ethel disappears to get John, I look around and notice that there’s now a bit of a queue in the branch.
There’s a chap reading a newspaper who looks like a vicar, a lady who methinks has just ducked out of the horse riding school, and a chap wearing a helmet making out to rob the bank … argh!!!
Oh, no, he’s just a security guy from Group4 delivering some secure goods to the bank branch.
Of course, no-one is getting served as Ethel is trying to find John who’s out back somewhere having lunch, whilst Roger is still counting the 1 pence bags of coins into the correct bags and that all takes time (he might get to the 2 pence coins before closure).
Finally, Ethel returns with an emaciated chap who, by comparison, appears to be her grandson’s age.
John looks at her screen, looks at my account details, the transaction request, the payee’s information and, after a while, says: “identification?”
I’m not sure whether he’s talking to me or Ethel.
Then I notice his drawn and grey face is staring at me through thick pebble glasses.
“Oh? I’m Chris Skinner.”
“Not good enough. Do you have ID?” he says.
“Of course”, says I, “I’ve got my card here and have entered my PIN. Isn’t that good enough?”
“No”, says he. “We need photo ID for a transaction of this size.”
Aha, methinks, no problem. After all, I’ve been in this situation often enough to have remembered my passport. So I present that and John gives a small look up to the stars, before taking it from me to photocopy.
Roger’s now got to £3 worth of 1 pence bags, and the queue has been joined by a man who I’m sure starred in Crimewatch last week, and another lady who, if anyone spoke to her, would probably run out of the bank.
I start thinking that it would be nice if the branch had a grandfather clock ticking.
That would make customers realise the waiting times are lengthy or maybe it’s better to put music in the branch instead.
Either way, we are standing around waiting.
Finally, Ethel returns with John soft shoe shuffling behind.
“That’s all good Mr. Skinner”, says Ethel, “now can you just confirm by entering yes on the terminal”, she requests, pointing at the Chip & PIN machine in front of her counter.
I do so, and smile as all is confirmed and completed.
It’s only taken an hour out of my day, unlike the six customers now queuing who have been doing just that for about half an hour.
So the only physical movement required so far for my house purchase has been to visit a bank branch to perform a high value transaction at a charge of £23.
Nothing like the internet age, is there?
It’s better than the experience I then had in my local post office where I wanted to send a recorded delivery letter to my solicitors. The post office system was down and they had run out of stamps!