We’re often told that we need to move with the times. Or we’ll be left behind. The technological world opens new doors, makes tasks more efficient and more productive. It’s faster this way. You can get more done that way. Less people are needed if you do it another way. But I often wonder who leads these changes? The people or the bureaucrats?
I haven’t been in my local bank in ages. My other half (the better half!) has been lodging for me. I switched to the Ulster Bank a few years ago because after all they are meant to be the ‘friendly bank’. Or so their advertising campaign proclaimed for years. I love anything to do with friendliness because I am conscious that we have an epidemic of loneliness in our communities. Their opening hours were certainly a lot friendlier than my previous bank. Longer opening times in the evenings and open on Saturday mornings too.
In recent months I’ve noticed a push by staff to get customers to make what they ‘pitch’ as faster lodgements via an envelope through a special slot in the wall. These lodgements are not a lot faster. Whenever I lodge through a one-to one consultation at a hatch that lodgement is automatically shown in my account. These other envelope lodgements take longer. Indeed, in another branch my lodgement was delayed by days because someone lost track of it. Good job I kept my receipt!
Today, I walked down to my local Ulster Bank. To my horror, I discovered that three hatches have been covered and are permanently shut down. Even the envelope slot has been closed. Sometimes I used to borrow a pen from the lady at the customer services desk for the envelope lodgements. No need for that kind of human interaction anymore. It seems that we are going to have a lot less need for meeting people at all. Who needs people?
Three new ATMs have been moved inside the premises. A long queue formed in the direction of newly installed ‘lodgement machine’. A friendly member of staff stood beside the machine tutoring customers about how to make electronic lodgements. Press cheque or cash. Put the cash in this slot. Press enter. A photograph of your cheque appears on screen. Click ok. Wait for receipt and bingo that’s it. No need to chat about the weather. No need to query about the whereabouts of family members. No conversations about planned holidays. Just buttons to press.
The Ulster bank is becoming like all the other banks. The ‘friendly bank’ no longer needs to be friendly. People will conduct their business there anyway. It doesn’t matter what the customer thinks. They definitely were not surveyed about these changes. There are a lot of people like me who would prefer human beings to machines! On completing my transaction under the watchful eye of a helpful (and friendly) member of staff I said to her ‘I still prefer people.’ Some people in the queue nodded in agreement. Machines might be faster, more efficient, less vulnerable to error and cost-effective. But it’s hard to beat people. ‘I’m still here, Shane’, she said with a smile and as I walked out the door I wondered for how long more she would be still there!
People need people. We are each others greatest resource. Social connectivity is linked to better health outcomes and deeper levels of happiness. It’s sad to see almost all the services in our communities slowly succumb to technology. I wonder will the day ever come when I walk into my local pub, sit on a stool and press a button for my pint of Guinness. Don’t be laughing. Stranger things are happening.