/ Money

People-less bank branches? I want more than machines

More bank branches are being opened without human interaction in mind. As machines take over, customers are meant to enjoy faster high street banking, but what happens when something goes wrong?

Last week I received a cheque from British Gas, refunding me for an overpayment on my gas bill. Keen to stick the money in my current account, I hot-footed it down to the nearest branch of my bank in my lunch hour.

After wandering round the branch for a few minutes, I realised there was no counter service – just rows of paying-in and cash machines and a couple of semi-enclosed office “pods” in the middle.

Can’t I have some human help?

But paying-in machines are designed to deal with cheques, right? These days, you don’t even have to put your cheque and paying-in slip into an envelope. You just put them in a pile and pop them into the machine loose. So that’s what I did.

Unfortunately, that’s when the need for a real person became clear. The transaction was refused, because – as it turns out – British Gas cheques are “too big” for many paying-in machines to deal with.

There followed a laborious process in which I got a member of bank staff out of his pod, explained the problem, and tried to convince him to process the cheque manually. He eventually did – but not before he’d tried to direct me to another of the bank’s branches.

A world ruled by machines?

I understand why high street banks use these machines. They can cut queuing times and help customers quickly complete simple tasks.

On the other hand, there will always be certain transactions that need a real human being to get involved. It might be banking your collected coppers, questioning an unexplained transaction on your account, or dealing with a hundred other issues that those paying-in and cash machines simply “cannot compute”.

If it was up to me, there’d be at least one counter – with a real, breathing human being behind it – in every branch of every high street bank.

Yes, it would cost the banks more – but it would also help a lot of people out. In the wake of the financial crisis, banks are still pretty unpopular. If they really do have “human” sides, now’s the time to show them!

Would you like your bank branch to be fully automated, or is counter service important to you?


Sorry – I disagree

I use First Direct on-line service – If I need to put in cash or cheques – I go to a local HSBC branch – this is basically a machine only place – no “human help” in sight – but if anything goes wrong there is an office to supply help. I suggest that would be the case for all so-called fully automatic branches too. Only the outside ATMs will not have any help.

So bank counter service is not important to me at all. – I’ve found the telephone service excellent – I suggest there may well be a similar telephone system in place when banks do go all machine interface.

Totally different from supermarket self service systems – At Sainsburys they do not cope with a normal weekly shopping with trolleys – indeed I’m not allowed to use a trolley with them. So a human cash interface is essential to cope with my weekly shop – unless they wish to restrict me to only buying two bags of shopping at a time.

Denise says:
30 October 2011

I think banks need to be flexible and provide both machines and counter service. My mother will not use the machines in the bank, I’m not too keen on them myself, and she does not have access to the internet. Why can’t banks accommodate everybodys needs.

Mikhail says:
30 October 2011

Hello, Hmm so to use a debit card / direct debit for payments is alright, but using the machines instead of counter service is not alright? Is it a fear of new technology or inability to adapt to a new environment?

I don’t use online banking. I simply don’t trust it. Yes of course I trust my bank, but things like the prevalence of “phishing” suggest that the banks are up against relentless attacks from criminals, attacks that will occasionally succeed.

As for banks without manned counters, the queues in my local bank suggest to me there is still a demand that is worth meeting, and that I would prefer the banks to continue to provide employment.

Mikhail says:
30 October 2011

Trust is a matter of knowledge; unfortunately, many people are very computer illiterate. Many people get used to do the same ‘thing’ during all their life and cannot accept any changes. The ‘phishing’ is only successful between very computer illiterate people, to resolve the issue you only need to have a designated (single) e-mail address ONLY for banks and credit card companies, that’s it.

I receive at lest 5 phishing e-mails at work everyday, some of them looks very legitimate from the payment system (PayPal) which I actually use, but do you really think that your bank will call your home and ask your work e-mail address to send you something important? Or maybe, even better, Google you on the internet and contact you via Facebook? Thus, ‘phishing’ is a problem of ignorance and illiteracy.

Frankly “phishing” only works for those who do not read the instructions from their Banks

It is easy – do not give your details to ANY e-mail that asks for it – check first – Your bank will never ask for your details by e-mail.

This is different from giving details when BUYING something.- in essence just like using your credit card in a shop.

In 20 years – I have had just one problem with my credit card – when a criminal tried to obtain money (£3.51) by false pretences – I spotted the unknown amount on-line (I check several times a week) and checked with the bank by telephone to stop the fraud – The bank issued me with a new credit.
card the next day.

I did have two professional “phishing” e-mails that were very convincing – but as always instructed by my bank – I checked with the companies mentioned by telephone and found them to be phony – so forwarded the e-mails to the companies for reference.

Mikhail says:
30 October 2011

I think banks have to charge, e.g., a subscription fee if customers want to use the ‘human interface’ for depositing a cheque, getting cash out, applying for a new account, etc. Everything is moving forward, to be more efficient, so if some people want to stick to the ‘old school’ why not make them pay for that?

I hate those people, which talks about the weather with cashers; they are ignorant and insensitive to others!

Umm – though I agree in principle to the first part – My on-line Bank First Direct does not charge a subscription fee of any sort (but they also do not pay interest on it either) – The profits they make from my current account pays the administration costs.

Purely as an aside – many people only have the bank teller to talk to all week – so maybe some sympathy is in order??

A good phone system – such as First Direct – is often quicker than doing it on the internet.
Social contact is very important for many people on their own – until I retired and lost the social interplay of work I didnt realise this , I am now far more sympathetic to the “old ladies” wanting to talk about the weather.

Have you heard of interest they make on your money .Where is that going? Suddenly the decent pillar of the community called the Manager is no longer . If you are elderly or have disabilities you are forced into a system that excludes & does not consider [ legal?] .The Manager is just another pawn being dictated to so accountants can protect their interest and not ours.My bank has become a middle man not protecting my interest . Shares are with L&G & as for Car Insurance they allow you to be defrauded by the underwriters having not informed you sold . Otherwise why is flex account no longer flexible and visa does not let you make large purchases when pay balance in full monthly & more than enough in currrent account.

Why does financial ombudsman deliberately maladministrate .Could those under investigation pay their wages . How can you investigate fairly on a corporate remit allowing franchising out & contracting in. This is what happens when a government deregulates.

Sorry – Made purchase of £5000 by Visa – paid at the end of the month with no trouble at all. Though I had savings to cover it – The money was not in my current account.

May I suggest you change your bank?

Mikhail says:
31 October 2011

@ julieshrive have you heard that banks have staff, engineers, programmers, anti-fraud dept to keep you safe, etc. Do you know that the bit of plastic in your wallet also costs money as well as the chequebook, monthly statements, SMS alerts, envelopes and stamps to deliver all these to your porch, even when you use your debit card to withdraw cash it also costs money to your bank! You are so naïve and ignorant because you take all those things for granted!

Hello Mikhail and everyone else, it’s fine to disagree with people but please don’t get personal. Check out our commenting guidelines to read what we expect here on Which? Conversation. Thanks.

Quote from Mikhail:

“The ‘phishing’ is only successful between very computer illiterate people,”

Not true. Phishing scams continue to evolve and are becoming exceptionally sophisticated. The situation is compounded through the increasing tendency of organisations to contact you via email in apparently informal ways. To suggest the panacea is a single email address is naive, to be kind.

Mikhail says:
31 October 2011

To be kind I think you have not finish reading my comment. I will sum up again: if you have a designated e-mail address only for banks, it obviously have to be difficult to guess, e.g., banks2me_i.m at gmail.com you will never receive any scam to this email address, of course if you believe that banks will never give your e-mail address to scammers. However, if you believe that banks are leaking your personal info (including email address), which is very unlikely, then I would give up on all e-communications with banks, but I will not do that because for 10 years, I have only one e-mail address for all financial institutions and I have never received any phishing emails.

It’s becoming very frustrating when you do need to speak to a bank official. I am a co-signatory on a current account and have been since 1994.. We issued a cheque to a supplier. The bank bounced the cheque on the grounds that they did not recognise the signatures.

After much dissembling and promises I was eventually told that the bank records had been lost or erased and that my co-signatory and I would need to have a face to face meeting with our Business Manager (we didn’t know we had one) to have the signatures re-instated. This meeting took days to arrange as the number I was given was not a direct line to the Manager and no-one I was directed to had access to his online diary. After several days I received a call from him and we booked an appointment.

My fellow co-signatory and I also agreed we would like to have internet access to the account so that we can check funds online etc. We had initially been told by the bank that it was not possible as transactions on the account cannot be carried out by one person. When we met we brought the subject up and asked if a read only access could be provided. The Manager said this could be arranged, accessed our file and said if I phoned the telephone number he provided this would be set up.

I phoned the number and found myself talking to an overseas call centre and was told that this would need authorisation from my Business Manager and that I would need to contact him to get him to issue trhe necessary authorisation. Needless to say I didn’t bother.

Why then are the fraud depts, like the biased Ombudsmen & Complaints Dept only concerned about fraud to them not what they do to us ? Why do they allow continuous payments to be taken more than once from a credit card without written confirmation.How much do they charge for an individual cheque ? The interest appears to be going in pockets of some of their top people who are supposed to be in charge.Didn’t it go up by 45% recently .This Mikhail is the one who is naive & probably works in a bank as the displays the suspect mentality we have to put up with .

Mikhail says:
1 November 2011

The interest does not apear on your bank account by magic, as I guess you would expect. Money nowadays do not grow on trees. I can’t be bothered to explain you the interest creating processes, however, put your money under your mattress to see how much they will grow in a couple of years.

Hello Mikhail, we have edited your previous comment as it included a personal and potentially offensive comment. Due to continued breaking of our commenting guidelines and previous warnings here and previous Conversations, please consider this as your final warning.

We do appreciate your comments, and understand you want to express your disagreement, however any other comments that break our commenting guidelines will results in us blocking your IP address, stopping you from making further comments.

Mikhail says:
2 November 2011

I don’t think it is appropriate and fair

Mikhail says:
2 November 2011

I will try to moderate my further comments more carefully. With all respect, blocking my (or not my) IP address will not make much difference. I was not the one who started personal attacks and I cannot see why I should be punished for that.

So if a user (e.g., julieshrive) is proving absolutely unreasonable, without background knowledge and therefore inappropriate content, on a very immature level and at the same time calling me fascist (Which? did not moderate that comment) what should I do?

I also cannot see why the moderator has removed the last sentence of my comment as if it was personal attach! Being unemployed and receiving benefits is NOT a negative factor, rather a reality of nowadays, furthermore, why then the similar assumptions of the above user, i.e., that I work in a bank, etc., has not been removed?

If the person is not aware how financial institutes work, who thinks that by depositing money into their account that money must start earning interest immediately and automatically, and the banks are taking that interest from them, is somewhat naïve and possibly has never worked, as value creating (in the above case “interest”) processes are basics and at the core of every employment.