/ Money

Why can’t banks sort out their queues?

Lots of piggy banks in a line

Most of us have an hour for lunch and we don’t want to spend it in a bank queue, waiting to pay a cheque in. Unfortunately, many of us end up half-starved because banks are half-staffed.

One of the many customer complaints about UK banks published recently by the Financial Services Authority focussed on exactly this issue. So surely the banks would listen to their customers and sort out the long queues?

Of course, they would. Because that’s what banks do. They listen. One of them even used to call itself ‘the listening bank – strangely not anymore.

With this in mind, I decided to do a little on-the-spot research into lunchtime bank queues around two of London’s busiest streets, Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road. I walked around and went into all the major banks over a one-hour period and found the following:

  • Only one in four HSBCs had counter service.
  • Only one bank branch was fully staffed at lunchtime. Round of applause to Barclays. Although its other branch was only half-staffed.
  • Out of the 15 banks I visited, 10 were under half-staffed.
  • Lloyds had a graph of busiest periods informing customers that lunchtimes were busiest. Strange then that their counters weren’t fully staffed in either of the branches I went into.

Alright, I admit, this is hardly scientific but it’s likely to be what any customer would experience when banking in their lunch hour.

In their defence, banks obviously want us to do more transactions online. And many of us no longer even need to enter a branch to sort out our finances. Plus, banks may argue that keeping staff costs down mean that our charges stay lower.

But this is beside the point. They need to understand that at least for one hour a day, banks in big cities (and everywhere else for that matter) need to be fully staffed. This means workers can deal with their money issues and grab a cheese and pickle sandwich without risking heartburn.

Have you had to wait in line at lunchtime or am I just bank bashing?

mikelowndes says:
23 September 2010

I would challenge them to provide info on their stffing policies. Supermarkets analyse customer traffic and try to keep staff numbers down while not annoying customers *too much*. perhaps Banks do something similar? We should be told…

My Sainsbury’s is useless at keeping sufficient staff to reduce queues. I’m constantly annoyed by their lack of consideration (I have no real alternative either)

I agree. I can never understand why the counters aren’t fully staffed over lunchtime – surely it’s such an obvious thing to do!

Loulou says:
6 July 2011

So it’s ok for everyone else to take a lunch at lunchtime but not bank staff???
I work in a bank branch and the peak traffic time is between 11.30 and 2pm -when most of us want to eat. My boss has tried to get “lunchtime cover” but even in these hard times we struggle to get anyone willing to work just 2.5-3 hrs per day.

This attitude is take lunch when everyone has it shows the appalling state of management – none which is surely false economy . This is typical of their attitude towards the customer .Why don’t they open to 9pm as could P.O too doesn’t make sense . It could be done on a shift system . If there is too much of a queue provision isn’t right .

Have to point out that this situation has been the case for Banks ever since I first had a Bank Account in 1948.- there has been no progress as far as I’ve seen

This was one reason I changed to an on line bank – no queuing – and most cheques can processed by an internal ATM from another bank if required. External ATMs are usually used to obtain cash so have a ‘faster’ throughput.

I think banks should introduce a scheme where pensioners, parents with push-chairs, the unemployed and basically anyone who doesn’t work should be banned from going into banks during the hours 12-2pm.

I am, of course, joking. But it’s so annoying when you need to make that rare trip to the bank in your lunch break to pay in a wad of cash and people who have all day to visit are at the counter to withdraw cash or pay in a cheque and then continue to stand there having a conversation about how nippy it is outside, completely oblivious to the queue snaking out into the High Street behind them!

I am laughing at the word that’s been starred out! Begins with ‘n’, ends in ‘y’ and contains the letters ‘i’ and two ‘p’s. Political correctness gone mad (I’m probably not allowed to say ‘mental’). Am I allowed to even say ‘mad’? Who knows.

Hi fat sam, I’ve amended it for you now. We are having some problems with our profanity filter being a little over-sensitive but we’re hoping to resolve the problems soon!

My local HSBC has about 10 different machines – for paying in cash or cheques – getting out money – checking bank statements etc – and a human to help if you are stuck. But it almost always has a queue for Human Tellers . Never needed to use a teller for many years.

Craig says:
3 April 2013

A very late reply to a very old article but, hey, somebody might see it. Just thought I’d give a bit of insight from the perspective of people working in a bank branch.

The first problem that we encounter: cash controls. From where a customer stands, it looks as though there are only two cashiers serving and two unmanned tills just waiting to be used – I know, I used to be that customer. In a shop, where transactions are small and handling cash isn’t the bread and butter of what they do, it’s often a simple case of, see a queue, pull somebody else from another job to hop onto a till. In a bank, that can’t be done. The volumes of cash handled are high and bank tellers are solely responsible for their cash drawers. Barbara can’t just hop onto Jennie’s till because Jennie is at lunch or otherwise engaged. Staff have to count in their drawers before using them to ensure their opening balance is correct and this, in turn, means they alone are responsible for all of the transactions that pass through it.

Second problem, it’s a natural response to say that we shouldn’t take lunch breaks at peak times. In reality, it’s often unavoidable. To take the example of the branch I work in, we have 9 full time staff. That’s nine one hour lunch breaks to fit into 8 hours of operating time. Our busiest hour is invariably 12pm-1pm. So we don’t have counter staff on lunch at that time. Of four cashiers, two split their break and take half an hour at 11am. One person takes an hour at 1pm, another takes an hour at 2pm, and the other two take their second half at 3pm. We’ve tried so many different ways to work this, but we also have to bear security in mind (we can’t underman the counter at quiet times). Whilst counter staff are away to lunch, we ensure we have banking hall staff available to alleviate the queue by taking non-cash deposits and handling enquiries. The bottom line reality is, we often end up taking much shorter lunch breaks than we’re entitled to, and thus work unpaid, because it’s the only way we can ensure everybody gets time to eat.

And sometimes, there just plain isn’t a queue in the first place and this is more common than people realise. In reality, sometimes, in a bank, other customers will be carrying out transactions that simply take a lot of time. Somebody might be conducting several different transactions. Somebody might be depositing £20,000. Often, the reality is, the bank is fully staffed it’s simply that all of the staff are busy dealing with somebody else. And one thing I will never do, as a bank worker, is rush through one person’s business and risk making mistakes, in order to serve somebody else more quickly.

Much of the rest is down to matters we can’t control as branch staff. Why are banks working as a 9-5 operation, when longer opening hours with shift work would better fit the customer?