Friday, 29 May 2009

Buying euros

(By Anthony Miller – Friday, 29th May 2009 7:30 am). Have you tried buying foreign currency at your local bank recently? Yes? Was it as painful an experience for you as it was for me? All I wanted was a couple of hundred euros to take with me to Paris.

So the other day I marched into my local HSBC in Ealing Broadway. Now, this branch was one of the new style open-plan affairs where tellers have been almost entirely replaced by machines. Machines for taking money out; machines for putting money in; machines for printing statements; the whole gamut. But, alas, no machines for dispensing euros (or any other currency for that matter).

As a result I had to join the rapidly growing queue for the two, just two tellers who were left to deal with the ‘mechanically disadvantaged’. The queue was being ‘triaged’ by men and women in smart suits desperately trying to find proto-technophiles willing to try out their shiny new machines – with limited success, from what I could see.

Five minutes later I got to the front of the teller queue. I had my debit card at the ready and assumed this would now be as quick and painless (but hopefully not as usurious) as buying euros from the foreign exchange merchants at the airport. Oh no it wasn’t . It was a paper-based process. The teller, a charming young fellow, had to record details from my driving licence onto a form (why? It’s my bank – they know who I am!) and, unbelievably, my debit card details too, as they didn’t have a swipe machine! I suppose the good news is that my account wasn’t going to be debited until the overnight batch run, so earning me a few extra micropence in interest.
Finally, and after a good 10 minutes, the teller triumphantly presented me with my 200 euros, neatly sealed and beautifully gift-wrapped as in the picture above.

But why is it that while a transaction to draw 200 euros from an ATM in Paris takes, what, under 60 seconds, to do it in my bank takes a quarter of an hour? Technology is obviously not the obstacle. Dressing up a bank to look like a hotel lobby – complete with concierges – clearly isn’t the answer. A real triumph of style over customer service.

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