Jobseeker’s Diary: When banks were a preserve for the elite

There was a time banks were a preserve for the elite and terms like cheques, money orders and the like were Greek to most people. 

There was a time banks were a preserve for the elite and terms like cheques, money orders and the like were Greek to most people. 

Most ‘regular’ people who went to the bank did so to pay their children’s school fees. Stories were told of farmers, some of whom were travelling to the city for the first time having nightmares in these banks. 

Wary of thieves, the men kept their money in their socks while the women hid it in their bras. And so well-dressed lawyers and successful businessmen looked on in shock as these unsophisticated people pulled out the money and tossed it across the counter. The notes would be crumpled, some with folded corners and not arranged, say back to back. 

Disgusted, the teller would push the money back and tell the offending customer to arrange it ‘properly’. Not many farmers were literate then and so would have missed the notice at the till reminding everyone to count out their money and fill out the required slips before approaching the counter. 

Because there were relatively few banks at the time and they opened for a limited time, there were usually long queues and no one wanted to wait for some old man to fill out his forms. So the teller would wave him aside and signal for the next customer. 

There were also cases where one would endure the long lines only to get to the counter and be told they were at the wrong till. They would then have to join the right line and it wasn’t uncommon for people to spend entire days at the bank. 

Some smart heads took advantage of this confusion at the expense of the unsuspecting customers. Someone would walk up to the now exasperated man or woman and ask what the problem was. After being told, they’d offer to help. “You now my sister works here and she can speed things up for you. Let’s see that form. Okay just give me the money and wait over there. I will be right back…” 

The relieved customer would marvel at the young man’s kindness and hope that he would find him the next time he came to the bank, only there would probably not be a next time. 

After a while, he’d scan the counters to check the helper’s progress, and when he didn’t see him, he’d wait a little longer, after all, there’d still be a considerable number of people in the queue. As it approached 3pm, which was the time banks closed back then, a security guard would approach the man with the walking stick and ask if he was waiting for someone because the bank was about to close. The old man would confidently say he was waiting for the Good Samaritan who was helping him with the complicated bank processes. 

At that point, the guard would gently guide the man to the nearest available seat and deliver the bad news. 

There was nothing nice about the man and unfortunately, there’s nothing the bank could do to stop the thieves or most importantly, compensate the victims. We’ve come a long way from those days. Thefts still occur but we have more control over our money. Opening up an account is no longer the complicated process it used to be. 

Bank Executives find us at our desks and go to great lengths to try and convince us to join their banks. Others ‘beg’ us to take loans. 

Today, banks are opening branches in the remotest places, eliminating the need for people to travel several miles and risk being robbed. Best of all is the ATM. With the exception of those transactions that still require us to fill out forms, most people are just happy to stop by the ATMs, many of which operate 24/7.

To be continued... 


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