Sunday, June 27,1999
Sunday Plus: Page 4

An ATM at home that knows me

Me And My Bank

My personal ATM shouldn't be asking me: English, Chinese or Malay? I must
be a market of one

"Banks as we know them will not survive into the 21st century"
-- Mr William Randle, executive president and MD of financial services of HuntingtonBancshares.

The Columbus, Ohio-based bank saw its net income from the home retail market more than double after it launched a full-service bank on the World Wide Web in June 1996.

I DO chores like topping up the petrol in my car and withdrawing cash from an ATM often only late at night, because I don't want to wait for even just one person in front of me.

Recently, while trying to take out some money at a POSBank ATM at the Tanglin branch at about midnight, the machine shut down just after it had cleared the amount I had punched in.
The other machine next to it went down simultaneously.

I got back my DBS ATM card, but no cash was dispensed.

Just to make sure that the money was not debited from my account, I popped into the DBS
branch in Holland Village the next morning.

At the banking hall upstairs, the queue was, fortunately, short. I got to talk to an officer namedYati who looked up my account in the computer and told me that the money was, indeed, debited.

To have that corrected, she told me that I had to fill in a form at the customer services counter downstairs. The form would then be sent to the bank's auto-banking centre in Tampines and I would get the money back in my account, after it had investigated my complaint and found it genuine. All this would take about two weeks.

Yati said she would call the people downstairs to give me the form.

There were three girls downstairs. One was on the phone, another seemed busy walking to and fro in the small area behind the counter, and the third was at the back of the room.

I sat at the counter while the phone rang. It was obviously Yati making the call. But no one seemed in a hurry to attend to it.

The girl who was walking to and fro paused to ask me: "Yes?" I gestured at the ringing phone.
She walked away.

All three girls, including the one on the other phone, managed to keep up a running desultory conversation in both Mandarin and English.

After ringing for what seemed ages, Yati's voice came on the intercom. "Is anybody there? Hello, is anybody there? Yati here."

It was only then that one of the girls attended to her call. After being told what I needed, she called out to the girl at the back to get me the form.

The latter rummaged through some shelves. "Where are the forms kept?" she asked.

Woah. These Holland Village girls were operating in a village mode for sure.

When I finally got the form, I was in no mood to fill in the particulars. What a drag. I went upstairs again to see Yati. Can I not have to fill in the form? Can't you just tell whoever's in charge about this and do something about it quickly?

"All right, I'll fill in the form for you and send it," Yati said. "You call me tomorrow and I'll let you know if the money can be credited back right away."

I called her the next day and was told it would take two weeks.

She told me to call her again. When I did, early last week, Yati told me the money had been put back into my account and that I would be receiving a yellow slip to tell me so.

All front-line staff in banks, or any other business, can take a leaf from Yati. Take it upon yourself to make decisions to make the customer happy, even if the matter requires action from another department, or another company. Remove all obstacles for the customer.

Back-room staff must dare to make decisions, too, on the occasions when they find themselves dealing with customers. Late last year, I had a most pleasant experience with a back-room officer in Citibank. I had used a cheque from my credit line, taking out the maximum amount given me.

Because I had applied for the credit line some time back and didn't have to use it previously, I forgot that my approved signature was my English name and not my Chinese name (or was it vice versa?), and I had signed the cheque with the latter.

The officer called me to say she could not clear it. But I needed the money to get through urgently, I told her. It was a matter of life and death! Actually, it was for some Singapore Press Holdings shares which had hit what I thought was the peak, at $19.40.

"But I'm only a back-room staff," she told me.

Still, she said, she would clear it, and all I needed to do was to write a letter to say I had used the wrong signature for the cheque.

It was not a small sum of money, and I admired the way she made that decision on the phone.
What a relief it was for me then. That the share value had gone up by another 10 bucks is another sob story altogether.

Of course, officers like her and Yati must know they are empowered by management to make decisions.

So, what it means is an across-the-board change in doing business. It is a cultural shift that many who are used to the old command-and-control way of running things may find hard to adapt to.

It's command-and-connect these days, and the sooner CEOs and senior managers know this, the better.

I LOOK forward to the day -- and it will be sooner than later -- when I will have my personal ATM at home, where I can top up my smart card with cash value any time I feel like it.

I expect, too, to do all my banking transactions at home, on my desktop, or even on my mobile phone, anywhere in the world. And the bank which serves me best will be the one that knows as much about me as I will allow.

I expect to have the kind of smart card which combines advanced security features with the anonymity of cash transactions, something which Japan's NTT has developed but has yet to convince its conservative banks and public to use.

I must be a market of one to the bank, and not be part of some market segment. Of course, I accept that I will be served differently from those with more money than I have.

When I log on to the bank to top up my smart card, for example, I should not be asked: English, Chinese or Malay? If you don't know me by now, you'll never know me, as the song goes. The next bank is one click away.

As Mr James Grant, who's in charge of remote banking services of First Chicago NBD, says, "If you don't deliver what people expect from virtual banking, you'll lose them overnight. Inertia might have kept the traditional branch customer loyal but, in the Internet world, that no longer applies."

First Chicago NBD is a leader in virtual banking, offering on-line products such as Microsoft Money and Intuit's Quicken, according to a research report, Financial Services In The Virtual World, compiled last year by Andersen Consulting and the Economist Intelligence Unit.

By the way, software companies like Microsoft and Intuit and telephone companies (e.g. NTT) may just pose the greatest threats to banks. They, and other non-banking players, have begun marketing financial products directly to customers. On the Net, everything is information and whoever can deliver information and customise it most effectively wins.

Hence, one hears the word, "disintermediation", bandied about often these days when banking is discussed.

It simply means that intermediaries -- like bank tellers who take deposits or brokers who trade securities -- are rendered unnecessary.

Whole banks may also be rendered unnecessary, if they don't meet the new demands of customers.

And we aren't just talking about your young, wired types. With voice-recognition in computers and home appliances becoming a practical reality soon, even older customers will go on-line, once their fears of security are addressed.

I look forward to the day when my bank can help me organise my finances at minimal cost, provide me with the most up-to-date business information should I wish to do some on-line
trading in securities, and point me to malls and entertainment.

And send me flowers on my birthday.

"If we possess the knowledge base that allows us to send customers flowers on certain important dates, then why shouldn't we do it?" says First Chicago NBD's Mr Grant.

Archive 1

21/11/99 Hit me with the Blues

31/10/99 No chaise longue, just chaise daybed

17/10/99 Tell your tale and watch it take off

03/10/99 Goodness, its been 25 years now

19/09/99 To have a productive day off

27/08/99 Conduct yourself well

08/08/99 Liberalisation and the small man

27/06/99 An ATM at home that knows me

30/05/99 Why fleshy hips and jiggly thighs

16/05/99 A dressing-down for the interns

02/05/99 I've the best seat in the house

04/04/99 I may take China, drop my 'mistress'

21/03/99 When the lens harden

07/03/99 Among dreamers and risk-takers

07/03/99 Lives will be transformed

17/01/99 Look for me at the movies

03/01/99 Hardy, hungry, but a cause for worry?

15/11/98 Goodnight Irin, while I think of New Orleans

01/11/98 'Sexy' and 'Cool' is what sells today

04/10/98 Letter from melancholic anonymous

20/09/98 Men behave like sperm

01/08/98 Global is good, but local matters too

26/07/98 4 books I can't renounce

28/06/98 49 and the genes are calling

14/06/98 Beep beep for every kid

31/05/98 Soft goods, soft power rule

10/05/98 Be still--and be open to constant change

05/04/98 Fight heat at home, then soar the skies

15/03/98 Bond Breakers and my brother and sister

15/02/98 If you love her, set her free

18/01/98 Romancing Cambodia