When I moved to Bangkok five months ago, the first order of business after settling down was to open a bank account. The entire process – from getting a number in the queue to receiving my ATM/debit card took less than an hour. When the officer handed me my ATM card, I asked how long I would need to wait before it was activated. He was totally confused. “Activated?” he asked, “I don’t understand.” I assumed it was the language barrier (quite a significant challenge here) so I posed the question in a different way. “Do I need to go to the ATM and activate this card?” Again he was blank. Then a thought occurred to me and I said, “Can I start using this card immediately?” Comprehension dawned at last and my query was met with an unqualified “yes”.
To say that I am amazed at the user friendliness of the banking system in Thailand is an understatement. It is such a far cry from what we experience in Pakistan. Granted that many of the challenges we face – such as waiting for ATM cards to be activated – arise from the need for greater security, but what about customer service? We all have our fair share of horror stories from having dealt with the Pakistani banking system... here are a few of mine that illustrate the shortcomings that need to be addressed.
For most of my professional life, one of my bank accounts in Pakistan was with one of the largest national banks in the country, which is as popular for its paan-stained environs as it is notorious for its shoddy customer service. Quite apart from the fact that opening an account involved several irrelevant questions about my family life and marital status, the ATM card arrived about a month later in the mail. The card practically never worked on any 1-Link machine and only rarely on the bank’s own ATMs. Twelve years later, I believe this problem still persists, however customers of this bank now only have to wait 15 days to get their card. #unimpressed.
This is merely the tip of the iceberg. When it comes to credit cards, the issues are legion, and almost make you wish that you didn’t have to own one in the first place. There is the bank which, for many years, promised that their card was ‘free forever’ only to change it later so that you pay an annual fee only if you don’t spend a minimum amount every month. So, free ‘forever’ meant free for a few years then? Still unimpressed.
Oh, and while we are on the subject of credit cards, try getting any service (address change, card blocking, opening card for internet use, etc.) from the phone banking department. Not only will they put you on hold for ages, they will insist that you call from the phone number that you put on your form when you first registered for the card. Erm, that was 10 years ago and the phone number is no longer in use, you say? Guess what, it means yet another call to phone banking to get your number changed. And don’t expect it to be done ASAP!
In fact don’t expect anything to be done ASAP. One of my accounts was with a foreign bank and on countless occasions they asked me to wait for over 30 minutes for something as simple as a stamped bank statement. Asking them to expedite the process was always met with incredulous looks and an invitation to please wait in the lounge and watch some TV!
I am not saying Pakistan’s banking system is awful and there are certainly times when things work smoothly, but the truth of the matter is that despite their grandiose advertising, banks in Pakistan really do not believe that the customer’s time is sacred. Customer service is merely a buzzword that looks good in the marketing brochure and the annual report, it has yet to be internalised in banking operations and as a way of doing business.
Marylou Andrew is a freelance writer. firstname.lastname@example.org