This actually happened to me today, word for word. There’s a great case for Bitcoin in my view, but sometimes the banks just like to make that case even more pronounced, don’t they?
It’s no secret I am a cryptocurrency advocate. I still think Bitcoin will retain the number one spot overall as a way to make infrequent, large purchases and/or a store of value, but I also think a handful of other currencies will exist for fast, day to day transactions for different reasons such as XRP, Litecoin and Monero. However, I don’t believe any of them will actually replace the banking system and nor should they. For various economic and monetary policy reasons, there needs to be sovereign currencies. But perhaps the fact that there is a real, global competitor that is becoming increasingly accessible will force the powers that be to examine how their currency is maintained. Well, maybe. Or maybe I’m just being an optimistic hippie-esque revolutionary again.
But in any case, the banks don’t help themselves as this little article will demonstrate. Let me explain:
I needed to take out £935 from my account today in cash. Like many people, I have several accounts, but this one was with my main bank. Having been a customer for a long time, I have a decent account that actually allows me to take £1000 a day out of a cashpoint using my PIN. That’s quite a chunk of change and, although I don’t do that very often, it’s useful in those rare situations when they arise. However, because I wanted £935 and I wanted that exact amount to show on the statement as a withdrawal, not £940 or £950 I’d get from the cashpoint, I decided to do it over the counter. After all, I was in town, had a few minutes and happened to have my passport with me as I’d needed it earlier for ID on another errand. It would be easy, right?
The queue wasn’t too big for a Friday afternoon, but was moving slowly as only two windows were open. On my turn, I was greeted by a young lady who smiled and asked how she could help. I explained what I wanted to do. She didn’t seem sure, but asked me to fill in a ‘counter withdrawal form’ that she slipped under the window while she checked.
It was quite the form. Name, address, account detail, denominations required, location of withdrawal (erm … is ‘here’ ok?) and so on. I handed it back when she returned a couple of minutes later saying it was possible. (of course it was possible. It’s a current account in my name at this bank, why wouldn’t it be?)
She took the form and typed in some details. I’d already been over 5 minutes now and I could feel the eyes burning into the back of my head as I was holding the line, now increased to around ten people as the other window was also taking a lot of time, presumably stuck on a similarly difficult customer request. She struggled with some of the entries, but eventually asked me for the debit card for the account. I obliged and she examined it carefully. She asked for ID and, once again, I passed over my passport. She wrote down the number on both the form I’d filled in earlier and the screen and then compared both the signatures of the two and the photo in the passport with the ‘live’ version. I even adopted my ‘passport face’ for her so that they matched up nicely. She verbally verified my address, postcode and date of birth with me.
She then asked me for the cheque book that goes with the account. I couldn’t even remember having a cheque book on this account, much less the last time I actually wrote one.
“Oh yes” she said “we sent the last one out to you in May 2013”
Well, at least I had my answer.
I politely explained that since pretty much no-one uses a cheque book these days (she would be able to see this from my account activity anyway), the banking system has been encouraging us to stop doing so for some years now, AND the fact there isn’t a single high street business that would accept them these days, it was pretty unlikely I’d be carrying it. Surely, the fact that I know all the account details, all my personal details, have the card AND a passport which has already been confirmed as AOK by the bank would suffice? But no. Without the cheque book I was scuppered.
I pointed out that I could simply go to the cashpoint and withdraw it without any ID whatsoever, it seemed a bit odd that the process was so different here. But there was no way round it. I could, however, go to the cashpoint, get out £940, come back, get the denominations I wanted and put the £5 back in by filling out a ‘paying in’ form, so I could correctly reflect the amount I wanted to be able to show on the statement. That seemed messy and the queue was already back to the door, now consisting of over 20 people behaving in a typically British way, ie politely queuing, seething inside, then saying “oh, no problem at all” when the cashier finally calls then up and says “Sorry for the wait.”
I asked her to speak to her colleague. This time she was gone for quite a while. She came back with no less than the Branch Manager, which I was surprised about, especially as this was a big, high street branch. He confirmed that the money could not be withdrawn without the chequebook, but he DID have a work around. He said that if I called the call centre, whilst standing at the counter, go through security again, request the money from the branch, provide a temporary password and ask them to send a message to the branch, they would be able to do it. Wow, it was almost too easy.
He went on: “Mr Deane, I see you have enhanced services on your account, did you know you can use the cashpoint and your PIN to withdraw up to £1000?”
I resisted the temptation to shout back “Of course I xxxxing know you total xxxxing xxxxxx” (insert words consistent with your own interpretation here) at high volume and instead politely explained why I needed the amount accurately reflected on the statement. Then, I made the call. The queue hadn’t moved. Even the most British of queuers had started to get a bit ‘tutty.’
The call centre was experiencing “unusually high call volumes” as usual when I rang, but I was reassured that my call was important to them and that they would be with me as soon as they could and definitely after Vivaldi had finished playing. The cashier, the manager and I just started at each other through the glass as I held the phone to my ear. The queue stared at the bloke on the phone, presumably wondering why he was taking a phone call while the cashiers were obviously waiting for him to do something.
After a few minutes, the call centre representative answered and I went through security, explained what I needed and she took me through the same details that were on the form I’d filled out at the start, nearly an ice age ago. She asked me to set a password out of earshot of the cashier (for which I had to walk away from the counter for a moment, eliciting a comical moment where the next man in the queue finally thought his time had come, approached the counter, only to be shoo’ed away with his tail between his legs by the cashier and her boss.) and I could only think of one word that fitted the scenario: “BITCOIN”.
All was well. She asked me to stay at the counter as it could take up to 5 minutes to process the request. Then she added:
“Were you aware, Mr Deane, that you could simply withdraw this at a cashpoint using a card and PIN as my account was authorised to allow a withdrawal up to £1000 in a day?”
I had to take a breath and all I could muster was “Yes”. I simply couldn’t do it again.
We hung up. All we had to do now was wait. I looked at the cashier through the glass, a little forlornly I think because she mouthed “I’m sorry” out of the gaze of the manager who was looking down the line of narrowing eyes looking at him. His ‘Manager’ badge was enormous, but that had simply made him a target for the twitchy queuers.
Finally, the instruction came through on the screen and the relief on all of our faces was obvious.
“How would you like the money?” She asked. I explained my preference, but it seems she’d overlooked that she didn’t have enough cash in her till, so it was a few minutes before she was able to get some more to make up the amount. Finally, THIRTY TWO minutes later from when our little adventure had begun, I had my hands on my own cash in a little envelope which, presumably, was my free gift for being so patient. However, something was still amiss.
As I took my cash and placed it in my pocket, I asked the teller:
“Aren’t you supposed to ask me the password first?”
I wasn’t that bothered and had made damn sure I’d got the money before mentioning it, but it was clear from her face that she’d forgotten to ask me that, thereby completely negating the phone call they’d insisted I’d make to set it up in the first place. Whoops. To be honest, I just wanted to say ‘Bitcoin’ in a loud voice in a now completely packed bank and was a bit disappointed that I now wouldn’t be able to. Ah well, such is life.
I didn’t give anyone a hard time, get sarcastic or lose my temper (except in my mind) but I couldn’t help thinking and rethinking how different this would have been if I’d used Bitcoin. Or XRP. Or Litecoin. Or anything, in fact, other than my own cash that I had entrusted to others to look after for me and ask permission to get. 10 out of 10 for security, guys, but 0 out of 10 for application of common sense.
And no, I don’t need reminding that I could have got it from a cashpoint with no ID, or phone calls or staff.
Jason is a cryptocurrency evangelist, speaker and author of ‘How to Explain Bitcoin to your mum’, a lighthearted, jargon free explanation of the global phenomenon spreading across the world, suitable for novices, experts (and mums!) everywhere. Comments welcome. Click here to get in touch.