I hate my bank. Is that unusual? I guess everybody hates their bank. It used to be said of retail bankers that they want to lend you an umbrella when it's sunny and take it away when it's raining. They have improved their business model since - now they charge you to talk about borrowing an umbrella, then lend it to somebody else.
If they need money themselves, they blackmail governments into giving it to them at give-away rates, then pass them on at usurious levels. Recently I had to transfer some money from my bank here to my bank in England, the same bank but in different places. I have banked with the English branch for more than 30 years.
They should be giving me a gold watch in gratitude for the overdrafts and bank charges I have ratcheted up over the years, but instead they try to make me speak to a call centre in who knows where, but first I must memorise lots of dates, passwords and answers to special questions - what was the name of my dog? I have no idea. I never know the password, I can't remember the date and I don't know the name of the dog, OK? Now let me talk to somebody. "I'm sorry, sir," they say in an indeterminable accent. This is a far cry from the days when I would call the bank and a nice woman in a Sussex accent would say: "Hello Mr Wright. How are you and your family?" Sometimes the manager himself would answer the phone and we would discuss the chances of the Sussex cricket team winning the county championship (slim most seasons).
Little do they know, but I have a mole in the branch. I have her phone number and she picks up the phone and carries out little essential services such as telling me how much I have in an account and whether any money is due to come in. Or I can tell her that some money is about to arrive, and she believes me. Banking, after all, is about trust.
If anything happens to Mrs X, my days of banking with these characters is over. The thing is, I hate my bank. Did I mention that? The other day when I transferred some money from here to there, they charged me US$50 (Dh183.65) for the privilege. Fifty dollars. I know the mighty greenback is not worth what it was. Ulysses S Grant, who stares out from the note as if daring you to spend it, is no longer as daunting as he was. He sports an impressive beard, but you could hardly pay for a decent trim with it. Even so, I would rather the fifty bucks was in my account, than my bank's. What do they need to do to transfer the money? Do they load it into a truck, drive it to the airport, fly it to London, drive it down to Sussex and hand it over to the Mrs X? No. They sit on it for a week and then somebody clicks a computer and the money electronically transfers. I hate my bank.
It turns out I am not alone. On Wednesday I attended Meed's Middle East Retail Banking conference. Edmund O'Sullivan, the chairman of Meed Events, seems to share my low opinion of banks. "I went to see my relationship manager at RBS," he said. "She wanted to lend me money. I don't want money. I have enough houses. I wanted one sentence of good advice that would make me richer. I didn't get it."
The good news is that bankers are feeling endangered. David Bennett, the head of business development at Doha Bank, said: "Banks as they are today do not have a future." His thesis is that banks no longer offer a decent service. "Nobody in their right mind wants to go visit a bank," he said. He told the story of how customers in Doha sometimes have to wait up to half an hour to see a bank teller. In England, market research shows that people are prepared to wait only two minutes to be served, down from five minutes.
For too long banks have milked their customers, and offered a paltry service for which they charge too much. It is the oldest cliché in business journalism, but maybe they really do need to adapt or die. Mr O'Sullivan thinks that if they have a future, it is either in being electronic providers - clicking and transferring money - or giving advice. "It is either process or advice," he said. "The problem with the banking sector is not behavioural or regulatory. It's structural."
But I don't think these dinosaurs have a chance of changing. Mr Bennett thinks that Generation Y won't put up with the kind of service that banks have been peddling for years. He says that even newfangled ways that banks might communicate with one, such as an email, is only used by Generation Y to "correspond with their parents downstairs". He was having dinner with his boss, a younger man, when his BlackBerry pinged. It was a message from his boss. "Why are you sending me a message when I'm sitting opposite you?" he asked. "Try talking to me, you'll get a quicker response."
With the future of banking in hands like these, the prospects look dim. One almost feels sorry for them.