Sunday, December 19, 2010

Good and Bad Banks

Hi Maria Ramos, Chief Executive of Absa Bank,
          As you may or may not know I give Good and Bad Services Awards. Unfortunately the bad far exceed the good so it’s a pleasure to be able to balance things up a bit.
          This letter is only about praise. Makes a change doesn’t it coming from the number one critic of everything under the sun.
          I must apologise for being a bit late but as my wife will tell you Last-minute-Charlie is my nickname, but this really needs to be done in time for Christmas. If you are still in a quandary as to who to give bonuses to I have the answer.
          Why not set a wonderful precedent by forgoing you usual fat bonus this year and get your fellow chiefs to do the same. Then spread the money your bank would have spent around to the most deserving employees on the ground as it were.
          In your lofty office in Johannesburg you may not be aware Maria of the exceptionally good things that are happening at the other end of the country in Cape Town’s Deep South. There the staff at your Long Beach Mall branch are a pleasure to do business with, a Great Pleasure.
          They are charming and delightful; a shining example of service at its very best. To the tellers and the staff at the inquiry counter my wife and I are not just a number. We are people who always get greeted by our names and even when we pass one of them outside the bank we can rely on getting a cheery greeting by name.
          Nothing beats being recognised especially in today’s business environment, where the personal touch has long since given way to SMSs, emails and call center voices from faceless people who wouldn’t know a customer if they saw one.
          Being a man I’m ashamed to say that all  the people I am talking about are  female. And I also have to confess that I believe that women knock spots off men if there are any Good Service Awards to be won. They are so much more caring. They would have to be otherwise my wife would not have put up with me for the last 90 years and I would have been put down at birth.
          Here are their names: Tina Goldberg, Zayaan Adam, Wendy Katnis, Berhadine Christian, Isobel Riley, Shona Herbst and Tamsyn King. And Shona is expecting a baby boy early in the new year so she needs a special bonus more that most people.
          So please do the right thing Maria and see that these ladies get what they deserve because I’m sure that their salaries fall far short of the prestige that their brand of public relations is bringing to your bank.
          Happy Christmas Bonus Paying to the Very Deserving cases.
          Jon, a Most Impressed Client. 

*     *     *

Dear Michael Jordaan, Chief Executive of First National Bank,
          Oh Michael, I can’t believe it. You came out tops in my first Good and Bad Service Awards because of the prompt way you answered my emails. And now one of your branches has really blown it.
          But you must admit that I told you some time ago that all was not well at the FNB branch at the Long Beach Mall. I closed my FNB account after more than 20 years because of my first few experiences at this branch after I moved from Johannesburg to Cape Town about two years ago.
          Since then my wife and I have been forced to go into that branch occasionally to make deposits for other people. When I have been there the Inquiry Counter has been manned by a notice on it saying Please go to the next counter. The excuse is always that the lady is out to lunch, powdering her nose or you can take your pick.
          You would think that it would not be much of a problem to have sufficient deposit slips avail at a bank. But at this branch they are like R500 notes which our Reserve Bank hasn’t yet got around to printing.
          I was at the branch on about 10 November looking for a deposit slip. All I could find were funny bits of paper that could have been made by the manager’s five year old child as part of a school project. A woman staff member walked past me so I asked her where I could get a proper deposit slip. In keeping with the branch’s general philosophy she told me that wasn’t her job and walked away. 
          These slips would have disgusted even Monopoly players as they didn’t have a section for the name of the person I was paying.  The woman who appeared to be in charge of the branch explained to me that they kept running out of genuine deposit slips because clients walked out with piles of them so as to avoid paying for deposit books.
          Other banks I’ve dealt with don’t seem to have this problem, Michael. Could it be that your deposit books are totally over priced?
          When my wife went to the branch on 17 November the deposit slip story hadn’t changed. Only this time there was a new twist. She arrived early hoping to be one of the first in the queue to be greeted by a notice saying that as the branch would not open until after 9.30 am clients should go to the Fish Hoek branch. This just happened to be about 10 kilometers away. My wife hung around the Mall and the branch did finally open after 9.30.

          What’s going on Michael?  Surely if you run a branch on a shoestring you can only end up with all your clients walking down to the other end of the Mall where the staff at Absa bank will be only too happy to welcome them. If I’m not mistaken that bank opens at 8.0 am in the run up to Xmas.
          Sorry to spoil your Christmas, Michael,
          Yours faithfully

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Poor Man's Press Ombudsman censures Sunday Times

Dear Brendan Peacock, Sunday Times Business journalist,
          Nice piece you wrote in the Money & Careers section of your paper. It was extremely helpful to warn us less sophisticated investors about what to look for before taking the plunge. One reads too many stories of people, particularly pensioners, who have lost their life savings in get-rich-quick schemes that turned out to be anything but that.
          So if your story has saved just one person from making one of these disastrous mistakes it will have achieved something. As you know it was headed "HALLMARKS OF A SCAM. Look very deep before you leap" and "The first sign of a scam is the outrageously good return it seems to offer."
          As the recently appointed Poor Man’s Press Ombudsman I hope you don’t mind me asking, How well do you read your own newspaper? And can you ask the same question of your overall Editor, Ray Hartley to save me the trouble.         
          In your report Brendan you quoted Louis Strydom, Pricewaterhouse-Coopers’ top forensics expert. He told us readers what to look for when a tempting, money making opportunity is presented.
          And on Page 4 of the main paper in the same edition in which your story appeared there was this interesting ad which I would like you to compare with what Strydom had to say.
          Set against a black background so that the white letters stood out impressively it began, "Earn up to R100 000 p/m. Get your slice of the Telcoms Revolution NOW and secure your financial future. Capital Required: R300 000.  Limited opportunities! Don’t miss out!"  And to make it even more enticing for the investor he didn’t have to work for his money. He could sit back and watch the returns rolling in because the ad said, "Passive income." It ended with these reassuring words, "Well established company. References available." It’s so well established that it is too bashful to mention its name.
          Let’s now look at Strydom’s warning signs to see if any of them are in this ad.

  •        If it seems too good to be true it probably isn't.
  •        Any investments that offer returns well above market-related rates can be indicators of something amiss.
  •        Terms such as ‘act quickly’ or ‘limited space available’ put pressure on investors to make hasty decisions.
  •        Legitimate opportunities are generally offered through reputable, licensed financial institutions and the returns on investments promised will always be market related.
         The ad only gave the first names and cell phone numbers of two people as well as 011 numbers for the office in a complex in Roodepoort on the outskirts of Johannesburg.
         As you evidently don’t notice these things I feel I should point out that almost touching this Telcoms ad was this dire cop-out from your own paper. In big black letters it began "WARNING Readers are advised to carefully scrutinise advertisements offering investments opportunities. The Sunday Times cannot vouch for the claims made by advertisers."
         Even before I got my Ombudsman’s, appointment, by Presidential decree I must add, I began campaigning to get your paper to stop carrying ads that it was worried about instead of publishing this unacceptable warning. I’ve been going on about this for well over a year now but the hypocrisy continues unabated.
         Last August this well established company I’ve been talking about was offering R100 000 per month on a R150 000 investment. Then its name, Xtreme Telecoms started appearing in ads that offered the same income, but the investment required had gone up to R250 000. And in the ad in December that appeared at the same time as your article the name disappeared and the investment required had shot up to R300 000. Does the Reserve Bank have any idea about what is happen to inflation?
         When I phoned Hennie at Xtreme Telecoms he told me the company had been going for 14 months. And when I said that hardly made it well established he told me angrily not to waste his time and cut me off.
         Last September your section of the paper carried a shorten version of my letter complaining about  Xtreme’s ad as well as others like the one where you could earn 30% annually with no risk and interest and capital guaranteed. In your sister paper, The Times people were invited to Become a Millionaire by investing R100 000.
         The list goes on while the Sunday Times carries your sanctimonious article on how not to get scammed. What’s that number for the ANC Government’s new Press Policeman? I seem to have mislaid it.
         Yours truthfully,
         Jon, Investigative Journalist of the Old School.
PS. I’m sure your tail is a lot more colourful than my face.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Good Service Awards continued & Peter Toerien

Dear Peter Toerien,                                          
          This is another installment in my Good and Bad Service Awards series which I thought you might be interested in as it deals with music, a field in which you set such a high standard of excellence.
          I went to a most unusual show the other day. It was nothing like Cats, Grease or The Phantom of the Opera that you are so familiar with. But for anybody living in Cape Town it’s an absolute must. I found it quite superb.
          It had this title, which I suppose for a musical was not unusual. It was called Don’t Cry for my Masda 626 or any other Car that you can think of. Perhaps you can put it on at your Theatre on the Bay one of these days?

          I was in tears at one stage I can tell you at the first place I took my Mazda because they couldn’t find the fault in the air conditioner. They recommended Musical Cars. What! for air conditioning?

          Perplexed I phoned Dick Albertson at Glenhoek Motors near Kommetjie where I normally take my car for a service and asked, Dick where can I have my air conditioner fixed. I want someone who does a good job and doesn’t rip you off.
          Musical Cars in Retreat is the best place to go, he replied.
          I had to trek across a mountain to get there. The owner, Jeremy Nash diagnosed the problem; sourced a new part and had it delivered to his workshop within 24 hours, no mean feat considering my car was like me, ancient, very ancient. Even my doctor was unable to get me a new kidney that quickly and that was a matter of life and death.      
          My car was the first one built after the Model T Ford. And I had my first driving lessons in a donkey cart, much like most of the other motorists on South Africa’s roads today.
          I had to wait several hours to have a new condenser fitted because the connecting pipes were not exactly brand new, out of the box. But it was well worth the wait.  Jeremy bought me a chicken burger on the house and I was most impressed by the way he patiently dealt with a host of do-it-yourself mechanics who kept wandering in for advice with bits and pieces from their vehicles.
          The place was busy, really busy with cars coming in all the time, usually with a variety of air conditioning problems. But occasionally Jeremy had to deal with the radio side and that’s where his musical talents came in. This had taken a back seat in recent years as most cars now come already fitted with radios.
          The only thing that disturbed me was something he let slip while I was waiting. I’m sure he didn’t do it on purpose because he could lose a lot of business that way.  In Cape Town, as everybody knows, you are a complete nothing if you haven’t been to the right school. A First Class Matric with 20 distinctions and an automatic entrance to Oxford or Cambridge counts for nothing if you went to school at Witblikkiesfontien Hoer (that’s not meant to offend) School.  Nobody will even speak to you in Cape Town once they hear that.
          Anyway Jeremy seemed to have forgotten about the importance of this pecking order when he casually mentioned that he was educated, if you can call it that, at the South African College Schools commonly known as SACS.
           That’s a Government school isn’t it old boy, although they’ll tell you at the school’s office that it is ‘Semi private’. That sounds so much better don’t you think. Why couldn’t the poor chap have gone to Bishops like everybody else? Well I suppose there’s nothing else for it. I’ll have to speak to him now that he’s got my car in pieces.
          Alright SACS is one of the elite schools of the Cape but it’s well below Bishops on the excellence ladder. Bishops, or the Diocesan College to give it its proper name - and boy is it proper - is the real thing, a pukka private school. Singing pro-government songs in the chapel is not compulsory and the boys are not forced to belong to Julius Malema’s ANC Youth League.
          After fixing my car and testing it repeatedly for any sign of leaks Jeremy sent me on my way with a cheery invitation to bring it back at any time just to make sure all was well. He gave me a year’s warranty on the condenser but it did not apply if I drove while stoned. Correction: it actual said, Excluding stone damage.
          The bill verified completely what Dick had said about not being ripped off. At the first place I went to I was told that a new condenser would cost in the region of R8 000. Jeremy’s price:R2 200.
          I wondered how he had arrived at the name Musical Cars until I saw the long line of vehicles waiting to go into the workshop. Musical Chairs became Musical Cars when they had to get the one in front out again.
          Peter, although I’m tone deaf, I hope I’ve given you an idea for another one of your fantastic shows. When it comes to setting high standards in a different field Jeremy Nash can play a tune with the best of them.
          Yours faithfully,
          Jon, a talent scout of 120 years experience.