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Bank Stories (3): Robotic Bank Phone Encounters

NOTE: The following is Scoop's first bank story. Jody has earned herself a double pass to The Bank movie, coming to a cinema near you soon. See... Scoop Interactive: Do You Hate Banks? for info on how you too can bend an ear or two and score a double pass to The Bank.

Robotic Bank Phone Encounters

15 March 2002

David Morgan, CEO
Westpac Banking Corporation
60 Martin Place
Sydney 2000

Dear David Morgan,

There are times when management is unaware of the effects their policies and training programmes have at the branch level so I thought I would write to you about my recent experience.

Yesterday, 14 March, I went to the Smith Street Branch of the Bank of Melbourne to arrange a personal loan for $5,000. I’ve recently moved to a new townhouse and spent my savings on furniture and a travel insurance claim (copy enclosed) I expected hadn’t arrived in time for me to cover part of my tax bill. Unlike the last time I took out a loan, I was ushered into an office and a telephone call was put through to a centre. I told the voice on the other end of the line that I wanted $5000 - $2,000 for tax and $3,000 for an electric piano as I studied classical music as a child and have decided to take it up again.

The robotic voice asked some perfunctory questions, such as how much I paid in rent, my monthly income, which credit cards I held. But concerns such as what I could provide as collateral (a receipt from the travel company and a certificate for $5,000 of Westpac shares I hold) weren’t posed. Further, while I have Qantas and Gold Visa cards with a combined limit of $20,000 I don’t owe any money on either. After punching a few numbers into the computer the robotic voice informed me that as the loan was for tax it would have to be paid within 12 months and that at $475.93 per month I didn’t qualify. To say I was shocked would be a euphuism. Had I lied and said I wanted to buy a speed boat and finance it over three years it wouldn’t have been a problem.

The robotic voice lacked personality, imagination and lateral thinking skills, but I don’t blame it. Rather, I suspect the voice may have done well in the mind-numbing course where skills such as being equally as personable as the computer were taught. I’d have thought that Westpac policy makers would have read the current literature hailing the return of ‘personal banking’. Apparently not.

The staff at the branch, who know my accounts, were empathetic and helpful, but explained that they couldn’t do anything as all loans are now done over the phone and on computer. Powerless to process something as simple as a loan for someone who has been a good client since I moved to Australia? I feel an academic paper on ‘Alienation in the work place’ coming on.

I closed my accounts and went to a different bank down the street. And a friend lent me the money to cover the tax bill. But should I need to borrow from an institution in the future I will know which lies I have to tell.

Now me closing my account at the Bank of Melbourne isn’t going to affect the dividends paid to the stockholders this year. But my satisfaction has been twofold. First of all a friend, who is the director of a multinational company was – and I’m sure you will notice my use of the past tense – considering transferring the company account to the Bank of Melbourne. And, secondly, the incident has provided me with a very good entry for the ‘Why I hate banks’ contest at And if I win of the prizes, tickets to the movie ‘The Bank’, I think I will donate it to a couple of anonymous robot voices so they can better understand the monolithic structure in which they exist.


Dr. Jody Hanson

© Scoop Media

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