THE EDITOR: Over the weekend a friend mentioned to me that he was in the process of redeeming his travel miles earned with a local bank when he came across a small notice on the bank’s website indicating that as of October 1 an increase in miles would be required for redemption of airline tickets. Being a traveller to Florida he would require 20,000 miles for a return ticket from Trinidad. That now has been quietly increased to 25,000 miles.
What this means in the case of a family of four travellers, like my own, is the additional miles required would be 20,000, or an increase from 80,000 to 100,000 to secure four airline tickets to Florida. Bear in mind that when redemption is done taxes and fees are still attached. An additional 20,000 miles means an additional expenditure of $132,000.
Only recently I came across a newspaper article where the same bank boasted of increased first-quarter profits in the hundreds of millions of dollars. While I am very happy that the institution is a profitable one, I must ask what improved service has it provided to the average man? What benefits have we the citizens gained from any bank although they have enjoyed exorbitant increases in revenue over the years?
On any given day one would see lines outside the banks, with the elderly especially having to endure the elements to transact business. In San Fernando, a bank has closed its doors on Rushworth Street, forcing customers to now visit the High Street branch.
While banks may boast of improved technology, the ATMs at one bank are plagued with glitches. Making a deposit is a nightmare. Most machines are filled early on weekends and if they are able to accept cash the machines keep ejecting the bills. Depositing a small amount of cash can take up to 30 minutes, causing a major security risk.
Banking institutions come across as untouchables with no regard for customers. Many times I have heard the Minister of Finance and the Central Bank call for ease of banking but to no avail. I had put together all required documents and contacted Scotia, Republic and First Citizens to open a business account. Two years later there’s still no success.
Republic requires an additional 20 documents and Scotia and FCB never contacted me although I spoke to and visited the banks more than seven times. Even at one bank in San Fernando in its car park there is an area reserved for "premium banking customers." I assume your are treated according to your wealth.
The Central Bank needs to do a lot more on behalf of citizens. Just like the publicity given when it makes profits, the increase in fees should also be publicised. Citizens believe they are taken advantage of by banks. We are forced to continue business with them due to their essentiality. That however should not be an opportunity to take advantage of the common man.
I urge the media to question the executives of these institutions and hold them accountable for decisions made. The simple man and woman can hardly have an audience with a branch supervisor, much less a director at these institutions.
Banks play a critical role in economic growth but the benefits should not be one-sided.