Oct 6, 2006

Banking in Norway

Aside from the nifty debet card and the equally nifty giro system, banking in Norway has always left me slightly paranoid. In my comments to my last post I mention that I prefer online banking (it's not virtual; it's real but digital) because "today's banks have that "customer friendly" crap where everyone can see and hear your business (and how much cash you're getting) as you stand at some "service island" where everyone can see and hear you."

Thing is, Norwegians have never done discrete banking. Before the advent of the queue ticket, we'd all bunch up at whatever teller we thought would finish first. It generates a lovely, paranoid feeling to be standing at a teller handling your entire pay check, heaps of cash, and any personal financial problems with two to four complete strangers literally breathing over your shoulder. It was such a contrast to standing in a long, roped line at the bank in California on a Friday afternoon, with everyone waiting to deposit or cash pay checks. The paranoia there comes from some bored fellow customer who chats up strangers in the line. Which is a nice way to pass the time, while your eyes are glued to the little lights at each teller station. Two ahead of me, one ahead of me, my turn, which one will light up first - ah, her second to the end. And no one except the teller gets a clue about what you're doing at the bank. I like that.

For a while, banking in Norway was wonderfully Californian for me. We got queue tickets, stood in a huddled mass in the middle of foot traffic and hungrily watched the numbers on the digitial display count up slowly to our number. We'd check the time stamp on the queue ticket and suggested waiting time and play mind games with ourselves about how accurate the estimation was. And then "beep!", our number was up and we'd stride alone and envied to a waiting teller. Ah, privacy.

Then they revamped the bank, removed the two rows of counters with six teller stations and installed two high tables with computers and free-for-all ATMs. Both bank employees and customers used the same ATMs. So sometimes there'd be a wait while the teller had to wait in line after another customer. And anybody waiting their turn could see what the teller was doing, how much money was being withdrawn for me. Feh.

It may be the Venus in Capricorn in me, but it's also my unwillingness to offer myself up as a potential victim (which happened to this man): If I want to let you in on my personal finances, I'd prefer it to be by choice, my choice, and not because of a fashion in "customer friendliness".

4 comments:

Tim said...

I guess we were all born too early for the Star Trek world, where humans no longer deal with legal tender on Earth. I know, geeky, but it's an enticing thought, isn't it?

Keera said...

The debet card could be used everywhere, if everyone had a card reader. I'm a bit charmed by those instances where it's cash only, like - appropriately - on the old passenger boat "Bruvik".

Sravana said...

That banking system sounds absolutely intolerable. I'd go completely digital too, if that was what they did here. Privacy! very important

Keera said...

My philosophy has always been, "Don't bait people." I.e. don't do something that might tempt a weaker soul. And I'd like my bank to help in that.