Really, it is not so much a matter of Whatever Happened the Banks, so much as whatever happened the banks? The first question is asked by boring people in the pub who have read all the disaster books and will explain the whole banking collapse to you if you stand still long enough.
But then there is a larger grouping: quieter, frequently older and yet more furious. This is the group which is asking: whatever happened the banks? These are my people: we live in the lower case.
We’re unfashionable, often technologically ignorant and our schedules allow us to go to our local branch of the bank during the day. And our local branch of the bank couldn’t think less of us if we had come to rob it. In fact it would think a whole lot more of us if we came to hold up the bank with sawn-off shotguns.
The banks have spent large sums on preventing bank robbers swanning in and out of the premises at will. They have installed a double-door security system, they’ve thought that much about them.
Your customer, on the other hand, is regarded as a nuisance and strongly discouraged. Some time ago, at a secret meeting, the banks declared war on us.
Inside your modern bank nowadays is a cavernous space with nothing in it but a couple of machines, perhaps a television and a person whose job it is to wrangle the customers into submission by asking you what you want to do. Then they tell you that you can do it online.
Then you tell them that you don’t want to do it online. Or that you don’t know how to do it online. Or that you have concerns about security online.
Then they direct you to the cashier section – once the heart of any bank. There is one cashier. There is a queue. You queue. That is , if everything goes well.
A friend of mine rebelled. He was in a city-centre branch at lunchtime, 14 people were in the queue and one cashier’s hatch was open. He refused to tell the man who was trying to break up the queue what his business was. His business was private.
“I had a bit of a Larry David moment,” he says. He rehearsed the last couple of years of bank history in this country and told the bank employee that, as things had turned out, he would have been better putting his money in the attic.
“You know how it is in these situations,” he says modestly. “ You become a bit of a folk hero.” The other 13 people in the queue started to talk about how that member of the bank staff was “here every lunchtime” . Because the banks want you at home, doing all their clerical work for them online. It’s simple really.
I know the name of the man with the last old-fashioned bank book in Dún Laoghaire. The bank has tried for years to get it off him but he won’t surrender it – and this man is a bit of a computer whiz and could do online banking if he wished.
Still, the screws continue to tighten on your inconvenient live customer who is, as we all know, a loser.
A local businesswoman ran down to open an account in a local bank. She had a cheque for €5,000 with her and all her documentation. “A lady with a clipboard gave me someone’s card and said we could make an appointment for Thursday.” This was Tuesday. Thursday is this businesswoman’s busiest day. She went elsewhere.
Or take bank transfers as one mad and exotic example. Bank Of Ireland won’t do them – since October 2012, the bank’s head office said in an official statement. The statement, which was kindly and swiftly issued at my request, said Bank of Ireland is “committed to communities nationwide” and staying in them when other banks leave.
All I wanted to do was send a small sum to a German company. “Oh we don’t do bank transfers,” said the customer wrangler, who never did volunteer his name. “Under €3,000. You can do that online.”
I left the bank. Then I went back into the bank. What about other banks? I asked. Surely they do bank transfers. The customer wrangler said he didn’t know.
A colleague has a similar experience in Galway. “I hadn’t been in a bank for ages,” she said – she is not a member of the Resistance. She owed someone €500 and her bank told her that it was “ not possible to do a bank transfer to another bank. You have to do that online.”
My colleague had no problem with that. But she was required to register her mobile phone number online. It was going to take five working days for the activation code for the mobile phone to be issued. It was then going to take two working days for the transfer itself to be cleared.
In the end my colleague handed the woman to whom she owed money a cheque. She asked the customer wrangler what happened with older customers, or in areas of the country where there is no broadband coverage.
It’s like this: the taxpayer bailed out the banks. In return the banks’ live customers are being hunted down like dogs. All we are saying is – give peace a chance.
The case is back before the High Court
Evidence given to the High Court by some members of the Quinn family about assets and bank accounts was “incredible, not complete, implausible and conflicting”, the High Court has heard.
Lawyers for IBRC have said the court must now assess if adequate disclosure had been made and consider if further orders are necessary.
Shane Murphy for IBRC said evidence about huge sums withdrawn from Russian bank accounts was “completely unbelievable”.
Evidence that they had no documents to prove huge cash withdrawals were used for legal fees was “inexplicable”, he said.
Mr Murphy is making submissions for the bank in an application before the High Court concerning disclosure by members of the Quinn family about alleged asset-stripping of the International Property Group of companies.
Members of the Quinn family were cross-examined for five days in January about their disclosure of assets and bank accounts.
Mr Murphy said evidence was given that huge sums of cash withdrawn in Ireland were used for legal fees, yet no bills or receipts could be accessed.
He said the “shutters had come down” with regard to the money trail and a confusing picture had emerged about what the money was used for.
Orders could be made directing Aoife Quinn to have a laptop forensically examined to retrieve deleted emails.
He said the “policy of deletion” outlined by the Quinns illustrated that full disclosure had not been made.
A number of striking features had emerged in evidence, he said, including the fact that none of the Quinns appeared to have copies of employment contracts or evidence of job descriptions, despite receiving large sums from Russian companies.
Salaries received by some of the Quinns from IPG companies were significantly larger than the Russian employees, often tenfold, illustrating that Seán Quinn Jnr played a major managerial and controlling role and not one of middle management as he had purported, he said.
There had been a lack of disclosure about the role some of the Quinns played in IPG companies, Mr Murphy said.
Documents existed that would show a level of control and leadership by Mr Quinn Jnr, Aoife Quinn and Stephen Kelly, he said.
IBRC has alleged widespread asset-stripping of Quinn companies.
The Quinns deny full disclosure has not been made.
Counsel for the Quinns, Martin Hayden SC, said the court would have to decide what exactly the order for disclosure was.
He said they were not seeking to avoid court orders or to be technical to avoid an obligation.
However, the process of disclosure differed from discovery, he said.
Disclosure orders did not go beyond the requirement of disclosing documents in the possession of a defendant, he said.
Discovery was a much broader concept, while disclosure was narrow.
The current orders being sought by the bank amounted to it seeking an “evidentiary trail to support its argument in the main action”.
Mr Hayden said it could not be a game of trial by ambush.
IBRC’s application for further disclosure orders was entirely artificial in relation to the Quinn IPG groups as the bank had already appointed a receiver over those companies and would already have the information.
Mr Justice Peter Kelly will give his judgment at a later date.