My mother-in-law ran a supermarket in the Wortmanville/Werk-en-Rust wards of South Georgetown for over sixty years, before advanced age put an end to it. One of the things I did for the supermarket on literally countless occasions was to go to the banks to get smaller notes early in the mornings. That was routine.
Since the supermarket closed seven years ago, I never did that transaction anymore. Yesterday I was driving home when a man called and described an incident for me at the Water Street branch of Republic Bank. He gave his name as Wallace Arjune and he gave me his telephone number. I followed up on the complaint.
Mr. Arjune is sulking because he went yesterday to that branch to have two thousand dollars in twenty-dollar denominations.
The teller informed him that the bank can only facilitate him if he has an account with it. He said he did not. Two supervisors told him it was bank policy. I couldn’t believe it, because I had long experience in changing larger notes into smaller ones at all commercial banks in Georgetown.
To ascertain if Arjune’s story was true, I made enquiries. I spoke with Brundon Persaud, Customer Service Representative. Mr. Persaud stressed that in my column I get his name right. It is not Brandon but Brundon.
A polite, soft-spoken gentleman (actually all, if not most banking officials are soft-spoken; I believe this is part of their training), he informed me that the policy of Republic Bank in general, meaning all branches in Guyana, is that denominations will only be changed for people who have accounts with the bank.
If Wallace Arjune did not contact me, I would never have known that. So how does the snow-cone vendor get smaller notes to do his early morning business if he cannot access them at the commercial banks?
I could only guess in one direction – when someone who does not have an account with a bank walks in to request changing notes – whether big ones into small ones or small ones into big ones – that person is a total stranger, and the bank accepts that it has no obligation to such a person.
If the person is an account holder, then the bank is facilitating a customer. I figure the bank’s logic goes something like this; why should our tellers take their busy time to serve someone for free? I don’t know how you look at it, but I think that is a wrong policy. At the time of writing, I don’t know if the practice obtains at other commercial banks and the Bank of Guyana. If you agree that the banks have no obligation to strangers who request such services, then how do vendors and small shopkeepers get small notes?
Here is what happened to my wife, and I was standing right next to her. Our ATM cards could only facilitate 200,000 to make a purchase overseas. But there is a special card the banks offer that has a limit purchase of one million Guyanese.
This card allows you to buy stuff overseas to the tune of the equivalent of one million Guyanese. Given the exchange rate with the US dollars, that card enables you to buy stuff close to five thousand US.
The teller asked my wife to show her pay slip. My wife said she does not work. She retired a long time ago. We have a joint account. The lady informed my wife that she is not entitled to the card because she is unemployed.
I then said that we have our savings in the bank, and that is legal money we worked for and saved for decades and that we want to spend by buying things we need. We wanted three books from Amazon that is impossible to get from Guyana.
The soft-spoken, polite woman informed my wife that her savings in the bank do not entitle her to have the card. She must have the status of an employee or have a business. She then indicated that a statement from NIS would help if she receives NIS pension.
Think about what is going on here. If a billionaire gives my wife forty million dollars and she puts it in her account, she still cannot get that one million dollar card.
Do you realize that your hard-earned savings do not allow you to have that facility from a bank that you have put your savings in for decades and decades? I honestly believe that this is a violation of the constitution and my wife’s rights as a customer.
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