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Monday, April 18, 2005

(Not so) little annoyances...

As much as I have come to really like Northern Ireland and all my friends here, there are still a couple of things that annoy me to no end. Among the top of my list of annoyances (and probably among the top of anyone's list who lives in the Belfast area) is the weather. We're now into at lease the third day of rainy and dismal weather -- something everyone here seems to be used to, but that doesn't make it any less annoying. I've written about the weather so much in past posts that I won't bother with any further elaboration other than to express my hope that someday before I leave here the sun will shine for a full day. (With my luck it'll probably be a day that I'm holed up in some meeting in a room without windows.)

A second annoyance is the local banking system. I realize that we Americans are a bit spoiled by all the conveniences associated with doing business in the US, and it must be said that there are very few areas where the British/Northern Irish/Irish lag behind when it comes to commercial conveniences. Yes, the price is steeper in most cases, but the availability of products and services in almost every area is at least as good here as in the US. That is with one glaring exception: banking services. Whether we are talking about the consumer's basic capacity to open a checking account or having online access that is simple to use or even being able to deposit money at an ATM, the British/Irish system has a long way to go.

For the past few days, as an example, I've tried every way conceivable to make a deposit (or as they say here, a lodging) into my checking account. There are ATMs galore as you walk down the streets of Belfast, and at bank branches typically two, three or four ATMs that are easily accessible. But these machines have only one purpose -- and that is to dispense money. The very idea of making a deposit in such machine seems absolutely foreign to the British banking industry -- or at least those banks to operate in Northern Ireland. When I inquire about why this is so, the typical response is that the technology doesn't exist (which is of course blatantly false) or that there is just not sufficient staff to handle the process.

The truth is probably that the British banking system is just not willing to break out of its slow adaptive style. I find it rather strange that a system which makes it easy for some folks to just walk in and take up $50 million out of their vaults in one sweep would be unwilling to make it easy for folks to put their money into the vaults through ATM deposits. It is almost as if they don't want that kind of business....

But despite these flaws and accompanying annoyances, I remain taken by the place and the people.
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