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Opinion : Is there a potential problem with ‘under the counter’ transactions in modern banks?

| May 21, 2021

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A good friend recently told me about a problem they encountered in a bank.

My friend was tasked with paying a bill for an elderly relative. The relative gave my friend the full amount of money to pay the bill and they both counted it together to make sure the money was correct before my friend went to town.

In the bank, where the bill was to be paid, my friend counted the money again, it was all present and correct.

My friend approached the cashier and handed over the bill for payment together with the money which the cashier took and immediately (without checking or counting it in any way) put it into a ‘counting machine’ located out of sight under the counter.

During the counting process the machine supposedly ‘malfunctioned’. Raising their hand from beneath the counter the cashier was holding several £20 notes supposedly rejected by the machine for no reason during the ‘malfunction’.

Sorry but you are £20 short‘, said the cashier to my friend. How could that be? The money had been counted by my friend who was sure the correct amount had been handed over.

My friend could not see the total figure the counting machine had counted and what’s more the bank would not even let my friend see behind the counter in the open plan office. My friend had to submit to the word of the cashier and the calculations of a supposedly ‘malfunctioning’ machine hidden out of sight under the counter.

It would have been all so easy for the cashier to have dropped £20 on the floor (for recovery later) or hidden it in their sock. The money could have been counted correctly and the handful of £20 notes the machine supposedly rejected could have been a ‘prop’ kept under the counter to make it look as it the machine had gone wrong.

By having the input and output of the money counting machine placed out of sight under the counter the counting process was not as robust or transparent for the customer as it could have been. To sum up in such a situation the customer is at the mercy of the cashier when it comes to counting the money and agreeing how much has been presented.

My quick thinking friend said to the cashier ‘The moment you took the money out of my sight you accepted it as correct. You should have counted it in front of me and because you didn’t you are in no position to dispute the figure.

By this time a second bank employee had come over to see what was wrong and they took charge of the incident directing the cashier on how to proceed – the identity of the second employee will be revealed later on….

Amazingly the second bank employee said ‘But this is on open plan bank without security screens, we can’t count the money by hand in front of you for security reasons.

My friend was flabbergasted, whoever heard of a bank that can’t count money by hand! It seems the bank had been designed to be open plan and aesthetically pleasing to look at rather than with security and the handling/counting of money as its primary purpose!

After my friend pointed out that the money had been accepted through the act of taking it out of thier sight the cashier told my friend that ‘You are £20 short but we will make it up.

However that’s not the point is it? My friend is an honest person and did not like being told they had supposedly handed over the wrong amount of money.

The cashier would not accept that the money was correct and kept repeating ‘You are £20 short but we will make it up.

What could my friend do? The bank stamped the bill as being fully paid and my friend left the premises.

My friend knew they handed over all the money and my friend felt the statement ‘You are £20 short but we will make it up‘ casts doubt on their integrity so my friend raised a formal complaint to the head office of the bank.

What happened next amazes my good self even more that the incident described previously.

It seems the head office sent the complaint to the manager of branch where the incident took place for investigation. Guess who the branch manager was? It was the second bank employee who turned up and took charge.

As far as my friend can determine the manager handled the investigation, effectively investigating themselves and the incident which they took charge of. Where’s the independence in that?

So what do you think the outcome of the complaint was? It was ‘You were £20 short but we made it up‘! Despite the machine malfunctioning the bank would not admit my friend handed over the correct amount. What happened to the old mantra of ‘the customer is always right’?

My good self finds it amazing that, in this case, bank managers can seemingly investigate themselves and pass judgement on themselves, furthermore in this modern age it seems the customer is at the mercy of machines placed out of sight.

Of course the scenario also works the other way too as unscrupulous customers could potentially hand over less that the exact amount and rely on the defence of ‘you took the money out of sight thus accepting it as correct’ when the machine correctly counts an amount less than expected!

In my opinion, it seems that perhaps the design of modern banks with ‘under the counter’ counting machines has implications for the accuracy of the determination of how much money is actually being presented for deposit/payment.

So, take heed of my friend’s experience and beware of ‘under the counter’ counting machines as you too may end up £20 (or more) short if you can’t see the money when it goes into the counting machine and what comes out if the machine is located out of sight.

What do you think?

My blogs are published regularly here on the WycombeToday.com website.

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