Can one bank on banks?3 min read

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The writer is a former ambassador of Pakistan and ex-assistant secretary general of OIC
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A Gallup Pakistan poll had arrived at a somewhat bizarre conclusion that 72 per cent of people in the country believe that they can live their lives without keeping their money in a bank. One calls it bizarre but not surprising, considering the fact that the concept of banking in this country has undergone a sea change over the years. Gone are the days when the common person could bank on his or her bank. What happens today is that he or she has to do a juggling job just to ensure that his or her nest-egg survives the banker’s shenanigans.

Head honchos of most banks sit in their ivory towers while playing ducks and drakes with the poor man’s savings. How about taking time out to delve into something that directly affects the man in the street, like the banking practices that help the less than scrupulous bankers lead their clients up the garden path? For one thing, it would appear that, like all things connected with banks, most ‘savings’ schemes are designed basically to ensure a net transfer of funds from the nest-egg of the small saver to the coffers of the bank. The views of the small fry do not appear to count at all in this equation. The ‘Hedge Funds’ — that constantly catch many a small saver in their tightening net — are perhaps the worst offenders.

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Gone are the good old days when a client could bank on his banker. Now it is the banker who not only rules the roost but also considers the account holder and his or her nest-egg as fair game. The banker’s objective today is to make sure that the client is stabbed skillfully in the back, taking full advantage of the weapon of small print. No wonder one meets prosperous bankers by the dozen wherever one goes. An account can be declared ‘dormant’ at will, which means that the client has an uphill battle at hand merely to reclaim what is veritably his or hers.

Successful bankers and their minions have invariably put the arts of ‘hedging’ and ‘fudging’ to good use in order to feather their nests. Persons addicted to games of chance ‘hedge’ their bets to cushion the impact of a loss. Courtiers and advisers of powers that be have found it expedient to ‘hedge’ their counsel to ensure that they are not caught on the wrong foot when the time of reckoning comes. And lately bankers have joined the fold. The one outstanding difference is that whereas the courtiers and advisers had to depend on their ingenuity, the bankers can invariably fall back on the small print, against which there is no anti-dote.

On another note, one must place on record that bureaucrats everywhere are, by definition, the master ‘hedgers.’ It would be a rare bureaucrat, indeed, who would deign to put a candid or even ‘dodgy’ opinion on paper. He would rather be a dodderer than be caught having rendered a definitive advice that turns out to be to the disliking of the boss. The name of the game, therefore, is never to commit oneself. In case a bureaucrat is obliged to proffer a definite opinion, the secret lies in doing so in such a manner as to be either unintelligible or at best ambiguous. In fact, successful bureaucrats are known to skirt around the issue to such an extent that they never quite make it to the point.

The banker is ever one up on the bureaucrat, since his shenanigans are always cushioned by the small print and he is not answerable to his clients. The bureaucrat is at least beholden to his superior and/or mentor. The banker, on the other hand, is his own boss so long as he keeps the client on a tight rein and — more often than not-guessing. No wonder a good seventy per cent of the citizens of this blessed land feel that they are better off not being his or her clients!

Published in The Express Tribune, November 8th, 2018.

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