The unsuspecting factory worker

January 6, 2011


I had to do some business at Bank of America yesterday. The kind where I actually had to talk to a banker. I use the term “banker” very generously. Evidently, corporate America can figure out how to turn any seemingly skilled, professional position into a factory job.

The badness started when I walked in. I felt like I was at Chili’s. There was literally a hostess stand where a young woman in a short skirt wrote my name on her clipboard list and told me my banker would be ready in 10-15 minutes.

There were several people ahead of me so I observed the process and started feeling uneasy. There were two bankers. They looked identical. Early 20’s, shirt, tie, slacks – all of low quality – no jacket. They took turns walking up to the hostess stand and calling out the next name on the list. Just like Chili’s.

It was then that I realized there are no specialists. These twentysomething guys handle every possible banking issue that walks in the door. How can that be? My situation was a little complicated and unusual. I needed expert advice. I really wanted to leave. But I imagined driving to the next branch only to find an identical setup. I sipped my latte and accepted my fate.

Soon, my name was called. To protect my banker’s identity, I’m going to call him Skippy. Skippy took me to his office. He asked a few good questions and I thought I got lucky. I accidentally got a guy who knows about my situation. Nope, wrong. Each question I asked was answered with, “Let me make a quick call about that.” The call is to a helpline. A helpline designed for these bankers. A helpline with many levels of menus and a pitch to entice them to chat online rather than using the helpline. And Skippy did it all on speakerphone for me to hear and sink deeper into despair.

While we were on hold for the next available representative, I had plenty of time to assess his office. It was not his office. It was an office with BofA adverts on the walls and knick-knacks that had clearly been selected by some buyer at headquarters. Do you think Skippy reads the Encyclopedia Britannica between clients?

The phone agents were able to walk him through the computer screens and fields and tell him which forms I needed to complete. I got the bare minimum of service I needed. I did not get any advice or value-add whatsoever.

But the real point of this story is Skippy. It was unsettling to me how fine he was with the whole process. He remained confident, even a little cocky (which I did not suffer very well) despite the multiple helpline calls. He thinks this is a great career. He’s a banker! Hell, he’s a Branch Manager!

I’m worried for Skippy. He may be okay right now but eventually he’s going to get bored and dissatisfied and disgruntled. BofA doesn’t want him to be a banker. They want him to be a cog. To be replaceable. They want his skills and knowledge to be minimal so they can pay him less. It’s more cost-effective to have a centralized helpline with a few knowledgeable people.

I tell you this story so you’ll take notice of this unfortunate trend. Skippy and all the rest of us deserve more. More than factory jobs. We deserve to derive meaning and fulfillment from our work. We deserve to make a difference.


2 Comments on “The unsuspecting factory worker”

  1. MJ Says:

    I lean more toward Skippy reading Encyclopedia Brown.


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