Jake O'Kane: Banks have cut back on humour but their own record on money laundering is a joke
The pimply faced teller takes my sweaty roll of notes and looks at me like I've just passed him soiled toilet paper. He looks at my cash, then he looks at me and asks in a squeaky voice, 'Could you tell me, sir, how you acquired this money?'
A WHILE back, I was making a lodgement into my bank account. In order to do so I’d been forced to drive out of Belfast as my bank – probably like yours – decided to close most of its Belfast branches, seemingly because we all prefer to now do our banking online.
I’m in a long queue of like-minded Luddites who, annoyingly for the banks, still prefer to communicate via a real human rather than a keyboard. When I eventually reach the front of the queue, I’m faced with a pimply faced teller who looks like he’s just traded his school uniform for a suit. The banks have long since stopped employing adults, realising children will work for sweets and not answer back.
I hand over my cash; I’d love to exaggerate and say it was tens of thousands but in actuality, it was only a few thousand to pay my mortgage and other standing orders for a few months.
The child takes my sweaty roll of notes and looks at me like I’ve just passed him soiled toilet paper. He looks at my cash, then he looks at me and asks in a squeaky voice, "Could you tell me, sir, how you acquired this money?"
I mean, the cheek of it. The utter bloody impertinence. 'How did I acquire my money?' – the police wouldn’t ask you that.
Before I can think, I’ve answered, "It’s my earnings as a male stripper." I’m expecting a smile or at least an annoyed frown but I get neither. Instead, the child seems genuinely flummoxed, so I make the situation worse by saying, "Wise up, son, the only way I’d earn money as a stripper is if all the audience had guide dogs."
His wee face flushes, and before I can explain I’m joking, he’s waved over a supervisor.
His boss is at least four years his senior, maybe all of 22. The child whispers, the boss nods knowingly and beckons me to one side. Everyone in the queue behind is now staring, convinced they’ve just witnessed someone, who didn’t get the memo, caught trying to lodge old Northern Bank notes.
The boss isn’t amused at my levity. He points out banks are now duty bound to ask where cash originates due to the Money Laundering Regulations 2007, not to mention the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, much less the Terrorism Act 2000.
I argue that £3,000 is hardly an amount worthy of such attention. I add, if he really wants to stop money laundering, he should take a trip to his bank’s headquarters and remind the higher-ups of those same laws.
I was on a roll; I was about to add that his bank, along with all the others, almost bankrupted the world in 2008 due to their greed, and only survived after we, the taxpayers, bailed them out with a £500 billion rescue package. But I thought better of this as I was afraid he’d put me to the back of the queue, so I meekly nodded an apology and lodged my money.
Of course, the truth is the banking sector is awash with billions of dirty money, money which doesn’t originate in over-the-counter lodgements but in private banks where men in leather chairs happily sign off transactions they know to be dubious. They do so, confident that any penalties imposed will be handsomely offset by the profits earned from such business.
Have you noticed that Nigerian princes no longer bother us with online requests to help move their money? Instead, they meet a banker in an oak-lined office who does the transfer for them.
Danske Bank is presently embroiled in a scandal involving its Estonia branch and $39bn of cash transactions. Not that Danske is alone; authorities in the US fined HSBC $1.9bn for laundering $880 million of drug money, and Deutsche Bank was forced to pay a fine of $630m to authorities for so-called ‘mirror trades’, allegedly used to launder $10bn out of Russia. Can you see why being interrogated about a paltry £3k would rile me?
I take comfort in the knowledge that I'm in good company being irritated with banks. The only time Jesus is recorded to have really lost his temper was with money lenders in the temple; according to the gospel of Mark he, "overturned their tables".
Seemingly he’d had to travel out of Jerusalem to find a temple, then he’d to stand in a queue for hours before finally losing it when they quizzed him about where he’d acquired his denarii.