One of my favourite bloggers-with-brawn-and-brains, the inimitable Franzy, said the words that no ex-banker ever wants to hear from anyone they admire. ~Shudder~ Franzy said.... he said....he..... OK. I can do this! I'll be brave and just do a copy and paste. He said: I wish I had bank job.
Sure, we've all been discussing the profanity of an article describing how some South Yarra wankers only getting a million for their five bedroom houses are doing it tough in this current economic downturn and maybe even have to sell their Mornington Peninsula hobby farms or the iconic post-modern beach house at Portsea, and how insultingly offensive it is to a Gen Y professional student who has both a HECS debt and rent that's too high to save for a deposit, let alone a reasonably-manageable mortgage.
I feel Franzy's pain. And fear. And envy. I've felt all of them too. Still do in fact. But now, I want to address the most horrific sentence I've had the misfortune to see him write: I wish I had bank job and share my own experience of having such arse-puckeringly awful employment with you all. It is a tale of heartache, terror, rubber bands, endless signatures and hopefully one of caution for you all.
Way, waaaay back into the deep mists of time at the end of 1988 when 1927 were going to dominate the airwaves forever, spiral perms ruled and raging was a social past-time and not a personality affliction I was in my third and final year of uni, fully aware that I belonged to a group of students who were the last to receive a HECS-free tertiary education.*** From term two onwards I dutifully borrowed my Mum's sensible black power suit and scrunched my perm into a sleek French braid and sat through lots of group interviews held on campus, to be informed just before Christmas that the ANZ Bank wanted to employ me in 1989 as a Graduate Trainee.
I was thrilled - as a lowly Arts Graduate who endured seeing 'Arts Degrees - please take one' scrawled oh-so-wittily underneath the loo sheet dispenser in the Uni Bar loos, the thought of either doing honours or teaching were not happy ones and thus to land a real job outside of those areas was a big feat. Twenty two thousand dollars per year seemed like a fortune to someone who received $9 Austudy a fortnight, $20 per week from Mum and Dad and worked all holidays doing truly craptastic stuff like apricot cutting, garlic picking, waitressing, babysitting, cucumber polishing, capsicum weeding and leaflet folding to pay my rent, food and cider bills.
Despite being told by the recruiting bloke that they wanted to place me in Human Resources, when the January starting day arrived, I was lumped with a dozen other newbies - aloofish maths graduates and nervous school leavers, all ready to do a week's induction training and, in my case, become a Lending Officer, not an HR henchwoman. Oh, was my first little twinge; so somehow my Roman Art & Archaelogy and Major English Texts studies were deemed to be more suited to mortgages than staff issues.
Sadly, my twinge became a fully-fledged thorn in my side about a month later when I was stationed to their North Adelaide branch, helping out their Commercial Lending side hand out money to the already wealthy and already snobby customers. My day entailed smiling at the sleazy male lending managers pretending I was interested in what they had to say instead of loathing them and finding little else to occupy me amongst the reams of paper work, numbered dockets and certificates of title that were still typed via a manual typewriter. Freezing cold air conditioning, paper cuts and viewing too many yellow sweat stains under the Gordon Gecko-style striped shirt worn by the young yuppie jerk alongside of me. Yep, five o'clock couldn't come soon enough.
Later that year, I was posted to my permanent position as Assistant Bank Manager, Gawler Place (corner North Terrace, when Henry Buck's now is). Most of my day was spent running credit checks, processing card applications, approving mortgages, personal loans and high yielding term deposits. I was very firmly 'encouraged' to sign up to study Accounting in the evenings but lasted only three lectures: I had barely scraped through year eleven maths, so surely they could have seen that I would have studied economics and spreadsheets at uni if I was remotely inclined? My boss shook his head in disappointment and told me he'd ordered the Financial Review for us every day, and it was my job to read, note anything relevant and report it to him. My first thoughts were, 'Oh bugger, there aren't any pictures in here.'
This first foray into real paid professional work was boring, dispiriting and energy sapping. My Manager disliked me because I was a jumped-up young lady who went to uni and didn't join the bank at fifteen years of age in 1950 and move up, step by step whenever somebody older than him died or was found slumped over some carbon paper. Plus, I towered over him by seven inches (he was five feet tall with conspicious lifts inserted in the back heels of his brogues) and he insisted I call him "Mr" every time we spoke.
The general staff - the tellers - also resented me because I didn't have to serve customers all day every day except at lunchtimes and was on at least eight grand a year more than they were. This was in spite of the fact that I had to arrive before they did to unlock the strong room and office, go to evening classes (paid only by the bank if I passed them), take my four weeks' annual leave all in one go ('What do you mean you don't know anyone else who has the entire month of June off?') and not be permitted to have a cup of tea on my desk 'because the customers can see over the counter and your desk is visible.'
However it was the two hour lunch rush I dreaded even more than the boring old 'War with Westpac' stories from Mr C or the 'she-thinks-her-shit-doesn't-stink-just-because-she-went-to-uni-but-look-at-her-she-still-has-to-wear-navy-blue-and-grey-uniforms-like-we-do' glares of the tellers because I had to open up a booth, get the cash out and serve customers for two hours so that the tellers could take their lunch breaks.
I had to take my 45 minute break at either 11:15am or 2pm - no less and no more. The other tellers used to make sure they'd take their time serving someone, drop their pens or have a phone call to answer every single bloody time a drunken, piss-soaked wino would stagger in with his coffee jar full of coins, the doddery pensioners would rush in on every second Thursday with their outdated bank books and endless questions or the insane, 1000 year-old biddy who had several millions dollars with us but thought she could fling off her fox fur and flick spittle in my eyes for half an hour during her passionate rant about how much she hated us each time she came in to collect her statements.
Some of the staff I worked with were great, but some were questionable and borderline retarded, not to be too delicate about things. One woman - let's just call her Deb for reasons of me not wanting to be sued - could barely put the letters A, N and Z together in the same order, but had a relative higher up in personnel who ensured that she was a 'relief' staff (the irony of that word doesn't escape me) member who could stuff up and leave before any ramifications were felt. Anyhoo, she was one of many such blocks of dead wood who were hanging around because they had mortgages at a reduced rate that would automatically increase to 17.5% if they left. Not me, unfortunately. The days of cheap staff rates ended about a month before I got there, as did the Christmas cash bonus - I got a mini-Christmas pudding and a cinema ticket instead.
At the end of the day, we'd all have to balance our cash and it was very rare that I ever did on the first try. I ain't a fine details gal; never was, never will be. Counting and recounting fives, tens, twenties, fifties and wrapping them in groups of ten in rubber bands, bagging the gold, silver and bronze coins and entering and re-entering the figures was humiliating and mindless. I'd eventually manage it and have to hang around for Mr C to climb back into his stacked heels, find his key and lock up with him - he and I had the only sets that would lock up the pitiful little branch 100% securely every night. I'd walk dejectedly home through the beautiful old grounds of Adelaide uni, through the Botanic gardens to my Hackney sharehouse, feeling like a right twit in my daggy bank uniform when Jo was having a wonderful time searching for rocks and jocks via her geology PhD, and Charlotte was still studying piano at the Elder conservatorium and moonlighting in a techno jazz band.
Worse still was the recession that Paul Keating said "we had to have." Interest rates for mortgages climbed to 17.5% and in my second year at the bank ('Don't leave before two years or it will look really bad on your CV, I was told over and over again by my concerned parents, my friends and myself), I was doing more collecting work than loan approvals. It is hard to describe just how horrible it was to be given an armful of files and be told, at the ripe old age of 22 with a personal credit card with a $500 limit and a 1971 Renault bought for $1600, that I had to ring up working couples and parents and hassle them about missed payments, bounced cheques or negative bank balances. I did it coolly, professionally and efficiently and got results. Mr C and head office loved me for it, but I'd go home and wonder just why I felt like hiding and crying. Meeting anyone at a party at that time wasn't fun either - I'd invariably end up in a corner, cowering, listening to someone rant about the Bastard Banks and pointing angrily at me. "Nice talking with you, er, Dennis, isn't it, but I'd like to go and get drunk now....."
On the other hand, those who had already paid off their mortgages (Baby Boomers, I'm looking at you), could invest their considerable savings in term deposits with interest rates that hit 15.5%. "Yeehah" one particularly obnoxious customer yelled when I opened up such an account for him. "This'll pay for our Europe trip and hopefully allow me to lease a newer Beamer at the end of the year." How nice for you, I remember thinking, and noticed that the person behind him in the queue was coming in every week - with cash earned from a second labouring job - to pay off some arrears that had accrued when he'd got sick and had his overtime cut.
You'll be relieved to read, if you're still here, that I did a nannying course in the evenings and on the 730th day, handed in my notice, bought a plane ticket to London and left the country the week after. I felt as though a weight had been lifted from my shoulders and still, to this day, haven't been able to wear anything navy or grey ever again.
So Franzy? Dear, sweet Franzy. Make coffee, make books, make blogs, make wild monkey love to M, but don't DON'T ever make a bank job your wish. I beg you!
*** I paid HECS later when I returned to Adelaide Uni to do my Grad Dip Ed. I lasted a year, but the repayments took me four!