Although I am doing my best to not compare life in the United States with life in Fiji during my trip here, there are some instances where the differences are so glaring that I'm forced to acknowledge them.
A few years ago, my wife had opened up an account with a local bank in Philadelphia. We had forgotten about it until we came back to the US on this visit and although there wasn't any money in it, we happened to drive by one of the branches on Saturday afternoon and realised they were open. Late afternoon, by the way. Was almost 3 o'clock which is convenient in its own right.
Anyway, the bank was bright, airy and very comfortable and we were serviced immediately. As it turns out, our account had been closed due to inactivity but the man said he could open up a new account for us in just a few minutes. Because my family will be in the US for much of the summer, we agreed.
Upon sitting down and giving some personal information, we had a new account set up in less than five minutes. I didn't have much money to deposit at that point but that didn't seem to bother the guy who was helping us. He told us we could come back the following day (SUNDAY) and take care of that.
"I'll tell you what we'll do." he said. "We'll put $25 in there to start off this account and then you can come back tomorrow and deposit what you want."
"Ok." I said. "That sounds fine, thanks."
He came back after a minute with a checkbook and said we were all set to go.
"Should I pay you cash now for that $25?" I asked.
"No," he said. "The bank is giving you that for opening up this account."
"What?" I must have said with a little too much surprise. "In that case, I'd like to open up ten more accounts please."
I kept looking over at my wife incredulously.
Now just to clarify what is going on in my head here...I'm not attempting to make the case that this is the way things should be done everywhere. What I found so amazing was simply how different this banking experience was from what I've become accustomed to.
As I stood upon my shaky legs to leave, the banker fired off one more parting line to me.
"I'm sorry it took so long to take care of you here today." he said.I walked out of the bank laughing hysterically, people looking as if there was something wrong with me (which there clearly is).
When I returned on Sunday at 2 p.m.(!!!), the banker greeted me by name. He printed out a bank/debit card right there and then. Compare this to a wait of about two weeks in Fiji and the sheer convenience of this system is clear.
American banks have made significant progress over the past few years refining their customer experience. It might seem less obvious if you live in the United States but I don't remember things working like this five years ago.
Perhaps I've become a bit sour battling so many sub-par customer experiences in Fiji but again, this is not about that. The difference, however, is startling.