Larry Broderick, general secretary of the Irish Bank Officials Association, said that since the onset of the banking crisis in 2008, staff have had to deal with many customers in varying states of distress over their financial circumstances — ranging from despair to anger. Sometimes staff also have to cope with verbal and even physical abuse.
“Staff have been largely left to their own devices in dealing with these extremely difficult situations — with little, if any, formal support from the institutions.”
While some branch managers have attempted to provide mentoring for staff, he said this has been very much a local initiative rather than standard practice.
“It is clear to us from a recent survey of our members that staff would appreciate more support, including some training, to enable them to deal with situations like these. We have sought such support from senior management but to no avail.
“We are not talking about training bank staff to become counsellors... but some practical guidelines to enable staff to help distressed customers would be useful.
“We suspect that the reluctance of some banks to facilitate staff taking on this role could be a fear that staff might spend more time with individual customers — when staff are already under pressure to “process” customers faster as a result of cuts in employee numbers.”
The Samaritans and Aware have backed the call, saying that such training would not only ease the burden for those financially strapped, but also help bank employees under pressure from dealing with such difficult situations.
“It is easier for people to put their hands up [to say they are under financial pressure] if the Government, financial institutions, the Money Advice and Budgeting Service and agencies like ourselves work together,” said Aware spokeswoman Sandra Hogan.
“Obviously it is difficult to get resources to put guidelines or training in place to spot the signs of depression currently, but it helps everyone to become more aware of what they are dealing with and this can only be a good thing.
“This is not rocket science and we’re not talking about a 90 page report on how to deal with stress due to financial pressures. But some training could be done or suggestions on what to look out for when financial institutions employees are dealing with customers who are in debt and as a result could be severely depressed or suicidal.”