On Thursday, September 1 2011, an SBV armoured vehicle parked in front of First National Bank Knysna for a pick-up. It was approximately 1.30pm, peak lunch period and the sidewalk was busy. We only have 3 main streets in Knysna and that point has the most traffic, being on the corner of Grey Street and the N2 which runs through town. There were 4 SBV guards but i don’t know if all belonged to the same vehicle as another had parked across the road, on the corner diagonally opposite, in front of the pharmacy (i need to check but that is possibly a no-parking zone owing to left-turning vehicles).
The problem is that pedestrians were refused to walk, causing a build-up in which i found myself. I queried a guard who wouldn’t answer me but instead, when i took out my cellphone to check the time, was told in a brusque tone that i was, “Not allowed to take my hands out of my pockets.” That may be irritating but definitely not the main issue which is that blocking off a public walkway is impractical and unconstitutional.
It is obvious that we live in tough times. In Knysna, crime is on the increase although armoured robberies, nationally, are down in lieu of ATM bombings which are unlikely to happen in Knysna during the day. But even if it were a high-risk, armoured robbery area, the guards were not clearing the area to practical effect (which could only happen if the public were much barricaded much further away). What they were doing, even if unintentional, was creating a human shield.
When we were allowed to walk again, i approached your customer service person who stands at the front of FNB, in the ATM area. I was and explained the situation to which he responded that it wasn’t FNB’s problem and that i should chat to the security company. WRONG – it is FNB’s problem as SBV is not only contracted by FNB, not the other way round, but also partly owned by FNB. That shirking of responsibility, which gets repeated, is the second complaint which grew when i asked to speak to the manager, Ian Schultz. I was told that he had recently left the branch and that there was no manager and, told again, that was not FNB’s problem. I insisted which lead to an amicable conversation with Operations Manager, Brent Lovett. Initially, he also said it was an SBV issue but when i insisted, he said he would contact them.
I then receive an email from Brent stating that he had contacted them but, instead of sorting, giving me the details to contact Sam Crouser at SBV. I’m not told what Sam’s position is but the bigger issue is that, for the third time, FNB is irresponsibly passing the buck. Nevertheless, i emailed Sam, CCing Brent, as i’d rather sort than get webbed into a prolonged situation. After 5 days of no response, i email Brent and Sam and tell them that i will publish an article. SBV then responds the same day.
Sam provides an apology but no solution which, despite the diplomatic tone, means i was now been brushed off by SBV. This then leads to a back and forwards exchange which i attached to my complaint to FNB. Result: NO responsibility, NO solution.
Admittedly, there is no utopia solution considering the state of South Africa we live in but the situation could surely be improved if FNB insisted that, because of its location, pick-ups and drop-offs need to be outside of peak periods. Times can still vary for safety but citizens will be less in harm’s way.
As Brent Lovett and FNB would not help, i requested (via email) for the contact details for a superior to which i received no response. I paid a visit to the bank where Brent refused to give me the details and insisted it’s not FNB’s problem but could not give me a single reason why. For the first time, i was undiplomatic and said i would sort it myself.
Furthermore, i have witnessed SBV many times at FNB’s location and the shocked reaction by tourists to not only the monster appearance of the vehicle (understandably necessary) but to the weapons the guards carry. Occasionally, there’s been an over-zealous (or more alert, depending on opinion) guard darting from cover to cover. One such time i was with a Swiss tourist, she thought we were under attack as a guard crouched, ran and ducked like a scene from a Hollywood movie.
FNB has other entrances. Primarily, there’s the one on the side with it’s own parking. Secondly, even though it’s still public, it’s far quieter arriving through the Knysna Mall underground parking. Although neither are ideal, they do place the public at less risk. To ensure safety for the guards and money, for example, SBV can run tandem with a second team parked across the road.
We, sadly, do not live in a perfect world which is all the more reason why we have to make an effort when we can. And FNB can!
It’s been 12 days since i initiated this complaint.
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In the preface to my letter to FNB:
My complaint is not as an FNB customer but as a citizen.
Although the staff at FNB Knysna have sometimes been unable to answers small technical questions, my impression of them has been extremely high until now. They have treated me warmly for the 2 years i’ve lived here and with some we’re polite enough to greet in passing on the street. Except for this matter, it should not reflect on the staff generally!
Furthermore, it frustrates me immensely to have to complain because, as an event organizer and community activist, i had intended approaching FNB as a sponsor for community projects. I say frustrates because, no matter what diplomatic speech is made, realism will put those intentions at a disadvantage.