By Christos Panayiotides
I often come across people who forcefully complain about their inability to cope with day-to-day problems but flatly refuse to look for solutions to the problems they face by simply expanding the framework within which they search for answers. Expanding the horizons within which solutions are sought often results in intractable problems being solved quickly. A classic example of such a problem was the Gordian Knot, which Alexander the Great tackled in 333 BC by cutting the knot with his sword, rather than attempting to unravel it.
A more down-to-earth problem is the one that has arisen as a result of the closing of numerous highly unprofitable branches of the bankrupt co-operative bank which was recently taken over by the Hellenic Bank.
Whoever has an understanding of what the vast majority of banking transactions entail will tell you that these processes are ideally suited to being processed by bank customers themselves through a computer terminal sitting on their laptops, rather than by queuing in a branch of the bank. The worst scenario is that you may have to walk to a nearby ATM, if you need to deposit or withdraw cash.
In a country such as Cyprus, where there are no illiterate people, the problems arising from the inevitable closure of bank branches could easily be solved, at relatively little cost, by the bank installing an ATM, at a convenient spot within the local community (perhaps, in the municipal premises) and by providing – free of charge – a relatively simple laptop to every local customer (at a cost to the bank of not much more than €150 per piece). Admittedly, the gift would have to be accompanied by a short induction course to train the users in the use of the equipment. The local municipality would undertake to provide free Wi-Fi facilities to all the members of the community (I believe that this would qualify for EU subsidisation) and perhaps some basic IT support on an ongoing basis. I am sure that, once the bank customers acquainted themselves with internet banking, they would be more than happy with the new arrangements and they would be very reluctant to go back to their old grossly inefficient and time-wasting habits.
The “side benefits” of such arrangements would be numerous:
- Other applications could be developed and loaded on the computer, addressing, for example, medical needs and the ordering of pharmaceuticals through Gesy
- The equipment could be used as a cheap and efficient means of communicating, particularly in isolated areas (through the use of applications such as Skype).
The applications that could be used are truly unlimited. Such facilities could transform rural, isolated areas into fully integrated communication hubs. All that is needed for these ideas to be quickly realised is a commitment on the part of the local authorities and some initial financial support which could come from EU funds and the banking industry. Of course, another ingredient is essential: an ability to indulge in lateral thinking!
I suspect that those who are not familiar with internet banking will rush to raise objections on the grounds that rural people would find it difficult to cope with computers and the internet. Let me disagree with you. If it works in isolated areas of Asia and Africa, there is absolutely no reason why it should not work in Cyprus.
I also suspect that the trade unions, which are still active within the banking industry, will be dragging their feet because they will perceive such moves as eroding their empire. The fact is that these trade unions carry a good part of the responsibility for the collapse of the co-operative movement and for the huge losses that bank depositors, bank bond holders and bank shareholders have suffered in the crisis that hit the banking industry not so long ago. As a minimum, they should keep their mouths shut and let technical progress take its course.
Christos Panayiotides is a regular columnist for the Cyprus Mail, Sunday Mail and Alithia