Standing at 509 High Street Preston, Victoria, with youngest son Maki in the crook of my arm, is the most peculiar feeling because we’re staring at the Bank Of Queensland, and even though it seems a nice bank at first glance – with an exterior veneer of blues and yellows – I can’t help but feel that Maki and I are inappropriately dressed in jeans, jumper and beanie. I have to resist the urge to race back home for board shorts and thongs.
Maki And I are Going To Find Out!
I’m here because I’ve been asked to participate in a BOQ campaign and I want to scout out a branch and interrogate an employee before I do anything drastic like dedicate my life to them.
‘Let’s go Maki,’ I say. ‘We might see a cane toad or maybe even Bindi Irwin. If you’re a really good boy we’ll go to Sea World when we’re finished. There are dolphins there.’
‘Woof woof,’ Maki says, pointing at the doors as they slide open.
Surprisingly the air isn’t as humid as I’d feared and it’s as I’m inspecting the layout and design of the interior – which opens into a pleasant sitting room with comfy looking couches that have no Jack Daniels emblems on them – that I notice the wall hangings detailing the It’s Possible To Love A Bank campaign.
As I walk to the service area, Helen, – a BOQ employee – is smiling at me. She pays close attention to Maki by wiggling her fingers at him and squiggling her nose and I can tell by the way he buries his head into my chest and giggles that he appreciates it.
With the suggested love in the posters and the pleasant Victorian air and the warm Helen welcome I’m beginning to feel I’ve been sent into a love-trap that my hopelessly romantic soul may find impossible to escape.
‘G’day Helen,’ I say, and then to break the ice, ‘I was almost certain you’d be playing Jimmy Barnes on your PA system.’
Even as she looks at me uncomprehendingly Helen’s face is intensely kind. I have to be careful I don’t fall too early. My last banking experience was about as pleasurable as sneezing my forehead on to an ice-pick and if I’m going to fall in love and possibly switch banks I want to be sure that my family and I will be treated well, and with respect.
‘I’ve been asked to participate in the BOQ’s latest campaign,’ I continue. ‘And I was wondering if I can interview you.’
‘Okay,’ she says, making a face at Maki again.
‘Great. I have this little recording device,’ I say, pulling out the iPad from my backpack, and placing it on the counter between us. ‘Here we go. Just be yourself.’
I put Maki down and he sets off, running around the bank. ‘So, you’re name is Helen.’
“Are you married?”
Helen shrugs and rolls her eyes before saying, ‘Yes.’
I allow my mind to ignore reality and to imagine Helen is hitting on me. ‘Nice?’ I say. ‘Really nice. Hey, don’t you think its weird there’s a Queensland bank in Victoria?’
‘No it’s not weird,’ she says. ‘It’s just like we’re bringing the summery weather to Victoria.’
‘It doesn’t really feel warmer in here,’ I say, mumbling to protect her feelings. ‘Is there a Bank of Victoria in Queensland?’
Helen starts by repeating the question to give herself time – I presume – to wonder about my sanity. ‘Bank of Victoria in Queensland? No, not that I’m aware of…’
It’s probably a good thing,’ I say. ‘Because I’d struggle to get to it. Much easier for me to get to a Queensland bank in Victoria than to trek all that way to a Victorian bank in Queensland.’
‘Yes,’ she says, softly, clasping her hands on the counter in front of her and leaning forward to impress upon me that she accepts me for who I am. I feel no pressure to change and am now cursing myself for not making the effort to source some board shorts. I really want to impress her.
‘So, it looks like you’ve just had the interior redesigned. Have you? New paint and posters? The exterior also carries a healthy veneer of just painted… ness. Is that for the campaign?’
‘Yes we just finished redecorating last Friday and this is the first week of the campaign.’
‘So, you did this all yourself?’ I say, before remembering, ‘Oh, because the BOQ branches are all privately owned and managed aren’t they? So that’s a very important difference between BOQ and the major banks…’
‘It’s still the same,’ Helen says, losing her smile for the first time. ‘We’re still covered by the branding and policies of other banks, it’s just that we have more control over the decisioning…’
Helen’s panic is alluring. ‘Hey, I’m on your side,’ I say, perhaps giving away a little too much of myself. ‘I’m saying that it makes the experience at BOQ a bit more personal… in terms of working with customers.’
‘Oh yes,’ she says. ‘It’s more personal having an owner-manager because they have more flexibility when making decisions.’
‘Great,’ I say, as Maki comes over and holds his arms up for a place on my knee and a view of Helen. I anticipate some peek-a-boo shenanigans between the two of them and take the time to do another scan of the Bank. ‘You know, I do like what you’ve done here… but I think you could probably make it a little more Queenslandy…
‘The color is already very summery…’
‘Sure, but I think you’re missing a banana tree right about there,’ I say, pointing to the left of the sliding doors.
‘Banana tree…’ she says. ‘Yes, that’s a very good idea. Let me take some notes.’
When I look back I am astounded to see that Helen is actually jotting banana tree on her note pad and it’s that very astonishment which makes it easy for me to partly ignore the fact that she’s adopting the head-titling pose of someone who realises they are talking to a saliva-letting simpleton.
‘You could also maybe make the air wetter,’ I say.
Again she writes my suggestion down and suddenly I feel that flighty dog-panting kind of excitement that always overwhelms me when I’m actually being listened to.
‘And also get a life-size cardboard cut-out of Warrick Capper holding a XXXX barrel of BOQ singlets and stubby holders…’
When she puts the pen down I am not disappointed because that was actually a totally ridiculous stereotype-based suggestion, and proves again that she is listening.
I’m swimming in my own importance; my sense of self has been lifted and supported to a rare life-moment of super-confidence, and it’s all because of Helen. When I next speak I’m leaning on one elbow and looking at her from the corner of my eye, as I’d imagine Tom Jones would do.
‘So Helen,’ I say, ‘I want to hear from you. Do you think it’s possible to love your bank?’
‘Yes,’ she says. ‘It’s because we do personal service. We treat our customers as our friends… as members of the family. They’re not just mere customers. We care about them.’
‘Sweet,’ I say. ‘I believe you. I really do. But how do you love your bank… personally? Do you think about it when you’re home alone or…’
‘Okay, um, I put my heart and soul into it. I put 110% effort into everything I do and I really enjoy it. You must have passion to work in the bank.’
‘You say passion with such passion,’ I say. ‘How long have you been working here?’
‘Since the bank opened in 2006.’
‘That’s love and dedication. And you still love it as much as when you first met?’
‘I still love it. I have always been a banker.’
‘A banker since birth?’
Before I have time to stop I find myself asking silly boyish questions in an attempt to get Helen to laugh. ‘What if BOQ kissed another person?’
‘Well,’ she says, as quick as a whip. ‘If you love something you kiss it… it’s part of showing your love.’
‘It is,’ I say. ‘So you’re happy to share the BOQ’s love?’
‘Love is sharing,’ she says. ‘Bankers are lovers. We must share.’
Her response causes me to exclaim, ‘Oh my god!’ and when Helen nods and laughs I have everything I need. Now, all I want to do is to return the love.
‘I prepared a poem for the BOQ…’ I say, as I pull out the folded piece of paper I wrote it on, ‘… in case we got to this point. Do you want to hear it?’
Helen’s mouth says yes as her eyes say no.
I recite it with the same passion that Helen said passion with and look into her eyes as they avoid my gaze.
An Ode To The Bank of Queensland
My happiness doesn’t find its home in magazines or stars,
It isn’t found in tasty food or delicious chocolate bars
It doesn’t live in sunny days or picnics in the park
It doesn’t depend on Stevie J kicking goals or taking marks
Happiness would never find me under any circumstance
If I wasn’t for the BOQ, who brings everyday romance.
‘What do you think?’ I ask.
‘It’s good isn’t it?’
‘I can put that on a poster so that you can put it on the wall here somewhere if you want.’
‘Yeah okay, put it on a poster.’
‘Really? You really will?’
‘I will put it somewhere the customers can always see it.’
I pick Maki up and turn him around with an excellently weighted kid-throw. ‘Did you ear that Maki? Daddy’s getting published!’
Helen laughs again and I decide, uncharacteristically, to give her the last word. ‘Do you have anything else you’d like to say about why it’s possible to love the Bank of Queensland?’
She lights up like a fork in a microwave. ‘You don’t deal with staff who say hello and then bye-bye here, no. We follow up with personalised service…’
‘With phone calls and home visits?’
‘Yes, phone calls. And whenever we see our customers in the street we stop to say hello and talk to them about their lives and their businesses and whatever banking questions they have.’
‘Wow, so you just man the streets 24/7?’
‘No,’ she says.
‘That’s great,’ I say.
I’m upset that the interview and the experience is over but I have to pick up Archie and Lewis from school and then Tyson from kinder so there’s no choice. We spend the next five minutes taking photos of each other and I even take the chance to give Maki his first lesson on banking in one of the client rooms and then we’re walking out of my new Queenslandy love-nest and into the familiar chill of the Victorian winter.
I feel a little sad to be leaving because I’m a people person and Helen is my kind of people.
When I look back at the exterior of the bank to see one of the promotional posters I find myself reading the slogan differently. Where I once saw a question I now see a statement:
It’s possible to love your bank.
Click here to find out more reasons why.