Standard Bank – it’s not me; it’s you

About eight months after I closed my Standard Bank account I receive a letter from The Card Collections Manager claiming I owe them R40.68 and if I don’t pay within 10 days they will see me in court. As if! It seems they are trying to steal R40.68 from all their ex-clients in an attempt to make up the R300-million that the phishers stole from them. I wrote this letter in reply.

Your Reference: 5221266465186483

My Reference: What Part of “It’s Over” Don’t You Understand?

Dear The Card Collections Manager

 

I received a letter today from your good self, informing me that you have cancelled my credit card, which is quite a surprise considering I cancelled all my accounts with Standard Bank last year – so I don’t actually have a credit card to cancel. Your letter is like a boyfriend who tries to save face by telling his girlfriend that he is breaking up with her – even though she broke up him and has already moved on to a much nicer and cleverer and more honest boyfriend. Let’s be clear, Standard Bank Card Collections Manager – I dumped you.

Last year, after about 25 years of being a Standard Bank customer and never once missing a payment or being in arrears, I walked into the Thibault Square branch and cancelled all my accounts. Yes, after a quarter of a century I finally had enough of being in a horrible relationship and wanted out. It was a give-take relationship. I gave, you took. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy to break ties – I had to wait in queues, fill out forms and transfer debit orders. It was a pain, but I’d had enough – I was sick of your incompetence, of you not listening (and giving me the silent treatment), and of you dipping into my accounts. Of course, you didn’t want me to go – and you put up a fight – you kept calling me and begging me to reconsider. What can you do to change, you asked. But it was a case of too little, too late. I was adamant. It took about five phone calls or so but eventually, you got the message and agreed.

I thought that was – and then I got your threatening letter today, telling me I owe you money – and that my account is in default. It’s like you’re in denial, Mr Standard Bank Card Collections Manager. Just so we’re clear: We’re over. We’re through. We’re done. Get a grip, dude. Pull yourself together. I’m now with First National Bank – and we’re having a really good time. FNB  gets me in a way you never did.

You see, I left because of your indifference and your incompetence – and this letter just reinforces my negative view of your shoddy service. No, Mr Standard Bank Card Collections Manager, I don’t owe you R40.68. In fact, you owe me money. As I explained back then, and because I can tell that you are struggling to hear me, you started dipping into my account taking extra bank charges for a second time and when I tried to get answers I was just met with more indifference.

Your threats of court action, Mr The Card Collections Manager, don’t scare me.

So, do me a favour, amend your records – send me one more message apologising for your error, wish me well in my new banking relationship and leave me alone – and, if you don’t mind some constructive criticism, try to be a better bank.

With no regards whatsoever

Jonathan Ancer

PS: By the way, Standard Bank – it’s not me. It’s you. It’s definitely you.

Another PPS: Perhaps instead of worrying about the R40,68 you claim I owe you, I think you may have bigger phish to fry (did someone say R300-million?)

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Will the real Tim Noakes please stand up…

In the babbling Babel of the social-media era, sharing a name with someone famous can be a bit of a drag. Consider the harassed Twitter life of a carb-loving journalist called Tim Noakes – or the daily trials of Michael Jackson, a motivational speaker.

Mike Finch was on a flight from Johannesburg to Cape Town when the pilot’s voice crackled over the intercom. “Welcome on board flight 214 to Cape Town, this is Captain Mike Finch,” he said.

Passenger Mike Finch was tickled pink. He handed his business card to an air hostess who give it to pilot Mike Finch, who was also tickled pink and invited (the other) Mike Finch into his cockpit. This was in the pre-9/11 days.

A few weeks later the two Mike Finches met up for a drink. “We ordered a beer and I asked the barman to put it on Mike Finch’s tab,” recalls passenger Finch. “The funny thing is we were very alike.”

As more and more people jump onto the internet, name confusion has created a glut of baffling and comic situations.

Every year around the time of the Grahamstown National Arts Festival, for example, David Butler, a teacher in Plettenberg Bay, is tagged in countless Facebook photos meant for the actor David Butler, who has been in Generations, Binnelanders and starred as the detective Gabriel “Darkness” Harkness in the sci-fi series Room 9.

The game of tag prompted schoolteacher Butler to post a message on his Facebook wall this year: “Is it possible that I’m not the David Butler that you think I am? I readily admit that I might not be the David Butler that I think I am, but that’s not the point. I am not that David Butler. I act. We all act. But I make no money out of it and I’m not famous for it, unlike the other David Butler. The other (perhaps as far as you are concerned, “real” David Butler) is younger than me and better looking. I’m taller.”

Teacher Butler says having a famous namesake has only been an issue for him on Facebook. “I regularly put out warnings that I’m not actually the ‘proper’ David Butler, but no one takes any notice. On rare occasions someone looks at my page and squawks that I’m an impostor. It has been interesting to experience the ire of those disappointed people who thought that they’d finally got in touch with the real David Butler, who is famous for his privacy and eschewal of social media!”

The two David Butlers met briefly, in a lift in Grahamstown, about 30 years ago. “It wasn’t much of an event – but I seem to recall there were wry smiles.”

David Butler shares his name with a moderately famous South African actor, but try sharing your name with the most famous person on the planet.

Michael Jackson, a Johannesburg change guru and business-to-business speaker who markets himself as The Other Michael Jackson, says sharing his name with Wacko Jacko can be a blessing but it can also be bad (you know it – bad, bad; really, really bad).

Before the King of Pop’s death in 2009 Jackson had to deal with people’s disappointment when they realised he wasn’t the “real” Michael Jackson.

“I was booked into a 5-star hotel and was driven to the hotel in a fancy car. When we arrived all the staff had lined up, waiting to greet their hero. They saw me and thought I was Michael Jackson’s bodyguard.”

It was only in the early ’80s that Michael Jackson became a dominant figure in popular music so there was no name recognition when the other Michael Jackson was growing up but when he became an adult he had no choice but to officially become “The Other Michael Jackson”.

“It’s funny because when people think of Michael Jackson they don’t think of a middle-aged pale male – although when we met he was lighter than me.”

The two Jacksons met at a dinner party when the pop star came to South Africa on one of his many visits.

“He told me he lives his life 40-feet away from other people and said he was the loneliest man on the planet. It was really sad. He then asked me to tell him a Michael Jackson joke. I asked him: ‘How does Michael Jackson pick his nose? From a catalogue.’ He laughed like a drain.”

Jackson has learnt to live with people’s laughter when he’s introduced to them and has got used to people humming Thriller (he no longer tells them to Beat It).

Jackson doesn’t only share a name with a star, though. At an event a few years ago he shook hands with someone. “Michael Jackson,” the man said. “Yes, and you are?” “I’m Michael Jackson,” the other other Michael Jackson said. “And you are?” After their Michael Jackson merry-go-round, it emerged that the third Michael Jackson was a car dealer from Nelspruit.

“It’s an icebreaker but it can get tedious. For the most part it’s a laugh, but not when people phone at 3am and ask me to sing to them, which has happened.”

While sharing a name with Michael Jackson can be Dangerous, sharing a name with a controversial scientist can be heavy going, especially in the age of Twitter.

A certain Tim Noakes was minding his own business when a whole lot of South African tweeters started asking him for diet advice. This Noakes, a writer and radio host, is besotted with brutalism – an architecture movement – and doesn’t know an egg roll from his elbow.

Tim “But not The Tim” Noakes says he’s worried about the South African fitness fraternity, who still haven’t got the hang of Twitter. “Don’t randomly tweet. It can get you into trouble,” he says. “I generally ignore everyone who tweets at me about that Banting stuff. But I do occasionally offer up some free workout tips and diet plans, usually involving Vaseline, deep heat and a banana.” Just shows how much he knows – bananas are on Banting’s “Orange” list.

He doesn’t think he’s been name-jacked. “There are many more Tim Noakeses than just me and the prof. We’re everywhere. Watch out. I do hope that all of the prof’s disciples, who are following me on Twitter, are now buying grime music and books on brutalism.”

As the editorial director of Dazed, a massively cool music, fashion, arts and culture publication, Noakes has a significant public profile, but his fans haven’t asked The Banting Noakes for culture tips and music recommendations yet. Dazed Noakes hasn’t met Banting Noakes – although they have exchanged tweets – but he did hang out with Die Antwoord on the Cape Flats in 2010.

What happens when your namesake gives you a bad name. Poor (the other) Clive Naidoo.

Remember, Clive Naidoo from Bloubosrand? A video he recorded of Johannesburg Metro officer Laurencia Shitlhelana giving him a ticket (“for shooting a red robot”) went viral. He told the officer she worked for him because he paid her salary with his taxes and things went from bad to horrific from there. Instead of exposing her for being rude as he’d intended, he became a national joke.

Three months later, “Ask Clive” is still an internet “thing” with people still asking, “On a scale of 1 to #CliveNaidoo how bad was your day?”

The first that (the other) Clive Naidoo knew of the saga was when his phone started pinging with notifications. He says people were threatening to beat him up and there were even death threats. He tried to clarify the mess by tweeting: “Apparently my name has been mixed up with the ass that was chatting with the cop. I don’t live in Bloubosrand. Stop tweeting me.”

Although he doesn’t think he was name-jacked (“it’s his name as well”), he thinks Bloubosrand Naidoo should have taken responsibility for his actions. “He started the problem then closed all his social media accounts.”

He has never met Bloubosrand Naidoo but if he did encounter him, though, he would tell him that he is an ass.

When David van Rooyen was appointed Finance Minister, @DavidvanRooyen, started trending. “I would just like to reiterate that I am NOT the new SA Finance Minister,” he pleaded. He was then accused of not being real. “I just happen to have the same name,” he responded. “I’m not a parody.”

Most South Africans breathed a sigh of relief when President Jacob Zuma unappointed Van Rooyen. (The other) David van Rooyen, a British PhD student, was probably just as relieved. Never mind the rand; he had his name back.

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Mamils, Wombats and other cyclists

There are as many types of Middle-Aged Men in Lycra (Mamils) as there are of mammals – and any two Mamils are about as similar to each other as a dwarf mongoose is to a reticulated giraffe. (Which, in case you’ve never seen a dwarf mongoose, is not so much.) Here are some of the different Mamil subspecies out there:

WOMBATS (Wild Old Men in Baggies and Trendy Socks)
These hard, gruff men of mountain biking are fit and fearless. They climb like mountain goats and descend like champions, and eschew spandex for much more macho baggies. They have three Cape Epics under their belt (how do we know? Because they’ve told us), and their wives have moved into the guest room to make space for the stationary bike. The females of the species are known as Mombats.

bo-wombat

A Wombat is fit and fearless and climbs like a mountain goat.

WORMs (Wiry Octogenarian Racing Machines)
A Worm is the roadie equivalent of a Wombat – they’re the racing snakes of the masters category. Lean, tough and sinewy, these silver foxes just keep getting stronger and stronger.

SQUIRILs (SQUishy Idlers Rejoicing In Lycra)
For Squirils, it’s not about the bike – it’s about the fantasy of the bike. They’re nuts about all things bike. Except riding. Squirils are in it for the coffee, croissants and Lycra, which creates the illusion that they’re athletes. They avoid hills, and wonder every 10km about “When are we stopping for coffee?” They often miss rides (“My alarm didn’t go off” is their go-to excuse).

CoBras (COrporate BRAs)
These MDs, Chairmen, CE-Ous, and other Masters of the Universe executives are usually A-plus personality types. Typically, a CoBra is a racing snake – they just can’t help being competitive. For CoBras, cycling is not only about business; it performs a vital social function. They never pay for a post-ride coffee. 

RABBITs (Rogue Annoying Bossy Bad-asses In Tights)
Unlike Squirils, Rabbits can’t get enough kays or hills. Stagger off your bike at the end of a ride, and the Rabbit looks like a bunny caught in the headlights: “What? We’ve only done 140km!” He’s the guy who heads to the front and cranks up the pace. He’ll tell you how he could/would/should have been a pro, “if only…” Rabbits enjoy passing on their infinite wisdom – your saddle’s too high, your cadence too low, your crank too cranky – but above all, the Rabbit’s the guy rocking tights… because when it comes to compression, he’s a true believer, baby.

SHITS (Sulky Hipsters in Ironic T-Shirts)
Despite the fact that a fixie (fixed-gear bike) is a hipster accessory, these bearded, bespectacled counter-culture latte-drinkers are not a sub-species of Mamil. In fact, Shits, with their tight slacks and sandals, only ride their pastel-peach fixies from trendy coffee shop to trendy coffee shop, tarnishing the image of cycling. Most are too young to be Mamils anyway. Bastards.

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Amabookabooka – a novel podcast about books and the people who write them

Listen to two recent episodes of Amabookabooka shorts, which were recorded at the recent Open Book Festival. The latest is an interview with Judge Chris Nicholson (Remember him? He’s the judge who found there had been political plotting in Jacob Zuma’s corruption case, which led to Thabo Mbeki’s Total Recall.) As a judge he dished out sentences to the guilty and as an author he’s been guilty of writing long sentences – he’s published five books, the most recent being “No Sacred Cows”, which is a collection of courtroom short stories. From punishment to crime, in a previous Amabookabooka episode we interviewed crime writer Michele Rowe, who has published “What Hidden Lies” and “Hour of Darkness”.

Click here to go to the Amabookabooka podcast on iTunes.

https://itunes.apple.com/za/podcast/amabookabooka-shorts-judge/id1032943750?i=354485270&mt=2

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Boks on Bikes

I wrote a feature for the October issue of BicyclingSA magazine about why so many rugby players are becoming hardcore mountain bikers. I had great fun with this sidebar, a DIKtionary on rugby terms that may confuse cyclists.

Bicycle rugby mashup

Bicycle rugby mashup

Fullback/Fool Back
Rugby: the last line of defence between your opponents and the try line
Cycling: the guy behind you shouting “track, track!” – and after you let him through, he creates a bottleneck at the first bit of technical singletrack

In Touch
Rugby: when the ball is kicked out of the field of play.
Cycling: when you’re in the bunch, and the guy in front of you brakes suddenly

On The Full
Rugby: when the ball is kicked into touch without first bouncing inside the field of play, it’s been kicked out ‘on the full’.
Cycling: when you decide not to ride your hardtail and go out on your dual-sus MTB instead, you are ‘on the full’.

Trail
Rugby: the worst thing ever, because you’re behind on points
Cycling: the best thing ever, because it’s time to carve up some flowing singletrack.

TallBoy
Rugby: Eben Etzebeth
Cycling: Santa Cruz’s fast and fun 29er

Lock Out
Rugby: when Eben Etzebeth gets sent to the sin bin
Cycling: when you disable your bike’s suspension to make it rigid

29er
Rugby: A game played with only 29 players, because of a lock out
Cycling: an MTB wheelsize that sparked a war

Giant
Rugby: Kobus Wiese
Cycling: A brand of reliable, rugged and affordable bikes

Anthem
Rugby: what giants sing, with hand on heart, before a Test.
Cycling: a Giant (that makes your heart sing).

Shock decision
Rugby: Any time a ref’s call doesn’t go your way (or anything Bryce Lawrence says)
Cycling: When you realise it’s time to send your suspension fork in for a service

Conversion
Rugby: two points, from a kick through the posts after a try
Cycling: when you puncture-proof your bike by going from tube to tubeless.

Uphill Battle
Rugby: when there’s a lock out, and Bryce Lawrence is reffing, and you’re 15 points behind, and there’s two minutes left in the game
Cycling: Suikerbossie

Charge Down
Rugby: when an opposition player blocks a kick
Cycling: when your Local Bike Shop gives you a discount because you’re a regular.

Cross country
Rugby: What happens when your team loses to Australia in a World Cup quarterfinal (we still hate you, Bryce) or to Japan.

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Lance Armstrong was right. It’s not about the bike. It’s about the book.

We are about to launch our brand new podcast series called Amabookabooka– it’s a series about books and the people who write them. Because sponsors have not yet got with this dynamic platform we have decided to do some crowdfunding and have started a Thundafund campaign (which you can check by clicking here).

We’ve got the content (7 episodes recorded already) which we have financed ourselves – and we want to produce 20 more) so that we can have a full 6-month season. We’ve got the hosts (eNCA & iTunes), now we need the funding!

Watch the video, listen to the “prepodcast’, and make sure you have a look at the great Rewards!

But it’s not only about funding. We’re appealing to you to spread the word – visit our page on Facebook, and like us, and follow us on Twitter (@AmaBookaBooka). You can also  subscribe to the podcast on iTunes (it’s free – search for amabookabooka).

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Is being a telemarketer the hardest job in the world?

 Image: N.D. Mazin, Sunday Times

Image: N.D. Mazin, Sunday Times

They have the world’s worst job but serve a very important social function – they are pressure valves, helping people release their pent-up aggression. The army of telemarketers, the spam mail of the cellular world, invade your day with “exclusive offers” – and allow you to take your bad day out on them. It’s not surprising cold callers get an icy reception. What is surprising, though, is cold calling works. It’s a thriving industry that employs 150 000 people in South Africa.
According to Warren Moss, CEO of direct marketing advertising agency Demographica and chairperson of the Direct Marking Association of SA, cold callers have a 2% success rate. In other words, with every 100 calls they make they get two yeses, which translates into a tidy profit.
“The average motor insurance premium is R500,” explains Moss. “The average cost of a call centre agent (seat, telephone, salary) is R25 000 a month. An agent makes five calls an hour, which is 800 calls a month. A 2% response rate is 16 sales a month, which is R96 000 in annual premiums.”
Each month, the agent brings in another 16 annual premiums – a significant return on a R25 000 investment. A 2% success rate also means a 98% failure rate, which is a lot of rejection. And not just polite rejection – it’s RWEP: Rejection With Extreme Prejudice.
“Agents have no insight into the context of your situation when they phone you. They could call when you’re in a bad mood, or have heard bad news. People lashout at them,” says Moss.
A successful cold caller, he says, needs high levels of resilience (a rhino-thick skin helps) and EQ to deal with all types of people. I’ve said yes to a telemarketer only once. For the last 15 years (give or take a year or two) I’ve received about two calls a week. That’s 1560 calls – and only one yes, which was for a cellphone delivered to my door. I said yes so I could avoid the eye-rolling hipster assistants at the Vodacom store. (I had to go to the store anyway to have my contacts transferred from my old cellphone and had to pay R150 because I hadn’t bought the phone from the store.)
I’ve fobbed off the other 1559 telemarketers. I say I’m busy and will be free after 5pm. I promise to call back then and ask for their home number. They don’t want to give me their private number. “Because you don’t like being disturbed?” I suggest.After listening to Moss I decide when cold callers call I’ll give them a warm reception. I’ll make their day with my heartfelt sincerity. I’ll be their friendly callee in the sea of callee hostility. Garth, from Ultimate Prosper Solutions, is my first cold caller. He offers a portfolio loaded with shares.
I listen to his schpiel and ask questions about the product and when it comes to “pee or get off the potty” time, I politely decline his kind invitation to send someone to my house to sign up. I ask how he copes when people are rude to him. “They tell us to take their names off the database. But when people get aggressive I put the phone down. I’m just doing my job.” We start to chat but after a while Garth gets uneasy. “My boss can hear me and he’s looking at me funny. I got to go,” he says.
An “Ultimate Prosper Solutions” Google search leads to consumer watchdog website Hello Peter where there are a number of complaints about the company headlined “BEWARE” and a liberal amount of exclamation marks!
My next cold caller is Verona, who is flogging a Vodacom router with gigs of data “no fees, no delivery costs, R129 a month”. She says it’s frustrating when people say they aren’t interested before she’s had an opportunity to tell them what she’s selling. “We’re trained to expect rejection, but you can’t help feeling bad. I can hear if someone is going to say yes. I pick up buying signals – verbal nods like uhms and aahs. It’s a good sign when people ask a lot of questions.” She says she’s used as a verbal punching bag every day. “At least once a day I get a stinker of a call – something really abusive.”
The most common fob-off is people pretending they can’t hear her. “They say ‘Hello? hello? Is anyone there?’ then drop the call. I make enough money to get by but I’m young and have goals. I want to become a teacher.”
A few days later Phibi from Black Rand Communication calls with “a benefit card for you, Mr Jonathan”.
Phibi is unstoppable. She rattles off all the benefits this benefit card will benefit me.
“Mr Jonathan, you’ll use it for shopping and get up to 30% in discounts. Mr Jonathan, do you own a car? Mr Jonathan, you’ll be assisted with towing and electric gadgets, and, Mr Jonathan, your children can phone for help with homework. Do you understand me, Mr Jonathan? For a once-off fee of R299 and then just R89 a month …”
“No thanks,” I say.
“Why don’t you want your kids to benefit, Mr Jonathan?” Phibi tut-tuts and ends the call.
Constance from Sovereign Life Administration calls with an exclusive offer for me, death insurance. “If you die due to natural and accidental causes you can get benefits – no waiting period, no medicals, no blood tests,” she says. Constance is a pro. It’s like I’ve won a prize – and all I have to do to get half a million smackers is die. She asks me questions but we reach an impasse when she wants my ID number. “It’s for your quote,” she implores.
I need to look someone in the eye before I give them my ID number. Besides, I’ve changed my mind, I don’t want to die. Constance can tell straight away if someone isn’t interested – even before they start swearing. “It gets me down but you just have to smile and move on.” The most common excuse is people who say they can’t talk because they’re at a funeral. A perfect time to market death benefits, I suggest. “No. They’re lying.”
Nhlanhla, from Commit Technologies, tells me I’ve been selected to apply for a loan from R1 000 to R150 000. “Once approved the money will be deposited into your account within 24 hours.” When I ask her some questions she gets cross.
“Listen, I cannot waste my company’s time talking to you. You’re changing the nature of the call, Sir.” She slams the phone down.
Ten days later Noluthando, also from Commit Technologies, phones with the same shtick but doesn’t mind talking. She enjoys cold calling because she’s a people person, she tells me. She says the worst excuses are people telling her they’re pensioners but she can hear they’re not. “We’re taught not to take rejection personally. They taught us to ‘smile before you dial’, which works because people can hear your smile.”
They don’t always smile back. “No, they swear us. I try to calm them down, but that’s life isn’t it? I’m polite even when they swear. I always thank them and tell them to have a blessed day.”
It’s 10.30am and she’s already made a sale. She makes 50 calls a day and gets about one yes a day.
“That’s a lot of nos,” I say. “What keeps you motivated?” “If you ask a girl out and she says no, will you give up?” “Well, if 49 girls all say no, I would probably give up.”
“I suppose,” she laughs. “But I try to keep positive. Anyway, I have to go,” she says.
“Thank you,” I say, “And have a blessed day.”
“Goodbye,” says Noluthando and smiles – I can hear it in her voice.

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