Banking in Israel: Rudeness, audacity and refusing to help - opinion

We sat, open-mouthed, unable to comprehend the appalling treatment being meted out to us by staff members, the very people who are supposed to help us. 

 DEALING WITH the Israeli banking system can be a daunting experience, says the writer (Illustrative). (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
DEALING WITH the Israeli banking system can be a daunting experience, says the writer (Illustrative).
(photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

I’m a good girl. Really I am. I never got into trouble in school, I never answer back and I always do as I’m told. 

That’s why, last week, I was completely shocked when I went to our local bank with my husband, Jeff, to sort out a few things and came away feeling like I’d been transported back 40 years. 

The banking problems began during COVID when an appointment system was implemented – anyone under 70 had to have one – even to step into the place. Prior to that, you could just turn up, grab a ticket and wait your turn. It may have taken a (good long) while to be seen, but you knew that you would be, eventually. 

Then the appointment system came into force – and by God, do they enforce it. 

Having just sold our house and bought a new apartment, we’ve had to call on the bank for all sorts of things over the past few weeks. The problem has been getting an appointment; there’s never one when you need it. A week’s wait or more is not unusual. 

Bank Hapoalim (credit: AVIV GOTTLIEB)Bank Hapoalim (credit: AVIV GOTTLIEB)

Accordingly, we had to think up ways to get into the bank on the odd occasion when things became desperate. One solution was to take our son with us – in uniform. No one likes to say no to a serving soldier. 

Last week was different, however. 

The trouble begins: An impossible visit to an Israeli bank

WITHOUT A soldier in uniform to drag along, Jeff and I had to go it alone. 

We arrived a few minutes before opening time at 4 pm. As the hour approached, Jeff grabbed a number from the ticket dispenser and attempted to walk in. The woman at the front desk stopped him. He showed her his ticket, whereupon she told him he couldn’t go in; she could tell from the ticket that he didn’t have an appointment. It was the wrong kind of ticket, she said. 

Having bamboozled her with details of why we had to see someone as soon as possible, she eventually relented and let us in, along with two other customers. 

Now, to put matters into perspective, the bank isn’t small. Whereas in our UK bank, there are only a handful of customer booths, here there are 16, each occupied by a staff member. 

As soon as we sat down to wait for our number to be called, we were approached by the deputy manager – a young, slight woman with a big attitude. She asked to see our ticket. When we showed it to her, she also declared, “You haven’t got an appointment… you shouldn’t be here.” 

You haven’t got an appointment… you shouldn’t be here.”

Bank's young deputy manager with big attitude

We explained that it was urgent since we are in the middle of a property transaction

She wasn’t in the least bit interested in our business, instead scolding us further and telling us we’d have to wait at least an hour as those with appointments would be seen before us. 

I looked around incredulously at the single remaining customer there (the other had already left), and at least a dozen staff. When I pointed out the absurdity of the situation, she argued that the staff members were busy on the phones with other customers. Hmm… 

She continued in this obstructive manner for a good 10 minutes, after which I pointed out to her that we could have been dealt with and on our way, had she chosen to be a help, rather than a hindrance. 

THEN, THE manager came into the building. She spent the first five minutes grabbing coffee and faffing around in her office, before approaching Jeff and me, now the only customers in the place. 

“Why are you here without an appointment? No one under 70 is allowed into the bank without an appointment.”

Haughty bank manager with an unacceptable level of audacity

“Why are you here without an appointment?” she asked haughtily. By being there, we were displaying a level of audacity that, quite frankly, was unacceptable. “No one under 70 is allowed into the bank without an appointment,” she said. 

We sat, open-mouthed, unable to comprehend the appalling treatment being meted out to us by staff members, the very people who are supposed to help us. 

Having delivered her rebuke, she changed tack and deigned to ask what we wanted. No sooner had Jeff opened his mouth, when she preempted him with a wave and refused to listen. Yes, she knew we were moving to a new house and that we had a lot to sort out, but that was no excuse, as far as she was concerned. 

When I tried to explain that we couldn’t secure an appointment in a timely fashion, she argued that I must be wrong. Maybe she thought I was lying. There are plenty of appointments, she said, and we always had the option of going to the main bank in the city center, 9.5 km. away. 

I pointed out that Poleg was our branch, a mere five-minute walk from our house and accordingly it was not unreasonable to expect to be able to do our business there, and not have to schlep into town. 

I should point out that not a single customer walked in while we were receiving our ticking off. Not one. 

Again I pointed out the absurdity of the situation. The bank was replete with bankers, and we were the only customers. 

“Surely someone must be able to help us,” I pleaded one last time. 

“No!” she resolutely refused; we’d have to go into town. 


Bank manager

By way of justification, she launched into a monologue about how she’d already been helpful on two previous occasions when we came in with our soldier-son – without an appointment. As far as she was concerned, now we were just taking advantage of her good nature. 

At THAT moment, I was transported back to my youth. Finally, I knew what being caught doing something naughty must have felt like. 

Thankfully, I managed to pull myself together before making a groveling apology along the lines of, “sorry, Miss. I won’t do it again.”

Instead, I rose from my seat and stood to face this unpleasant woman. 

“I am not a schoolchild and you are not my teacher,” I said, adding, “how dare you speak to me in such a rude manner.”

This didn’t stop her in her tracks but only seemed to embolden her. 

Voices were raised. 

We said we’d take our business elsewhere. That didn’t seem to bother her either; instead, she laughed and told us that was fine with her. 

Incredulously, we left the building, pausing briefly to gather everything together in the lobby as we did. 

She followed us out. No word of apology was forthcoming, although, by some miracle, someone would be able to help us if we came back inside, she said. 

No thanks. Having suffered more than a belly-full of her rudeness, we decided there and then to move to a different bank. 

She slunk off back inside, shaking her head in disbelief as she went. 

Meanwhile, Jeff and I are still trying to get over what happened. 

Although customer service is, at times, somewhat lacking in Israel, this whole episode bordered on the absurd – almost on a par with the Monty Python “cheese shop” sketch in terms of its utter ridiculousness. 

The writer is a former lawyer from Manchester, England. She now lives in Israel where she works at The Jerusalem Post.