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Sunday, Oct. 8, 2000


Plenty to get antsy about at your local bank

Today we will examine something I refer to as Anthill Economics. The other day when I entered the local anthill, i.e., the bank, the usual staff of 33 employees greeted me. The most customers I've ever seen inside the bank is 10, but that's not the point. The anthill employs as many ants as possible and they are all busy working very hard. What they're actually doing is not so obvious to the casual observer though, even with a magnifying glass.

But after observing the anthill for some years now, I've finally figured out what they're all doing. As in all anthills, there is a hierarchy.

The Security Ants. When you walk into the main branch of my bank, you'll see two security guards standing near the entrance of the anthill by the cash machines. The Security Ants are not armed Macho Ants as you might expect, but elderly Senior Ants who are retired and picking up extra income with this part-time job. They probably acquired their jobs by knowing someone at the bank, since the bank couldn't very well advertise the position: Security guards wanted for main branch of bank. Must be able to watch people take money out of cash machines all day long and if there is a problem, to properly direct them to the teller window.

The Teller Ants. These are the girls in uniform who work for a pittance smiling and greeting customers. Their job is to enforce the rules at the teller window. They'll tell you, for example, "You cannot get cash out of your account from this window. Please use the cash machines at the front door." After all, the 20 or so Teller Ants are far too busy taking care of the colony to be bothered with customers' account withdrawals. The Teller Ants have no authority to make decisions however, so if you should ask them a question, they must consult the Head Honcho Ant. A huddle ensues.

The Head Honcho Ant. Technically, this should be the Queen Ant, but this is Japan, so even the Queen Ant must be male. The Head Honcho Ant is the one male face among all the smiling female faces. The Head Honcho's desk is the main huddle area.

No wonder Japanese banks don't get robbed very often. Pity the Robber Ant:

Robber Ant: "This is a holdup!" Teller Ant: "Just a moment, please." Robber Ant: "Give me all your money or I'll spray you with this can of insecticide!" Teller Ant: "Just a moment sir. Head Honcho Ant, there's a masked gentleman here. He says he wants money." Head Honcho Ant: "Did he bring his 'inkan'?" Teller Ant: "Excuse me, sir, did you bring your inkan?" Robber Ant: "Of course not. This is a holdup!" Teller Ant: "He says it's a holdup." Head Honcho: "Huddle!"

(After much discussion, the Head Honcho picks up the phone).

Robber: "Who are you calling?" Head Honcho Ant: "We've got a problem. We don't have the key to the safe so I'll have to call the main office to find out what to do." Robber Ant: "Just give me the money you have on hand." Teller Ant: "I'm sorry sir, there is none. All the money is inside the cash machines. Please take this free gift of household cleaning sponges as our apology for inconveniencing you." Robber Ant: "Don't you even have any change?" Teller Ant: "Not at this window. You can try over at the foreign-exchange desk, but you'll have to take a number." Robber Ant: "But there's no one else waiting." Teller Ant: "I'm sorry, sir. You'll still have to take a number." The Robber Ant gives up and heads toward the exit. The 33 employees thank him for visiting and the Security Ants point to the direction of the exit. Some days you just have to be content with free household cleaning sponges.

Visit the Japan Lite home page at www.amychavez.com or e-mail comments to: amychavez@mailexcite.com

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