Commonwealth Bank ATM

The banks’ pursuit of a crooked dollar

Can you imagine walking into a hairdresser, paying for your haircut, then walking out before a pair of scissors have come anywhere near your mane?

Or perhaps, pushing your trolley full of groceries to the checkout, scanning and paying for $300 worth of food, and then walking away without your goods?

It sounds ludicrous, paying for goods and services that you haven’t been able to use.

But this is precisely what has been happening under our banking system for years. Australian customers have been supremely ripped off, and half the time we didn’t even know about it!

Admittedly, I’d only been keeping half an eye on the Royal Commission. There is only so much corruption and mistrust one can process at any given time, and I guess I had already assumed (like most Aussies I suspect), that banks frequently engage in dubious customer behaviour. Why all the fuss now? They’ve been doing it for years…

But now that I’m catching up, I’m reeling. I already distrusted banks, but now my trust levels have plummeted to a new low.

In this day in age, with so much opportunity and scope for compliance, auditing and reputational management, I can’t believe the depths that a company will fall to, all in the pursuit of a crooked dollar.

For instance, I’ll recap AMP’s scenario for you:

1. AMP repeatedly charged customers, including everyday Aussies who earn ordinary incomes, fees for advisory services that were never delivered.

2. They knew about this practice but didn’t stop it, instead choosing to “preference the interest of shareholders over the interest of clients”.

3. They repeatedly lied to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) about this behaviour.

4. Though collectively, financial institutions have repaid more than $200m in fleeced fees to customers, AMP’s contribution to this has been less than $5m.

It’s little wonder that since their scurrilous actions came to light – resulting in around $1 billion being wiped from AMP’s sharemarket value – its CEO has resigned.

And today comes the news that Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan (QE) is investigating a class action against AMP. As Damian Scattini, Partner at QE, notes: “Customers were charged for services AMP has admitted they never received, all so executives could make hefty bonuses.”

To be clear, it’s not just AMP that has been caught up in this dodgy web. As far back as 2012, Deloitte warned the CBA that at least $700,000 in ongoing service fees were being charged to customers even though their financial planners had left the business. Other CBA financial planners admitted to charging dead people fees.

It boggles the mind, truly.

If the Financial Services Royal Commission teaches us nothing else, it still teaches us this: Customers will always come second.

And here’s the honest to God truth: the only way you will EVER come on top when dealing with a bank, is to buy shares in it.

Woman annoyed in car

Surprising ways you can be fined when driving

Nothing puts you in a foul mood in quite the same way that receiving a fine does.

I know this from bitter, bitter experience. In fact, I blew off steam earlier this year on this very website when I was slapped with a $126 fine for having bald tyres.

“This is pure revenue raising!” I ranted, before begrudgingly handing over the cash. I shared the story publicly in the name of education. I wanted to help others avoid the same fate.

Now, in that same spirit of community sharing, I want to let you in another little-known road rule that could strip you of your hard-earned cash.

It’s the “slow down to 25km/hour when you’re passing an emergency vehicle” rule.

It’s a rule that cost one Adelaide driver over $1000 and a ban on driving for 6 months!

The driver was unaware that in South Australia, you must slow to 25km/hour when passing an emergency service vehicle (ESV) with flashing lights. In Canberra and New South Wales, the official ‘passing ESV’ speed limit is 40km/hour.

Here on the Gold Coast, well, there are no official rules around this.

But, police are putting pressure on the Queensland government to introduce laws that will force motorists to pump the brakes around emergency vehicles.

To be honest, I’m not sure it’s entirely necessary – if you’ve ever been stuck on the M1 after a traffic accident, you’ll be familiar with the habit Gold Coasters seem to have of rubber-necking for a good 2km either side of the incident.

That said, it’s good practice to be aware of other drivers on the road, particularly considering our appalling local record: Queenslanders have recently been slapped with around $90m in fines for “slow speeding” over a 12 month period.

The breaches were issued for low range speeding, which is less than 13 km/h over the limit.

Copping a fine for being 7km over the speed limit? Now that would put me in a bad mood!

And as RACQ spokesperson Renee Smith says, “It’s a waste of money frankly – and it does little to get you to your destination any quicker.”

Hand Dryer

Hand dryers are warm, hot jets of filth-spreading air

For the past 8 years, I’ve scarcely used a bathroom hand dryer.

This is because my children are terrified of the noise, and the scream they emit after a hand dryer begins is loud enough to be heard two suburbs over.

Thus, I’m a paper towel or ‘shake it off’ kind of public restroom patron.

I’ve just discovered a far more compelling reason to avoid using hand dryers, however.

A new study coming out of the University of Connecticut shows bathroom hand dryers are actually, legitimately, truly gross.

The study was just published in the American Society for Microbiology’s Applied and Environmental Biology journal (say that three times after a couple of wines!), and it found that hand dryers do more than just blast moisture from your skin.

In addition, they actually spray faecal bacteria (i.e. poo) from their outlets – as their fans suck up gross particles from the air, concentrate it, and then spray it onto your wet hands as you work to dry them off.

Think of them as warm, hot jets of filth-spreading air.

Around 30-seconds of blasting under the heat could expose your precious hands to an average of 18 to 60 colonies of bacteria, give or take.

At this point, we should note that the study was conducted over a very small sample size of just three premises, which means it doesn’t conclusively prove that all hand dryers belong to a secret bacteria-spreading society.

“While there is evidence that bathroom hand dryers can disperse bacteria from hands or deposit bacteria on surfaces, including recently washed hands, there is less information on… whether hand dryers provide a reservoir of bacteria, or simply blow large amounts of bacterially contaminated air,” the report authors note.

Either way, I think I’m going to stick with my original plan. When in the unfortunate position of having to use a public toilet, I shall continue to take a leaf out of Taylor Swift’s book and will “shake it off” or use a paper towel henceforth.

Interestingly, one of the study’s lead authors, Peter Setlow seems to be of the same opinion – as he told Newsweek that the bathrooms they tested now offer paper towels as well!

Russell Crowe

Why did Russell Crowe auction off his stuff?

I’m perplexed. Do movie stars not make as much money as they used to?

I thought a Hollywood actor of Russell Crowe’s calibre would be super loaded.

Like, eating off $18,000 Hermes dinner plates and sailing around Richard Branson’s private island during his vacation, loaded.

He’s won an Oscar and has been an A-list movie star – surely he’s financially set for life?

So why then did Russell Crowe auction off a bunch of movie memorabilia over the weekend?

He made a small fortune – $3.7m and change – flogging the former movie props, which included bits and pieces from all of his most successful films like Gladiator and Romper Stomper.

The auction was uniquely titled ‘The Art of Divorce’, and at first I thought it meant he was using the proceeds of his auction to bankroll his split from Danielle Spencer. Poor Russ, I thought, he must be falling on hard times.

However apparently, it’s only titled as such because it marks the fact Crowe is about to finalise his divorce, which has been five years in the making.

Ahead of the auction, Crowe explained why he decided to sell the items as being something of a rich person’s spring clean:

“As I have gotten older I have started to feel like it is not so much the touchstones of the past, but the clear road ahead that is really important,” Crowe said.

“As all collectors might do at some time, I have occasionally laughed at myself and wondered if my collecting passion has slipped into hoarding.”

Still: isn’t an auction of celebrity minutiae something that is usually reserved for charity events, rather than lining the celebrity’s own pocket?

I discussed this with a friend, and he pointed out, “If Russell was selling an investment property or a collection of art for $3.7, you wouldn’t expect him to donate the proceeds to charity. So why should we expect him to give his auction profits away?”

Fair point, I suppose.

Plus, when your trinkets and knickknacks can fetch you several million dollars (at the end of the auction his total haul was $3,719,963), I think you can officially lay claim to hoarder status!

Cafe Store Open

Don’t ditch GC small businesses during the Games!

The Games committee has done an astounding job of clearing the roads during this busy period.

Unfortunately, they’ve done too good of a job.

On Saturday morning, I was a little apprehensive about getting to Ashmore to take my daughter to gymnastics. Turns out it was a straight run, and a third of her class was missing – no doubt holed up at home to avoid the mad traffic on the roads.

It turns out, they didn’t need to. Our roads are completely void of cars!

Driving to work and shuttling my little one to daycare has also been a total breeze the last week.

Unless you’ve been heading to an official Games event, which has admittedly come with headaches for some, getting around the Gold Coast has been easy peasy since the Games kicked off on April 4.

And here’s the kicker: local businesses are suffering.

Cafés, restaurants, retail stores and nightclubs have all been primed for a chaotic, busy period during this international event.

With hundreds of thousands of people travelling to the Gold Coast, they’ve hired extra staff and ramped up their resources, preparing for this period as if it were Christmas x 10.

Except for many… people are just not knocking on their doors.

Fortunately this is the Gold Coast, and if there’s one thing we do well, it’s rally around our community!

Remember, we have these Games to thank for some of the amazing upgrades to roads, infrastructure and amenities that have happened in the lead up.

So let’s not let our local small businesses suffer over the next week. Get out there and do your bit to support the local community.

Grab your family and head to a local restaurant or café for a meal. Meet up with your mates at a bar for a drink after work, or gather some work colleagues for brunch (call it an early lunch break!). And don’t put off shopping for that black pair of winter boots or a new homewares until after the Games… head out this week and support Gold Coast business owners!

Do your bit to get amongst the crowds and support our city. Not only will your support be madly appreciated by local small business owners – and I should know, as I’m one of them – but you might also absorb some of the exciting Games vibe, which will only ever pass through the Gold Coast once.