Tuesday, December 04, 2012

You can never find one when you need one!

A further reason why Chinese banks are SHITE!

When I huffily closed down my account with China Merchants Bank a few years ago, the young girl attending to my ire insisted on knowing why, and amongst the dozen or so reasons I gave was that they didn't seem to have any branches anywhere near where I lived - indeed, none, so far as I was aware, anywhere inside Beijing's 2nd Ringroad. She loyally protested that they had at least 50 branches in Beijing. "Oh yeah? WHERE??" She was unable to help me on the specifics.

But I've been keeping more of an eye out since then, and perhaps it is possible that they do indeed have a branch on every other block in the city. It's just that most of them are inconspicuous to the point of INVISIBILITY.

Check out this picture.

Does anything about this really give the obvious impression of its being a bank? I don't think so. These days, most (but not all) bank signs do at least have the name in English as well. But the logos of all the Chinese banks seem to be strangely un-eyecatching. And the great majority of them favour a predominant colour scheme of 'lucky red' - which is, of course, also used by 80% of other businesses in China. Bank signs often don't have any high recognisability factor about them, nothing much that distinguishes them from a sign for an insurance company or a restaurant or a massage parlour. What's more, most bank branches these days are housed inside malls, and do not necessarily have any frontage on to the street. Thus, their signs - where they are visible at all - will be clustered in amongst dozens of other similar signs for insurance companies and restaurants and massage parlours, and really not at all conspicuous. And not all that close to the actual location of the bank. I have several times had the experience of seeing a sign for a bank (and a cashpoint) on the exterior of a new mall development, and thinking that the bank should be easy to find as it is probably the only tenant thus far, but after ten minutes of vainly trying to ask security guards and janitors about the the whereabouts of the yinhang, I have given up my search and returned to the streets still cashless.

Chinese banks - they really are damned hard to find sometimes.


JES said...

Wow, that's bizarre. It looks like one of those interchangeable cut-rate discount electronics storefronts in Times Square.

Anna said...

It's interesting that in other posts you insist learning Chinese is not necessary to get around, and then here you complain that you can't tell that this is a bank, while it has the word 银行, that is, BANK, on it in fairly huge letters. I honestly don't understand how you can find this sign anything close to inconspicuous.

Froog said...

It doesn't have a very recognisable or conspicuous logo. It's in amongst a jumble of other similar signs. It's same 'lucky red' colour as favoured by countless restaurants and so on.

Admittedly this sign is larger and more eye-catching than many. But it doesn't look like a bank sign. And the shop frontage doesn't look like a bank either.

The point with commercial signage is that you shouldn't have to f***ing read it to know what kind of business it is. I've asked Chinese friends and students about this example - or just out on the street - and found that several of them failed to identify it as a bank at first, either because they couldn't read the characters without their glasses on, or because they didn't think of trying to read the characters, because you mostly use other visual cues for trying to recognise what kind of business something is.

Most Chinese bank signs - in Beijing, at least - do have English on them as well these days. But it doesn't make them any easier to pick out amongst the mass of almost indistinguishable signage on Chinese shopping malls.

My comments about the limited usefulness of learning Chinese these days have been entirely focused on speaking the language. Developing a high-level reading ability is completely out of the question for most people: huge investment of time and effort, with little or no worthwhile return.

And you need quite a high level of reading ability to be able to distinguish important characters against the 'white noise' background of hundreds of unknown or irrelevant ones. Yes, I probably can recognise the characters for yinhang if I see them in isolation; but when they're two characters out of ten, on one sign out of twenty, it's much harder. And there really isn't any incentive even to make the effort. Why would I hurt my eyes and my brain trying to read Chinese characters on a sign?? Banks are so numerous in the big cities here, that you'll soon find one that is easier to spot. And if I really need one in a hurry, or I need a particular bank, I have enough Chinese to be able to ask for directions.

China Merchants is a particularly bad one, I think. Most of its branches do seem to be inside malls rather than opening on to the street; and they've got a particularly feeble logo - non-memorable, non-distinctive.

Froog said...

There's a further problem that there's not even any consistency about the branding. Most China Merchants Bank branches do display the name in English; the one in this picture doesn't. Most branches use a more muted shade of red than this picture. Sometimes there's just a plaque rather than a sign like this. And several slightly different representations of the logo.