Notes from a pilot's kid

Personal Banking in Bangkok

Outdoor markets in Bangkok are surprisingly organized. If you walk past a vendor that sells fake Hello Kitty pajamas, you can be sure that there are five or six more vendors right around the corner also selling some form pajamas with cartoons on them. At most markets I don’t think this sorting is enforced by any regulator; people who break the organization probably don’t survive, because everyone looking for pajamas knows the general location of the pajama area and will go there when that’s what they want to buy. If a rogue pajama salesperson in the toy section of the market decides to sell pajamas, he may make some sales from customers buying pajamas on impulse or out of convenience, but he or she will miss out on all the sales from being an option at the destination people are familiar with.

It may be sheer coincidence, but this is how personal banking seems to work in Bangkok too. A few days ago I walked into the Fortune Town Mall. This mall is located in central Bangkok, and it mostly contains stores selling electronics, but it also has two floors of restaurants, a grocery store, a hotel attached at one end, and some other assorted stores. I walked around on the first floor and found a section with five or six of Thailand’s major bank retail locations and their ATMs:

Colored ATMs 1

Colored ATMs 2

Colored ATMs 4

Colored ATMs 5

Colored ATMs 6

They are adjacent to each other in an arrangement not too different from the aforementioned pajama vendors. The most striking thing about them is how each brand uses a strong color as part of its identity. There’s the kelly green bank, the yellow bank, the navy bank, the teal bank, and so on.

The retail enviroment at each one was almost identical: rows of seats facing two to four people who work at a counter (who are wearing a uniform that prominently features the color of the brand, like kelly green blazers or teal polo shirts). Customers enter, take a number, and wait for their number to be called. This is fairly standard in Asia.

As far as I can tell, these banks don’t use other devices like slogans, music, spokespeople, pictographic logos, or design differences inside the retail environment to differentiate from one another. And despite all being right next to each other, they did not actively appear to be in fierce competition; there were no employees outside inviting people to come apply for a card, and there were few banners on display to announce a unique product offering or special sign-up deal. The color is the only obvious differentiator, and their position adjacent to each other does not appear to be a ploy by any one bank to beat another. It could just be the arrangement most convenient for customers and the organization from outdoor markets Thai people are accustomed to.

This is also true on smaller scales in other locations. Inside each subway station, ATMs are similarly clustered together:

Grouped ATMs Subway

And in another mall’s food court area, another cluster of ATMs:

Grouped ATMs Mall

I find this kind of compact ATM clustering comical as I recall recently seeing an ad in Boston Logan International Airport for a bank (Chase, I believe) proudly announcing that they now have at least one ATM in each terminal. In comparison, stopping at an ATM in the US takes some prior planning, a two-block street detour to get to the location one is familiar with, or a map inside a bank’s mobile app to locate something nearby that will work. In places in Thailand that have a fair amount of foot traffic, you can count on one of these arrays of ATMs to be there.