Monday, 19 April 2010

Queues in Nationwide Building Society

I suspect that the problem of queue control is the most obvious area where O.R. has made impacts on everyday life. Certainly, it is the example that I use in my "cocktail-party" explanation of what O.R. models.

Last week, the U.K.'s largest building society, the Nationwide, announced that any of its card customers wishing to withdraw less than £100 would have to use a cash machine (ATM = Automatic Teller Machine). This was an attempt to cut queues. The building society, like most others, offers numerous financial services, such as mortgages, savings accounts and insurance. Already, there are attempts to reduce the queues at the tellers, by filtering the customers according to the type of transaction. In Exeter's branch, there are four tellers, and a single queue, with several assistants on the customer side of the tellers who ask people who are queueing whether their transaction could be handled in some other way.

But the latest move has attracted criticism, as the customers who are most affected are thought to be those who are least comfortable with the ATMs -- the elderly, the disabled .... Maybe those customers could be encouraged to sabotage the scheme by carrying (say) £80, queueing to deposit it, and then withdrawing £100 at once. That way they will get the £20 they need, and without facing the (to them dreaded) ATMs.

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