Our Country Needs People Who Believe in Themselves? No, the Other Way Around

Total Croatia News

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One advertising campaign, one frustrating bank experience, and a couple of thoughts on both matters. 

Let me tell you a story.

If you live in Croatia, or have been travelling around the country in the last month or so, you might recognise the image above – billboards featuring that same slogan have been plastered all over town. I alone have seen them in three different cities, and there’s a good chance they are on display in all parts of Croatia. The ad translates to ‘our country needs people who believe in themselves’; on its own, it’s an uplifting message that couldn’t have been released at a better moment in time. We’ve been witnessing massive emigration, political turmoil and announcements about new taxes possibly getting introduced. I won’t even begin to talk about the Agrokor crisis and court verdicts in favour of people who are supposed to spend a good deal of time behind bars. Some people living in this country believe in themselves a bit too much, if you ask me. Those who should believe in themselves a bit more have already left to find that self-confidence in other countries that won’t strip them of every chance to build a better future. Countries like Ireland and Austria – a common belief, judging by certain billboards that got slightly altered along the way. Our people need a country that believes in them, not the other way around.

And yet, it’s hard to shake a weirdly positive feeling upon reading the slogan. I’ve been talking about the ad to a couple of friends in the last few weeks, debating about the possible meaning behind the message and speculating about the type of company that released the campaign in the first place. We all agreed it’d be better if the ad were left as it is, without the second part that’s inevitably coming to promote certain products and services. This way, it would be a daily inspiring reminder, a quirky motivational message in the public space. In Zagreb, I’ve seen a less bitter modification than the one mentioned above; fixed with some spray paint, the billboard now says ‘our country needs people who believe in love’. Aww.

This is an ad for a bank, I said as soon as it first popped up in my hometown.

Why a bank? It’s so uplifting! Well, first of all, such a large-scale marketing campaign calls for a hefty dose of capital; I’m fairly certain it’s not about your friendly neighbour promoting his family business. Telecommunication? It might be, but the visual identity is a bit off. (Follow the advertising industry for a while, and you’ll start noticing patterns. They all get predictable sooner or later.) Fashion? Technology? It wouldn’t make any sense. Nope, it’s definitely a bank. Our country needs people who believe in themselves – and we offer a nice palette of loan programmes to help them make their dreams come true.

God, living in Croatia really does turn you into a cynic.

What does this all have to do with… anything, really? You’ll see in a short while, but for now, let’s leave marketing aside and get down to more pragmatic matters. While we’re on the topic of banks, earlier today I paid a visit to mine. See, I’ve been meaning to get a new laptop for almost a year now, postponing the purchase for so long, I’m now afraid the poor machine I currently own is about to die on me any minute. It’s seven years old, which counts as a century in laptop years. I finally decided I’m all out of excuses, so I spent a couple of days comparing prices and technical specifications of dozens of laptop models, decided on the one I wanted, and went to buy it. I’ve opted for payment in 12 instalments to make it more financially manageable, handed my card to the cashier, and what do you know, the instalment plan wasn’t activated for that particular account. Okay, I said, I’ll hop to the bank and get the matter sorted out, then come back to pick up the goods.

Turns out, I’m still not cynical enough, as I believed this was a fairly easy issue to resolve. After all, I’ve been asked in the bank if I wanted to activate the option back when I first opened the account, and I guess I turned it down at the time. Anyway, I managed to get to the bank before closing time, handed in my card and my ID, and asked to activate the instalment plan. It was all going well for a couple of minutes, the clerk was cheerfully clicking away… and then we hit an obstacle in disguise.

Do you have a steady income? she asked.

Yes, I said, I’m a business owner, I have an obrt.

(To get some more insight into the delightful process of opening an obrt business in Croatia, take a look at these pieces written by two fab TCN ladies – a local and a foreigner.)

Oh, an obrt owner. The clerk suddenly got serious. This is going to be a bit more complex.

There are three places I can think of where you don’t want to hear these particular words. At the dentist, at the gynaecologist’s office, and at a car repair shop. These words will hurt you either physically or financially, but rest assured, they will hurt you. I never thought to add banks to that list.

See, as an obrt owner, I’m legally allowed to transfer whatever I earn through my business to my personal accounts and use the funds as I see fit, a thing you cannot do with other types of privately-owned companies in Croatia. (The downside to that is that I’m personally financially responsible for my business, so in case of debt or other similar inconvenient issues, my private accounts are open to enforcement. You can’t have it all.) Considering that my steady income flows into my business account and not the personal one which I wanted the instalment plan to be activated for, the bank doesn’t seem to be very trustworthy when it comes to me disposing of enough funds to pay off the monthly instalments. That means they need some sort of official reassurance, which in turn means providing them with obrt-related documents I don’t tend to have on me every minute of my life, which in turn means I knew at that moment I won’t be leaving that bank having accomplished what I came here to do.

At that point, I was a bit annoyed – both with myself for trying to pull this off last minute and with the bank being too uptight over a client that’s had three personal accounts with them for over 12 years, making them thousands of kuna in account-management fees alone. I still wasn’t mad, though, as they were asking a reasonable enough thing of me. It was when it turned out nobody knew which documents I needed to provide that I got mad.

It’s completely understandable why banks need proof you’re financially stable before they allow you to get overdrawn or to make an instalment plan. What’s not understandable is when a clerk, their two colleagues and another two colleagues the clerk rang are not able to tell you which papers you need to present in order to activate a certain payment option. Mind you, I wasn’t asking for anything overly exotic – if the case had no precedent, if they got a bit confused due to not having any experience on this matter, I would have understood. But there I was, an average obrt owner, which is a fairly common thing around here, who wanted to pay for a laptop in 12 instalments, which is an even more common thing around here. You would think any given major bank that has hundreds of thousands of clients would at least know what documents they require before they can help you make them more money. Alas, no.

As this weren’t absurd enough, let it be known that my business account is with that same bank, meaning that I already had to hand in all relevant documents before I opened the account. They can check my monthly reports. They know how much I make on average and they have all other information they might need. They still need something on top of all that, but they do not know what it is they need.

It was 10 minutes to closing, and the clerk apologetically told me she would make some calls and get back to me on Monday morning to let me know which documents I need to return with. I’m not the type of person to raise hell, and the poor woman did everything in her power while I was there, so I wasn’t about to go off on her just because I wouldn’t be able to buy the damn laptop on Friday evening. The clerk in question also helped me to resolve an entirely different matter a year ago, one even more absurd that resulted from the bank’s accidental oversight, but there’s no reason to get into that right now. The point is, all the oversights and little snippets of ignorance keep accumulating, and I’m left wondering why I decided to entrust an increasingly nerve-wrecking service provider with managing the financial side of my business.

That business might be a tiny fish in the sea of Croatian entrepreneurship (and the bank’s total revenue), but it’s my tiny fish. I’m legally responsible for it. It’s my living. So, when a bank that’s more than competent when it comes to collecting their monthly fees – that gets done with extreme efficiency and in record time – cannot even provide people with one of the basic services they offer, nor with information on what people need to apply for the said service, those same people might start to question their choices. We can diss big bad capitalism all we want, but one of the system’s factors is a competitive market – if there’s more than one provider of a particular service, they all toss and turn devising strategies to attract and keep their customers, because guess what – we might all be tiny fish, but we get to choose whom to give our money. As we’re parting with it anyway, the least we could do is to demand quality service in return.

On my way back home, I walked by a billboard. It seemed familiar, but there was a strange novelty to it as well. I looked up, and lo and behold: our country needs people who believe in themselves. I chuckled, quietly, thinking it was my poor old laptop I needed to believe in for a couple days more. And then, I noticed an additional line that hasn’t been there before. The cat was out of the bag, the rest of the campaign was presented to the world. The ad now says…



Ladies and gentlemen, my very own bank.


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