|An Occasional Column from the Antipodes||by Rory Gordon, Australia|
I don't know about your part of the world, but in Australia there has been a bit of an on-going debate about banks. More to the point, banks' profits.
Simply put, there are some people who think that banks make too much money.
Simplistically, these people seem to believe that the banks should drop some of their account-keeping fees, lower their interest rates on the money that they have lent to customers, increase the interest rates on money deposited with them ... "have some social responsibility".
A part of me agrees totally with this idea. After all, why should the banks - or, more correctly, their shareholders - get rich at my expense?
But another part of me says that this is, after all, what the bank is in business for - to make as much money as possible for their shareholders.
So when the bank winds up my account fees on the same day that it announces record annual profits, I rant and rave for a little while, but then accept it. Which is what the bank is possibly hoping that I, and its other similar customers, will do.
I'm not a large customer by any stretch of the imagination; a couple of ordinary accounts, no cheque (checking) account, and a recently- acquired credit card. I'm never overdrawn (it's impossible), and I seldom have a balance that gets up into four figures - a very ordinary customer.
I don't know to what extent I, and the millions(?) like me, contribute to the bank's profits. I'd guess that we are the "bread- and-butter". And I'd guess that those other customers will just take the rises in fees and that will be that.
Or will it?
I have this theory. It goes something like this. The bank cranks up its fees on ordinary accounts. The ordinary customers take it. The bank cranks up its fees again. The customers snarl, but take it again. Eventually, the bank cranks up its fees yet again. But, this time, the customers decide that enough is enough, and leave in droves, moving to other banks, credit unions, building societies, and other financial institutions. The bank goes bust (and probably gets absorbed into another, bigger, bank - but who cares at this point).
The point? Well, if you don't look after the customers, the silly b#**@^s who actually spend their money to keep you in business - whatever that business is - your business will go down the tubes, you won't have a business.
Sooner or later, every business depends on its customers. If the business doesn't keep the customers (relatively) happy, then the customers will go elsewhere.
Where there is more than one supplier of a product, the customers have an easier choice, since they can move to another supplier.
But you may think that you have cornered the market for some product or another, and so you're safe. Are you? If you don't look after the customers, they may well decide that they don't need that product at all, and go without it completely.
All this was brought on by the release of the USA motorsport attendance figures for 1996 by Goodyear. Since Goodyear have no real interest in these figures, the figures are generally seen as pretty fair indicators of the general state of US motorsport, and selected series in particular.
[It is possible to put all sorts of interpretations on these figures, and it came as no surprise to see the NASCAR Winston Cup series at the top of the heap with over 5.5 million people for the season, followed by IndyCar/CART with 2.3 million. Then came NHRA drag racing (1.8m), NASCAR Busch (1.6m), SCCA Trans-Am (1.3m) and the IRL (1.1m). In all, nearly 15.5 million people went to see the major North American motor racing series in 1996.]
So, what about F1? Attendance figures at F1 events are notoriously vague and misleading, and trying to get a decent, reliable figure for a season's attendance is practically impossible. But a phone call to the lovely folks who used to promote the Adelaide F1 GP soon gave me the official attendance figures for most of the 11 years of that race.
The interesting thing about the attendance figures for Adelaide is that they show that was a steady increase through to 1990 (except for 1989, but that was a rain year), then the figures dipped for a couple of years, before recovering to the final GP in 1995.
Now, I have no real evidence to support this, but I believe that the Adelaide GP organisers looked at their income from the first couple of years, thought that the average punter didn't bring them in too much money, and decided to increase the space available to the real cash-cows, the corporate types. And in went more and more corporate boxes, shutting off more and more areas.
Which came first, the drop in attendance or the increase in corporate boxes - and consequent lessening of the GA areas - I don't know (I tend towards the idea that the corporates came first, but I have no evidence to support this), but it does seem to me that the organisers decided to forget about the average person and cater to another market. And their overall "bottom-line" figures started to show it.
And then the corporate boxes seemed to disappear. And, at about the same time, the attendances went up. All, of course, purely from my subjective view as I wandered around the GA area.
The Adelaide people "forgot" about the ordinary customer, and lost their "bread and butter". Even though they had the live F1 market in Australia locked up solidly, they were still losing ground.
Let's hope that certain other people in F1 don't forget about the ordinary customer ... and lose their monopolistic market. After all, there are rumblings from some teams about the infamous flotation and about the new Concorde Agreement.
But that's just me.