Trouble At The National Neopian?
NEOPIA CENTRAL -- The always-welcoming Bank Manager of the National Neopian Bank sits behind his well-worn desk, as he has for almost two full decades now. With the bank's 20-year anniversary coming up soon, preparations are already underway for a celebration; initially, I'd come to the bank to talk to the Manager about just that.
However, upon my arrival, I found a lively throng of protestors outside the bank. Much to the Manager's dismay, "Now these protests are shaping the way people think about the National Neopian."
A growing number of residents of Neopia are dissatisfied with the way the Manager and his customer service staff run the National Neopian. "A key part of the business of running a bank is keeping our customers' money safe," the Manager told me. He was, as ever, deeply serious. The Bank Manager has held his position for so long because he takes his job so seriously, and these latest calls for change are no different. "The staff here at the National Neopian are trained to welcome the public, of course, but they are also meant to prevent robberies. This means refusing to allow unsavory characters into the bank."
Put simply: as welcoming as they might seem, the staff at the bank don't let just anyone walk right in. To ensure the safety of all of their patrons, they reserve the right to refuse service to anyone they please as a matter of course. "The Meerca Brothers and Malkus Vile, to name a few," says the Manager, gesturing to his copy of The Gallery of Evil.
He admits that their policy extends beyond known criminals, however-- and here is where the trouble starts. "Anyone associated with criminal activity is barred from entering the premises," says the Manager. "This includes, of course, Sloth sympathizers, pirates, and members of the Thieves Guild, among others. These protesters don't like the way we do business. That's the long and the short of it." Sounds simple, right?
"It's not that simple," argues one protester. Oburra is a lithe, articulate, well-travelled Gelert-- who just so happens to be a mutant. He cuts an imposing figure, one of the tallest people in the crowd, but he's anything but intimidating to talk to. He speaks in a soft even voice, almost reluctant to speak at all. I sat down with Oburra outside the bank to talk with him about the protests. He tells me quite frankly that he prefers not to talk at all, but agrees regardless.
"The policies at the National Neopian have been in place for a long time," Oburra acknowledges. "I think the Bank Manager is reluctant to change them because of an adherence to tradition. Tradition is important to people in Neopia Central. They don't take kindly to change."
When I ask him to explain the protests to me, from the beginning, he sighs and rubs the bridge of his nose. "People are turned away just for 'looking suspicious.' Not because they've done anything wrong, just as a matter of course. For 'public safety', or so they claim. Residents of the Citadel, Krawk Island, and the Haunted Woods are generally turned away on principle. Mutants have been banned for a long time. It was only recently that the National Neopian stopped considering all Grundos potential minions of Dr. Sloth-- that's how old-fashioned they are in there."
"It's not just a matter of keeping out criminals," Oburra argues. "It's not even just that certain colors are banned. Anyone could be banned, just based on what they're wearing. They have a dress code, but they won't admit to it."
A protester who preferred to remain anonymous chimed in-- a young red Techo with a loud voice and a confident smile. "I was turned away and had my accounts frozen because I came in in a black sweatsuit. They said I 'looked like a burglar.' Like, what does that mean?"
Oburra explains to me that the bank's refusal to serve anyone suspected of piracy is what has led to the oft-bemoaned dubloon economy on Krawk Island. A cultural staple for residents and an inconvenience for travellers, dubloons have been used instead of Neopoints on Krawk Island for as long as anyone can remember. There are no official centers for currency exchange anywhere in the world, which some argue encourages the black market and even piracy.
The National Neopian allows dubloons to be stored in their safety deposit boxes, but does not recognize them as a form of currency equal to Neopoints; not only that, but the staff's training handbook advises tellers to flag large deposits of dubloons as a sign of potential criminal activity, especially if it seems like the patron's wealth is primarily stored in dubloons and items.
This is just one of many examples of the bank's strict policy enforcement. Dozens groups of people have brought complaints to the Manager, only to be turned away at the door. The protest has a fair number of residents of the Haunted Woods-- ghosts, zombies, and witches abound, giving the gathering a distinctly autumnal feel-- but there's all kinds of people here.
After saying goodbye to Oburra, I make my way over to a cheery-looking Bori who stands out in the crowd: she's practically glowing. The tips of her ears are a searing pink, and her face is painted with flowers and swirling designs in more garish neon colors. She says her name is 'Dazzler', which I believe to be a stage name. She works in the circus. "I tried to open an account here a few years back, but the staff said that they don't serve 'carnival folk,'" she tells me. She laughs, then, and adds, "Do I look like an evil robot clown to you? The funny thing is, I came in the next day and they were happy to serve me. No complaints at all. It's not a real policy if it depends totally on whoever happens to be working, right?"
Yoonhee, proprietor of the famous Uni's Clothing Shop just down the road from the National Neopian, made a public statement last Wednesday condemning the bank's policies:
"Every year, fashion in Neopia gets more varied, more fascinating. I get people from all over the world in my shop, and I'm happy to serve each and every one of them. We should encourage everyone to express themselves, not discourage them. The National Neopian owes the public an apology and a promise for positive change in the future."
The Bank Manager remains unmoved by the public outcry. "We have heard our community's complaints, and we are taking them under consideration. However, the National Neopian strives to be a secure location for the storage of the world's wealth. We cannot and will not compromise the safety of our vaults or our patrons under any circumstances," he tells me in his office.
While the Bank Manager's position is understandable, it may be putting his business in jeopardy: rumor has it that citizens of nearby Neovia are planning to reopen their city's bank, to serve the communities excluded by the National Neopian's safety policies. It is unclear at this time if this means that a new mayor of Neovia has been elected. No Neovian representatives responded to requests for comment.
Would a bank that accepts all customers without slamming impenetrable iron bars in their faces be a beneficial addition to the Neopian economy, or simply a disaster waiting to happen? Only time will tell.