Unusual picnic marks a great friendship

Kawasaki Youth Friendship Ambassadors (from left) Kohei Ukisu, Noa Noguchi, Saki Hirano and Kirara Kuromiya enjoy the unusual culinary spread at Wollongong City Council. The council is celebrating 24 years of friendship with Kawasaki City. Picture: GREG TOTMANMeat pies and sushi may seem an unorthodox food pairing, but both played a starring role yesterday in welcoming a delegation of Japanese visitors to Wollongong.

The unusual culinary spread, which also included sausage rolls, mini hamburgers, rice paper rolls and Tim Tams, was part of a Wollongong City Council civic reception in honour of six visitors from Wollongong’s sister city Kawasaki.

The group included four primary school children, who won the trip to Australia after beating more than 5000 entrants in an annual essay and painting competition run by the Kawasaki Shinkin Bank.

Two bank delegates accompanied the students to Wollongong.

The group visited Symbio Wildlife Park on Monday, Wollongong Botanic Garden yesterday, and will go horse-riding at Darkes Forest today.

Year 6 student Kohei Ukisu, who lists his interests as bird watching, origami and stencilling, said he had been overwhelmed by the whirlwind visit, but had been impressed with Wollongong’s natural beauty.

“Everything has passed so quickly,” he said.

“Feeding an emu was the best part.

“I also liked seeing all the colourful parrots, and the kookaburra.”

Wollongong Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery said it was a pleasure to welcome the youngsters.

“The children are ambassadors and will present essays and paintings to the city as a gesture of friendship between our two cultures,” he said.

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Steel strikes expected after stand-off

BlueScope Steel has been notified of collective strike action by three steelworkers’ unions just days after it posted a $1 billion annual loss.

The unions and the company have each taken a hard line in slow enterprise agreement negotiations that have been dragging on since February and union officials have long been warning of strikes.

The stand-off means steelmaking at Port Kembla could grind to a halt for four hours on Tuesday if workers walk off the job, Australian Workers Union Port Kembla branch secretary Wayne Phillips said.

Between 600 and 900 steelworkers were expected to block the road outside the steelworks’ northern entrance between 10am and 2pm, while afternoon and night-shift workers would go home four hours early.

Mr Phillips said talks would continue today and he hoped a deal could be reached.

He also defended using strike action in the negotiations and said workers had “sacrificed a hell of a lot”.

“Our goal is to get our people a fair deal without doing any major damage to the company,” he said.

“We are not pursuing our [original] wage claims but we are working our backsides off to make sure that what we’ve got we maintain, and what we’ve got is not driving the company out of business.

“Our conditions are not creating problems for the company.

“The thing that’s creating problems for the company, apart from the high dollar, is that Australians don’t demand Australian steel.”

The unions would settle for the company’s pay offer of a 3 per cent increase in the first year and 2.5 per cent for the next two years, a far cry from their original claim for 6 per cent a year.

Mr Phillips said the company also wanted to change shift structures at the No 5 blast furnace, reducing the number of crews from five to four, and unions were strongly opposed to the move.

Australian Manufacturing Workers Union organiser Brad Hattenfels said workers were not prepared to accept attacks on their conditions, and industrial action could continue unless the company changed its position.

BlueScope again declined to comment, which is in line with its policy.

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People power saves northern suburbs postman

Popular postie Simon McGovern greets Coledale resident Stan Vardy. Picture: KIRK GILMOUR In a win for people power, popular postman Simon McGovern will keep on riding his route through Austinmer and Coledale.

Two weeks after a fired-up group of residents mounted a campaign to save their beloved postie, Australia Post yesterday confirmed Mr McGovern would not be moved.

A decision to allow him to continue delivering the mail had been made after a meeting between the mailman and management, an Australia Post spokeswoman said.

MERCURY SAYS: Reprieve for ‘Simon the Likeable’

MORE: Residents stand by their mailman

As a result of the discussions, there were no plans to transfer him, she said.

Mr McGovern’s union, the Communications Electrical Plumbing Union, said yesterday Mr McGovern appreciated the community support and the issue of him being transferred was now “dead and buried”.

“It’s great to see his community got behind him and everything was taken into consideration, including customer support, and he is not being moved off his run,” the union’s postal and telecommunications branch president Peter Chaloner said.

“He just wants to settle back into his work now and be left alone.”

Word quickly spread through the Illawarra’s northern suburbs that the postie might be transferred because he was stopping to chat while delivering the mail.

An internal disciplinary process is still underway and Mr McGovern could not comment for this story.

Well known for his human touch, Mr McGovern has been known to hand-deliver condolence cards when he knows there has been a death in a family, rather than just leaving them in letterboxes.

An Austinmer resident gathered 400 signatures for a petition to keep Mr McGovern in the area.

Among those who spoke out for the postie was Julie Bianco from Coledale.

“It will be great to keep on seeing his smiling face riding past,” she said.

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Wollongong Hospital at ‘crisis point’

Wollongong paramedics have demanded NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner intervene to solve the bed block crisis at Wollongong Hospital.

Paramedics said the situation peaked on Tuesday night when a crew was stuck at the emergency department for 11 hours.

Crews from Caringbah and Huskisson were called in to “plug the gaping holes in a system in meltdown”, said one officer who asked not to be identified.

MORE: Bed block crisis ‘worst it’s ever been’

“We can’t go on like this, the bed block was at its worst last night, the situation is critical.

“We need the minister to intervene. Enough is enough.”

Health Services Union Illawarra zone delegate Howard Hughes said bringing in cars from southern Sydney and the Shoalhaven was dangerous.

“Now their services are being jammed up, we’re taking cars out of those areas to respond, so that’s certainly not an ideal situation,” he said.

“We’ve had bed block here before but nothing like this. There is nothing available for the overflow and one has to question why that’s the case.”

Mrs Skinner yesterday said bed block at Wollongong Hospital had been greater than usual due to demand across the health system because of flu and serious illness.

She said the government had allocated $86 million to accommodate future growth in ambulatory care services, as well as a further reconfiguration and expansion of the emergency department.

The Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District said bed pressures at Wollongong Hospital were “currently intense”, with an increased number of patients with chronic conditions requiring admission during winter.

“While the number of ambulance presentations yesterday [Tuesday] was not unusually high, difficulty in transferring patients from the emergency department to an inpatient hospital bed has caused delays,” a spokeswoman said.

“The hospital is seeing an increase in the number of more acutely-ill patient presentations. There has been a 36 per cent increase in urgent triage 2 category [imminently life threatening] presentations compared with the same period last year.”

The spokeswoman stressed the most serious ED presentations were treated as a priority, regardless of whether they arrived by ambulance or via the waiting room.

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Nulkaba takes out Mayoral Academic Challenge

Nulkaba Public School was crowned first-time champions of the 2012 Mayoral Academic Challenge primary schools’ competition held at Cessnock Performing Arts Centre.

The Nulkaba team of Jordyn Jeffery, Ryan Forrest and Kyla Borghero won $1800 for their school, and a further $250 when it defeated Kurri High School in the play-off between primary and high school winners.

The Kurri High team (Callum Procter, Oscar Harvey and Emma Benic) won $250 after beating Cessnock, Mount View and St. Philip’s to win the Year 7 competition.

Nulkaba’s new principal Narelle Hunt, attending her first Mayoral Academic Challenge, said it was a spectacular event and that she was very proud of her students.

“I’ve never seen anything like it in the Newcastle area, and it’s great to be involved,” she said.

Small schools Laguna (runners-up) and Paxton (third place) continued their good run in the challenge. Laguna (the 2009 champions) has made the final three times in seven years and Paxton has twice.

Laguna’s team of Fin Pratt, Jarrod Biggs and Ben James won $1000 and the Paxton team (Brock Sinclair, Kyle Rees and Hayden Cashmere) took home $500 for their schools to spend on equipment.

Nineteen primary schools took part in this year’s challenge. The other semi-finalists were Branxton, Cessnock and Ellalong.

“The challenge has been held for seven years and I wish to thank all the students who participated this year – they are all winners and I thank the parents and teachers of the schools involved – they should be very, very proud,” Mayor of Cessnock, Cr. Alison Davey said.

“My thanks to the Rotary Club of Cessnock and particular thanks to Mr. David Clark, Mrs. Judy Clark, Mrs. Janette Jackson and Mr. Tom Hannah for their immense help during the three-day competition.

“And my thanks also to the Cessnock High School students who demonstrated technical skills of the highest order to ensure the success of the event.”

Sponsors of the 2012 Challenge are Rover Motors, Cessnock Achievement Centre, DLW Corporate Services, Hunter Resource Recovery, Kurri Bowling Club and Weston Workers Club.

WINNERS: Mayor of Cessnock, Cr. Alison Davey congratulates the winning team from Nulkaba Public School, Ryan Forrest, Jordyn Jeffery and Kyla Borghero.

SECOND: Jarrod Biggs, Fin Pratt and Ben James from Laguna Public School.

THIRD: Kyle Rees, Brock Sinclair and Hayden Cashmere from Paxton Public School.

HIGH SCHOOL CHAMPS: Oscar Harvey, Callum Procter and Emma Benic from Kurri High School.

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‘I kept asking for my baby and they kept telling me ‘no’ ‘

Christine Cole will be in Parliament for the apology to women whose babies were taken. Photo: Wolter Peeters Christine Cole was 16 when, heavily drugged and in agonising pain, her daughter was pulled from her body in a labour ward in Crown Street Women’s Hospital.

The teenage mother lay there, waiting to hear the new baby cry, and when she could not, tried to sit up and see whether the infant was OK.

”Three nurses threw me back on the bed and held me down,” she recalls of that 1969 day, ”and one of the nurses said ‘this has got nothing to do with you’.”

Cole is one of an unknown number of mostly young, unmarried women in NSW between the 1950s and 1970s whose children were taken from them in what is commonly referred to as ”forced adoption”. She, and many others, call it kidnapping.

”I kept asking for my baby and they kept telling me ‘no, you’re too young, you’re not married’,” she said. ”After five days they came with papers and said you cannot leave this hospital until you sign these papers.”

Yesterday Premier Barry O’Farrell confirmed his government will apologise for the role the state played in forced adoptions. The practice was not only traumatising for the women and children involved, Mr O’Farrell told Parliament yesterday, but in many cases it was illegal.

”It’s time to face the past and reflect on those unlawful and unethical actions that took place,” he said. ”It’s time to try and ease the pain of those affected.”

Ms Cole was given a range of drugs against her will during her stay in hospital, including mind-altering barbiturates and Stilboestrol, to dry her milk. She was never told she had a right to revoke her consent to adoption in the weeks after the birth.

A NSW parliamentary inquiry in 2000 recognised treatment like this went on in NSW and recommended the government departments involved in the practice issue a formal apology but this did not take place.

A damning senate report, ”Commonwealth Contribution to Forced Adoption Policies and Practices”, released in February this year, called for a national apology, which is expected in 2013.

Ms Cole, who founded the advocacy group Apologies Alliance Australia was eventually reunited with her adult daughter but the experience was difficult.

”We have a relationship, it’s not an easy relationship, you’ll find that very few reunions are,” she said. She will be in Parliament next month for the apology.

”We need the apology not just to be hollow words but a very fulsome and sincere apology that acknowledges the wrongdoing by the government, identifies the crimes that were committed and provides money for mental health services,” she said.

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BHP decision not a result of ‘carbon tax’

Resources minister Martin FergusonBHP Billiton’s decision to scrap its Olympic Dam expansion is a commercial decision based on global market conditions rather than a result of the government’s mining or carbon taxes, according to Resources Minister Martin Ferguson.

But Opposition leader Tony Abbott immediately labelled the assessment as ”nonsense” shifting the blame to Labor for creating a restrictive climate for investment in the mining sector through both its headline taxes.

Mr Ferguson acknowledged the decision was a blow to South Australia’s economic plans but said the project was far from dead.

MORE: BHP axes $30b expansion

”It would have been the icing on the cake for South Australia,” he said.

A clearly deflated South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill said the decision was based on global factors outside the state government’s control.

But he was confident the uranium and copper resources would be developed in time.

”These resources are world class … they belong to us and they will be developed,” Mr Weatherill said.

Mr Ferguson said the decision was ”completely unrelated” to the mining tax and the carbon tax.

”This is purely a commercial decision. This is the third time it’s been revisited,” he said, adding he was regularly in contact with BHP executives.

The sheer size of the project meant it had a high capital cost, he said.

”I must say I am personally not surprised by the BHP Billiton decision, given the size of the project. Potentially the pit is the size of Adelaide CBD,” Mr Ferguson said.

Mr Abbott said that under a Coalition government he would abolish the mining tax and the carbon tax to maximise opportunities for projects to go ahead.

”BHP is massively affected by the mining tax,” he said.

”It is absolute nonsense to say the mining tax doesn’t impact BHP.

”All we want for investors in this country is a level playing field. The carbon tax and the mining tax mean there is no level playing field in Australia vis-a-vis elsewhere.”

South Australian and senior coalition MP Christopher Pyne said the decision was ”catastrophic” for his home state.

”South Australia was looking forward to this project as its saviour for what is a depressed state economy,” he said.

Australian Greens nuclear policy spokesperson Scott Ludlam said BHP’s decision to axe its Olympic Dam expansion plan showed the global uranium market was in critical condition.

“Australia stands to benefit from the massive jobs potential of large-scale renewable energy installations,” he said.

”If Olympic Dam has been proven unsustainable by BHP’s announcement, we are ready to work with state and federal governments to fast-track the sustainable jobs that the clean energy economy is all about.”

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BHP Billiton axes $30b expansion

BHP Billiton has taken the axe to more than $US30 billion in spending on Australian expansion projects, in the clearest sign yet that the nation is past the peak of its resources boom.

BHP’s decision to change its strategy on its Olympic Dam expansion came as the company announced a 35 per cent slide in net profit

“It doesn’t really make a lot of sense in this market for them to be engaging in a major capital spending program and to be bringing more supply onto the market in a time when prices are softening,” said Gavin Wendt, publisher of resources newsletter Mine Life.

MORE: BHP decision not a result of ‘carbon tax’

“The deposit isn’t going anywhere and this decision gives them the sort of flexibility down the track to expand,” he said. “In this environment it makes sense to maintain the status quo.”

The miner’s shares ended 11 cents, or 0.3 per cent, lower at $33.16, after rising as much as 0.7 per cent in the wake of the announcement.

Beating estimates

BHP’s net profit of $US15.4 billion was well below last year’s figure of $US22.46 billion but beat market consensus of $US14.6 billion.

But the change of direction on Olympic Dam had dominated this afternoon’s results, and marks a dramatic change in BHP’s fortunes over the past nine months.

The world’s biggest miner said it won’t meet a December 15 deadline to approve the copper and uranium mine expanion. Instead, it will investigate less expensive methods to lift production at the South Australian mine.

Olympic Dam was awarded $US1.2 billion in pre-commitment spending in October 2011, BHP was originally expected to approve Olympic Dam by June 2012 but as commodity prices began to slump, the company declared it would not approve any new major project before December.

Under an agreement struck with the South Australian government, BHP had to substantially approve the project by December 15.

Possible price impact

Given the scale of BHP, a move to halt expansion of one of its largest mines may have an impact on global commodity prices, particularly if it prompts big rivals to follow suit and hold back on expansion of their own, said Mine Life’s Mr Wendt.

“That’s the advantage of the big miners,” he said.

“They do have a big impact in terms of supply and sentiment,” Mr Wendt said. “It sends a message that ‘We’re prepared to leave these sorts of expansion projects on hold’.”

“That in itself should send the message that the supply side is questionable and it might start to stimulate commodity prices.”

The change of strategy is a major blow for South Australia, which had been expected to receive about $350 million in royalties each year from the massive project.

BHP Billiton announced $US1.2 billion in pre-commitment capital for the Olympic Dam Project in October 2011.

The funding was for long-lead items such as trucks and accommodation and infrastructure, however they will be redeployed into other parts of the business if not required, BusinessDay understands.

‘Not related to carbon tax’

Australia’s Resources Minister Martin Ferguson has rejected the suggestions that the Labor Government’s new mining and carbon taxes had influenced the Olympic Dam decision.

“This is purely a commercial decision, it is in no way related to any regulatory decision,” he said.

SA Premier Jay Weatherill expressed disappointment on behalf of his state but said BHP had done everything in its power to make the expansion happen.

BHP has also confirmed that its $US20 billion outer harbour expansion at Port Hedland will not be approved in the next 12 months.

A decision on the expansion was due in December, but BHP said in its results today that capital spending was fully committed for the 2013 financial year at $US22.8 billion.

“No major project approvals are expected over this timeframe,” he said.

The decision is a stunning change of direction in the space of six months, after BHP announced $US917 million in preparatory spending on the outer harbour on February 2.

It highlights iron ore’s fall from grace as the boom commodity in the mining sector: iron ore prices have slumped below $110 per tonne in recent weeks, after spending much of the year above $US135 per tonne.

BHP is now expected to focus its attention on increasing its export capacity in the inner harbour at Port Hedland.

With Chris Zappone, BusinessDay

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Is Silicon Valley coming to an end?

Yammer founder David Sacks. Photo: Robert ScobleHave Silicon Valley’s entrepreneurs run out of world-changing ideas? Is its string of new transformative companies “coming to an end”?

That’s the surprising view put forward by David Sacks, who has just sold his start-up Yammer to Microsoft for $US1.2 billion.

Sacks wrote on Facebook that “Silicon Valley as we know it may be coming to an end”. He wrote that in order to create a successful new company you have to find an idea that has escaped the attention of major internet companies (“which are better run than ever before”), is capable of being proven out for around $5 million and is protectable from the onslaught of those big companies “once they figure out what you’re on to”.

“How many ideas like that are left?,” he wrote in his post, adding that new opportunities would increasingly be picked up by big incumbents.

Marc Andreessen, the serial entrepreneur who created the first mainstream web browser, Mosaic, co-founded Netscape, founded and sold Opsware to Hewlett Packard and created the social networking platform Ning, was quick to hose down Sacks’ remarks in the comments below his post.

Andreessen’s venture capital firm is still investing heavily in start-ups and he sits on the board of directors of some of the Valley’s biggest incumbents including Facebook and eBay.

He wrote that there are only a few “competent incumbents” who can only do so many things “before you get B and C teams screwing up”. Start-ups continually drain talent out of incumbents, impairing their ability to innovate.

“As the incumbents become more powerful, they increasingly prioritise stability over change … betting on incumbents over time equals betting against technological change,” Andreessen wrote.

In other words, big companies – like Microsoft – often struggle to innovate because they do not want to cannibalise their existing products – like Office and Windows – with disruptive innovation.

Sacks’ other investor and entrepreneur friends soon entered the fray. Jonathan Abrams, who in 2002 created Friendster and now is the co-owner of Slide nightclub in San Francisco, said the big companies today might be Twitter and Facebook, “but they will someday be as big and old as Yahoo and AOL are today”.

Some pointed out the irony in the fact that Sacks’ start-up Yammer sold for $US1.2 billion despite being at first dismissed as a “Twitter for business”. Google was just another search engine when it launched and Facebook was a social network for universities.

“The transformative things often don’t look transformative at the start,” wrote Andreessen, to which Sacks replied that if big tech companies were constantly being disrupted, why invest in them at all?

Sacks clarified that Silicon Valley could still produce innovative software start-ups but these would be exceptions to the rule because the big existing companies would copy their ideas or acquire their companies.

The full comment thread is public on Sacks’ Facebook profile, but Fairfax Media polled some Australian entrepreneurs and investors to get their thoughts on the debate.

Niki Scevak, founder, Startmate – “I think it’s along the lines of Bill Gates saying ‘640kb is all the memory anybody would ever need on a computer’ and is simply a function of a lack of imagination rather than any reality.”

Anthony Goldbloom, founder, Kaggle- “The biggest lesson I’ve learned from Kaggle is that big companies are very slow and reluctant to change. This is particularly problematic for technology companies, where the environment is changing so fast, and process of creative destruction happens that much more quickly. Who’s ever heard of Silicon Graphics (other than in books about the history of Silicon Valley)? Silicon Graphics (SGI) was making $7b a year in 1995. As it declined, many of its top engineers left to build Netscape, another now-defunct company. Today, the old SGI campus is occupied by a large search engine… by the name of Google. Fast forward to today, and companies like Dell and HP, which rely heavily on their server businesses, are under threat from Amazon Web Services. Companies like SAP and Oracle are starting to face competition from Software as a Service (SaaS) businesses.”

Brett Welch, co-founder, SwitchCam – “Massive respect for the guy as a business man, but it’s bullshit. As long as the world is changing and people are being creative, there will always be big, new opportunities that big cos won’t spot.”

Geoff McQueen, founder and CEO, HiveSystems – “Disagree – but share concern of others that there’s a lot of investment and energy going into stuff that isn’t particularly innovative.”

Matt Barrie, CEO, Freelancer苏州美甲美睫培训 – “It’s rubbish. In all the hype around consumer internet people have forgot that to go the distance you need a sustainable competitive advantage. That is, something that others can’t replicate easily.”

Jonathan Barouch, founder, Roamz – “Major Internet companies don’t have a monopoly on ideas or innovation and even if they did they often aren’t able to execute as well as a nimble startup. Companies are now able to create a product and test a market very cheaply … so I think this arbitrary $5 million value is meaningless. There have been many examples of companies that have formed over the last 10 years where the big incumbents figured out what the little startup was up to but for whatever reason wasn’t able to either start a similar service or execute in the same way.”

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10 signs it’s time to switch banks

How loyal do you feel towards your bank? You might feel short-changed because, according to recent Roy Morgan research, business clients are far less satisfied with their banks than personal clients – some 14 percentage points less.

Banks do a poor job of meeting business clients’ complex and “potentially riskier” needs, according to Roy Morgan spokesman Norman Morris.

But leaving one bank and joining another means copious, potentially pointless admin, so you need to be certain of your decision. Here are 10 telltale signs that it is time to terminate.

1. Sour start

“First impressions are always the best impression,” says business coach Alex Pirouz.

If a bank slacks at the outset, be ready to bail, Pirouz says and recounts the “shocking” first interaction he had with a Big Four bank: his personal banker proved unhelpful and inefficient – generally, staff were rude.

“That relationship continued to be sour for the next couple of years, until I got my act together and actually changed,” Pirouz says. Trust your gut, he adds.

2. Hard sell

At a bad bank, Pirouz continues, staff do not bother to research your interests through Google or LinkedIn. Instead of talking to you cordially, staff thrust random products at you as you queue – if you want to hang around.

3. Poor rapport

Your dialogue with your bank should be personable, not commercial, says Pirouz.

Consider whether staff address you by your first name and whether their attitude is genuine. Follow your instincts, he says. If the staff seem fake and treat you as a number, they have their own interest at heart.

4. Net loss

Assess how hot your institution is at internet banking. For instance, Pirouz warns, some banks lag at logging transactions. A 24-hour delay could be problematic – especially if you have a regular income stream to track.

5. Broken promises

Another sign of a dud bank is that it over-promises, Pirouz says.

One example: your banks says you will have a unique business manager guaranteed to be supportive and prompt. In fact, the manager proves fatally slow, unfriendly and elusive – only interested in pushing products.

6. Piddling interest

If your bank pays little or no interest, that’s a deal-breaker, according to the head strategist at Sydney-based Financial Spectrum, Brenton Tong. A small business may sometimes have to sit on lots of money, so the interest rate could make a massive difference, says Tong.

7. Fees through the roof

Banks have the nasty habit of repeatedly raising fees, Tong says.

“And it seems at times that small businesses get the worst of it,” he adds, noting that a bank’s monthly “small business package” may cost triple what a retail client pays.

Remember, he says, that some accounts – including cash management accounts – charge no fees, even if you daily put thousands of transactions through them, but they still pay interest. Weigh up whether your fees are fair.

8. Hold rage

When you ring your bank, notice how long it keeps you on hold after the standard automated “please hold” spiel. If you are forced to wait more than two minutes before a human cuts in, you have good reason to reconsider your options, says Tong. Suppose that when you call your bank, you only get to speak to a computer, never a person. That is yet another damning sign, according to Tong.

“Communication and service are paramount – especially if you’re time-poor.”

9. Suspect politics

Check that your bank aligns with your “moral compass”, says Tong. Your business might be wedded to green values or support a particular charity.

If your bank is out of kilter with your social charter, that could be a final reason to fire it.

10. Location location

Another oft-cited reason to leave is a lack of local branches and branded ATMs. You might prefer to move to a bank offering local convenience. Save time and petrol, and remove the frustration of having to drive by several rival banks to get to yours.

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