If you’re worth a lot of money to Banorte, one of the biggest banks in Mexico, you’ll know as soon as you enter one of their 900 branches. After you swipe your credit card on arrival, staff receive a message that you’re in the building – and that you are a priority. Follow the assistant who greets you – oh no, don’t worry, YOU don’t have to queue with everyone else.
This is all possible thanks to technology made by Wavetec, a specialist in “queue management systems”. Wavetec’s clients increasingly want ways of prioritising special or high-value customers so that services can be tailored accordingly. That means special treatment for the select few.
It can be done with the tap of a credit card but Wavetec is also experimenting with other tools. For example, Bluetooth could be used to ping the phones of people walking by a business so that staff know when a high value client is nearby.
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“The technology is there, right?” says deputy CEO Tobias Bessone. “It’s just a matter of whether people are going to accept it or not.”
But that’s the trouble. Not everyone is enthused about the rise of “priority queuing” or “fast-tracking”, which sometimes involves paying an additional fee to jump the main queue. The concept is thought of as an American phenomenon but is now spreading worldwide. Queues can effectively be skipped everywhere from airport security to music festivals. Just buy a fast-track ticket or “VIP access” pass.
In 2017, Julian Baggini, a columnist for the Guardian, wrote that this represented a takeover of “money-talks culture”. While he argued that queuing has never been as egalitarian as it seemed – the rich have always been treated differently – priority queues simply mean that cash is doing what class used to do; segmenting society.
And yet priority access continues to pop up in more and more places. It used to be the preserve of theme parks, notably Disneyland in the US or Alton Towers in the UK, where a pricier entrance ticket would let visitors skip the main queues for rides. Jumping to the front at banks – or even Santa’s grotto – suggests the idea has now become pervasive in certain countries.
There may be legal quibbles over priority queuing in certain contexts, though. Constitutional lawyer Andrew Le Seur has argued that having the option to pay for fast-tracking at the UK border when entering the country seems to conflict with human rights principles regarding travellers. “Speedier and more private decisions should not be bought and sold by the state,” contends Le Seur.