We see growing efforts to drive customers on-line by withdrawing physical contact rather than entice them with services that meet their needs. Many banks appear happy to lose the accounts of those who cannot use a screen and keyboard or call centre (physical disability etc), lack reliable on-line connections or (as with most clubs and charities) require the signature of more than one trustee. But the over 55s control over 80% of the disposable net wealth of the UK. Meanwhile charity and club trustees tend to be more politically active and have rather higher personal net worth than the average. The consequences of listening to the digerati can be very expensive.
One high net worth individual was recently autodialled by what purported to be their bank, “on an important matter to do with bank” and asked to “key one for …. two for … etc.”. Having given that bank clear instructions about how to contact them they assumed it was yet another VOIP scam and were about to ignore it. Luckily they checked via their normal banking contact. It was the fraud department of the bank wishing to query an unusually high value transaction. Their funds have now been moved to a bank which uses human beings to make such calls.
Meanwhile my sister, who works in the voluntary sector, was recently contacted by a village hall committee in East Sussex who were extremely concerned to hear that cheques are being phased out. Their Womens Institute has banked with Halifax since it was a building society, and went into the local branch to ask for a cheque to pay their hire fees for the hall, to be told a cheque could not be issued for under £500 and that cheques will be abolished in a few years. My sister had attended a Payments Council consultation with the voluntary sector and met representatives from a wide range of charities (including a County Federation of Womens Institutes). Those present waw no suitable alternative for cheques and told the banks very firmly that the alternatives to cheques are unsuitable and their deadline for withdrawing them is unworkable.
Why is there such strenght of feeling?
She says “This village hall committee and WI are a good example: They are volunteers, have no admin staff, are not on Email, let alone the internet (an older generation); in charge of charity funds for which two signatories are required; worried about risking charity funds to internet fraud; operating in rural areas without good broadband and banking facilities, making small transactions for which a cheque is the easiest and most flexible method, where the social interaction of making payments personally is important to isolated individuals. This Womens Institute is moving in high dudgeon to a bank which caters for its simple need by providing a chequebook.”
She believes there is a clear lesson:
“Those banks which fail to recognise the continuing needs of the growing elderly population (many older people cannot use the internet owing to macular degeneration) and tens of thousands of voluntary organisations for cheques, risk losing a great deal of custom. Cheque use may be falling, but it will not cease, and banks can contribute to the Big Society by recognising the needs of the Third Sector.”
Her last point is also a message for those in the Coalition Government who have yet to reconcile their enthusiasms with the realities of power. I know that “a democratic politician is one who who can support three irreconcible policies before breakfast” but our growing army of elderly electors are also more likely to vote than the young digerati.