One of the areas where I’m pretty sure my age is showing is my sadness in the decline of bricks and mortar financial and related services. I’ve written about some of my experiences involving my UK bank here and here, and I fear the situation is going to get worse before it gets better.
The pandemic has provided a perfect hatching ground for yet more fraudsters and dodgy schemes intent on getting their grubby mitts on unsuspecting people’s money. I heard recently about an acquaintance who very nearly parted with a huge sum in the direction of fraudsters doing a very good impersonation of the Allianz.
The sad fact of the matter is that it’s difficult to trust any organisation when you can’t see their offices, or the people working there. The internet is smoke and mirrors in digital.
The situation in Germany is nearly as bad, although I do at least have an advisor/contact person assigned to my account who I’ve met in person, although I suspect that’s a rare privilege as I’m self-employed. Less cheering is the knowledge that, due to Automatic Exchange of Information, UK institutions are passing all sorts of info about me to to the German tax authorities, which would be all well and good if there was some way of finding out which information was being passed over, and a way of checking if this information was correct and relevant - clue: it isn’t always, as I have found out to my cost.
I know it’s not easy for the banks. The high street branches are a huge cost drain, and they are kind of trapped between security on the one hand and providing good custmer service on the other. But surely this is the kind of challenge that, if you get it right, you’ll really rise above the others and profit?
My experience of banking is that there are more and more hoops for me to jump through now to get anywhere near my own money, yet it’s also increasingly difficult to get to talk to a human being when I really need to - and no, I don’t want to chat on Facebook about financial matters. With the advances in technology, this makes no sense whatsoever.
I’ve got used to the tangle of user names, passwords and memorable information to get me past Go. I am even coming to accept that every second time I want to bank online I’ll have to utter a four digit code at a machine (and that worryingly often, it’s not accepted). But yesterday, I encountered something new. I wanted to move some money from my bank account to the NS&I, where I have Premium Bonds and a couple of other savings bits and pieces.
As I attempted to do this, a grid with about nine little icons flashed up at me.
"Why are you doing this?” demanded the grid.
I was quite taken aback and had a quick look through the options. “Moving my money” seemed to answer the question. Immediately another pop-up in red told me that the bank would never ask me to move money, which was odd as it was nothing to do with the bank, rather my own free will. But choosing this option resulted in not being able to get any further.
I wish I’d done a screen shot of all this as I can’t remember what else there was, but eventually I picked “Savings and investment” which seemed quite safe, but also came with dire warnings about fraud, and had I checked out the company I was investing with, and so on and so forth. I did think briefly about the guy and the Allianz-masquerade, but really. NS&I?
All in all, what should have taken a few seconds took considerably longer and left me irritated and almost as if I’d tried to do something illegal, or ill-advised, or naughty.
And, strangely, I wasn’t asked to “rate my experience” on this occasion. I wonder why.