Don’t try this at home!

Flamethrower

A few weeks ago, a disgruntled customer walked into a branch of Barclays with a can of petrol and a homemade flamethrower. He’d decided that there was no other way to get his grievance heard.

Luckily, he didn’t burn the place down. When he got to court, the judge was lenient. The would-be arsonist was given a suspended sentence and community service, so there’s a reasonably happy ending to this tale. It does raise some interesting questions, though.

For instance, Why do some banks view communicating with their customers as an alien concept? Why is it so difficult to get a bank to address a complaint?

This story is about Derek Tubby, who had acquired £100,000 of debt when a business venture failed. He blames that failure on Barclays’ behaviour. He thinks this because Barclays blocked his attempts to remortgage with another lender. The bank did this without warning him. Barclays also cancelled his debit card without warning. This left him unable to pay his VAT bill. That gave him fines to add to his debts.

Whatever the merits of his case, this extreme action shows how frustrating it can be to try to have a conversation with a bank.

Obviously, Mr Tubby’s approach is not to be recommended. The  employees in the bank that he was threatening to burn down weren’t to blame. They had no influence on the decisions that he objected to so strongly. Even if they had, it would not justify their being put in fear of their lives.

All of this could have been avoided if Barclays had kept Mr. Tubby informed of their actions, instead of being so high-handed.

The second point is the inadequacy of the banks’ complaints systems. You would think that, by definition, these systems would be designed to let you, the customer, draw the bank’s attention to an area where it had failed to live up to your expectations. The sort of response that you might expect would be:

  • An explanation of the bank’s actions, demonstrating how you may have misinterpreted the situation, or
  • An abject apology
  • A repayment of your losses.

It’s never as simple as you hope, is it? What actually happens when you complain is this:

The bank uses the whole of its eight week allowance before it sends you an answer. The reply contains little or no reference to the terms of your complaint. It will consist of an assertion that everything that went wrong was actually your fault. This will be couched in polite, general-purpose sentences from the Banking Book of Platitudes.

The systems exist purely to fend off complaints, so that they remain unanswered.

Don’t pin your hopes on the Financial Ombudsman Service, either. Unless it is dealing with an established crime, such as PPi or interest-rate swap mis-selling, it will side with the bank. The statistics that the FOS quotes to show its successes are skewed.

It’s no wonder that tempers sometimes boil over. Just don’t resort to violence please, folks!

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