Do we still need TCF?

Let me tell you a story. For me, it captures why we need a rule that tells Banks in particular that they must treat their customers – that’s us, by the way – fairly. How silly. Why would you need a rule to tell you to do that? Its common sense and good business practice, surely?

Well, perhaps.

We have an elderly relative. 90 years old, decorated WWII veteran. He has had, and still has cancer, and is registered blind. So, a vulnerable customer, yes?

He recently lost his wallet, containing his debit and credit cards. He was naturally deeply concerned, and promptly rang to cancel them.

He rang Marks and Spencer. No problem, sorry to hear that, the card is cancelled, no one has used it, another card will be with you in a few days.

He then rang a ‘Proper’ bank. To protect the guilty, I’ll keep their name out of it but they are a very well known bank and I’ll provide full details to any journalist wishing to take the story.

The inevitable security process was a bit tricky, as he needed his wife to read out the numbers. Did I mention he is blind?

This caused him to ‘Fail Security’. I appreciate that security is important, and the Bank must protect both the customer and themselves. But can we just get that in context for a minute. I wonder just how many credit card thieves ring up and try to cancel the card they just stole? And if the answer is as I suspect – none – then what is security there for? I understand if he had been trying to move money to a different account or something. But cancelling a card? Really?

So the young lady on the ‘phone then informed him that he must now go into a branch. By the way, they know he is blind. They send him special large print statements. I assume the person on the phone had access to this information, or should have done.

So off he goes. Blind, infirm, on the hottest day of the year. He is also stressed because he is frantic that some thief still has access to his money.

The branch is a bus ride away, so perhaps 45 minutes to an hours door to door journey.

He arrives in the branch to then be told that they will not help him as he does not have his passport. Of course, he has other ID with him – such as his bus pass, disabled badge etc – but these are dismissed out of hand as insufficient.

Naturally, the passport requirement was not mentioned on the phone. And why is it required in order to cancel a card? Again, there seems no connection between the process in place, and the outcome required, and the risks involved.

At this point, the manager and branch staff had the golden opportunity to be heroes. They could have simply ran him home, collected the passport, and brought him back into the branch, done what paperwork they needed to do, job done. Or even called him a taxi.

But no, they simply washed their hands of the situation, and sent this vulnerable old man back out into the heat and chaos, with him still frantic with worry, and would not tell him if his money had been stolen yet. The clearest description of them I can express is ‘Ratbags who should burn in hell forever’.

Eventually, hours after the original problem had occurred, the card was stopped, and fortunately, no money had been stolen.

Once we became aware of the situation, we naturally raised a complaint. This was dismissed on the grounds that ‘We must take security seriously’.

Again, what risk were they trying to prevent? And given they have a system which can notify them if you have money in the account so they can try to sell something to you, is it beyond the wit of man for them to have a flag on their system that shows when someone is vulnerable, and may need a bit of help?

The question is, what law did they break? The answer is ‘probably none’.

But was this elderly gentleman Treated Fairly and with respect? Clearly not.

The issue seems to be that at all times he was not seen as a vulnerable victim to be helped, but rather as a problem to be processed according to some tick box formula.

Until we have a process whereby people working for banks require both a brain and a heart, we will need TCF. But – and this is important – we also need the regulator to be willing to enforce it this time around.