A feeling of deja vu swept over me recently as I read a newspaper column about someone's experiences of dealing with financial extranet sites. I too have had life-shortening episodes of frustration when trying to transact affairs over one or two life office sites.
We all know why companies are moving to electronic transactions so it is pointless trying to dress it up as anything else. It is simply to cut costs or improve efficiency.
It is not the altruistic move on the part of life offices they would love us to believe. Nor should it be, of course. None of us are charities. And if we cannot respond to change, we have a problem. It is an inevitable progression that should be welcomed.
It is embarrassing to admit that we are so far behind some industries in the transaction of electronic business – travel agents are a good example. So I am all for it and the sooner the better.
But for the moment we are miles away from getting it right. It is amazing to hear the disparate views of the various offices. Some suggest they are already at the “IT utopia”, others are honest enough to admit there is a long way to go.
My experience is that they all have a way to go – they sometimes work brilliantly and sometimes not at all. It is gratifying to demonstrate the cock-ups in the presence of our consultants who faithfully promise to “feed this back”. They also swear blind that I am in the minority.
So how is it that my typing skills (the oft-used excuse for foul-ups from the normally pretty good support teams) are good enough for some sites and not for others?
Why is it that some offices feel the need (feel they are so important?) to insist on lower case, upper case and numbers for passwords and customer IDs. Others feel that numbers alone are fine.
It is fascinating to see offices making such different decisions about the same issue. I have noticed numerous similar examples and the explanation when questioned is always the same – it is the way they have been told to do it.
My own explanation for this has been formed over many years of dealing with the multitude of offices. It seems to me that an attitude of mind seeps down from a head office and permeates through to all the staff. At what point that attitude starts I can only guess but I suspect it is either at or close to the top.
A simple example of this creeping attitude is admin and rule interpretation. The two are intimately linked. It is not my imagination that some offices interpret rules from on high in an unhelpful way. I am told they are just being thorough – but the result is an office that is a pain to deal with.
Scottish Equitable is a good example of how hard it used to be. If we submitted an application that was not absolutely spot-on, it would write back, and ask for the “i” to be dotted and for the customer to give written permission. It was far too caught up in its own rules to see that it was all a little officious. Thank goodness it is a little more relaxed these days.
The same issue would arise with a piece of Scottish Widows business for example and it would be rectified in a much more pragmatic way – possibly not “by the rule” but perfectly acceptable by everyone else's standards – once a little logic had been applied.
Worryingly this creeping illness can be seen in our own regulator's dealings – from the language it uses to the way it sends out circulars. This has to be a cultural thing with it as all departments are the same.
I am often at a loss when faced with some of its material. It finds it acceptable to use such unintelligible language that we are forced to reach for our now tatty copy of the Oxford Concise. We frequ-ently debate what it really means by such and such a phrase or word.
Its thinking behind sending us circulars in back to front envelopes escapes me for the moment but I am sure it has a perfectly good explanation – it just makes me wonder why no one else in the world does it.
This smacks of arrogance reminiscent of certain life offices – only with the FSA we do not have a choice.
Tom Kean is compliance officer with The Analysts