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Huer's Call

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: September 03, 2012

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It's not exactly original to hate banks. I get on fine with the faces behind the glass, but when it goes behind the office doors, up the line, on line, on the telephone, up to head office or over to Asia, it all gets horrible. That's when individuals feel they've no more influence on their own affairs than pieces of flotsam caught in a tsunami.

"Hello?" I'm ringing a dedicated helpline. A building society account I manage is being closed, but I'm invited to change it over to the major bank which now owns the building society. Yes I'd like to do that. "You need to go through the application procedure on the telephone. It'll take about 25 minutes. Is that alright?" No it's not alright. I don't have 25 minutes. "Sorry I can't do that. Can you send me some forms?" "No we can only do it on the telephone." I grumble along the lines of who's the customer here, then ask a few more questions. Can't they just transfer all the details over? No, we don't have access to the data. But aren't you all the same group? Yes but we can't access the data. Bang, down goes the phone and there's another uptight ant on the anthill.

But that's nothing to compare with dealing with banks when you're old. When my mother became too infirm to call at her bank she tried conducting her business by telephone. The bank's ID questionnaire always finishes "Tell me the last couple of transactions on your account." Her sight was too poor to do so. No-one else was allowed to do it for her or even prompt her, or the call would be closed. So she was excluded from her own money. I complained loud and long in vain, and more than one crawling dogsbody said to me: "Why don't you get a Power of Attorney?" I replied that I already had one, but that my mother was not stupid, not an infant, just blind, and why couldn't they change their procedures. Why indeed couldn't they ring her back? "Oh we can't ring people..." The very thought!

Establishing her ID when changing banks was worse. She had no driving licence. She had no passport. She was in a home and had no utility bills. She had, in bank-speak, dropped off the known world. I purchased a letter from her doctor. I offered to wheel her into the bank in person ("No, she could be anyone...!"). I invited them to ring her up ("We can't ring people, etc etc..."). No dice. The heartless corporate swine who run the world had airbrushed her – like thousands more old people – right out of the 21st century. Seething with frustration and shame, I resorted to my Power of Attorney until she died. At which point, ironically, she got her top-grade ID back. A death certificate. So far no-one's ever challenged that.

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