Saturday, 6 November 2010

Telephone banking, NatWest and fraud

In these days of increasing fraud and theft, it's very worrying that - in perhaps a misguided attempt to be "friendly"? - a major UK bank should stupidly make it much easier for criminals to snaffle its customers' bank account details.

Take this (nearly word for word) transcript of a call which a friend made to NatWest:

Ring ring.
Hello? Hello? Who is this? Is this NatWest Private Banking?
Yes it is. May I have your bank account number?

What's wrong with that picture? Here's what it used to sound like:

Ring ring.
NatWest Private Banking, John Smith speaking, how may I help you?
Hello, I'd like to make a payment please.
Yes. May I have your customer number?

So if you dial a wrong number and a bad guy answers, you're stuffed basically. They can get all sorts of info out of you and you'll be none the wiser.

My friend said, "Never in my life have I encountered a business or professional firm which tells its staff to answer the phone by saying 'Hello'! Surely it is good commercial practice as well as common sense to identify yourself and the organisation you represent. Too much informality doesn't improve customer service but rather damages it." (Aside - I don't like companies that presume to call me by my first name without asking me if they can, either. Maybe I'm old fashioned but it smacks of disrepect. I'm the client, I'm the customer.)

UPDATE TO CLARIFY: Flabbergasted at the phone call being answered in this manner, my friend ask if their procedures for answering calls had been changed and was told that they had. On subsequent calls, unfortunately the experience was little different. My friend ranted to me first, hence this blog post; the next time, it's going to be a request to talk to a supervisor to ask them to change their procedures back.

Why on earth should the customer be forced to take steps to check with their bank that it is indeed their bank that they are speaking to? What's worse is, on different occasions subsequently different NatWest staff were found to answer in different ways too.

Not identifying yourself and not being consistent in how you deal with customer phone calls is not just disconcerting for customers, but creates unnecessary risks of fraud and theft.

Banks shouldn't be creating risks. Banks, of all institutions, should make it very very clear who they are. It should be banks' responsibility to do all they can to minimise fraud and crime.

This sort of thing isn't helping. In fact, quite the opposite. I trust no banks other than National Westminster Bank are doing it, and let's hope that NatWest sees the error of its ways soon and goes back to the old "script".

Of course, banks have a history of not doing the most sensible things when it comes to technology, to put it tactfully (and yes I count telephones as technology). Though it's usually consumers rather than banks who end up paying the price. So maybe we'll be hoping in vain.


Anonymous said...

Perhaps it was a one-off mistake by the Natwest call operator? I'm struggling to believe that it's their procedure for answering the phone.

It's a bit like if I saw a typo in one of your articles then assumed you have no due care or attention for spelling. There's no significant empirical evidence in either case.

Improbulus said...

Anon, I fear it wasn't a 1-off as my friend has had more than one experience like this (including the inconsistencies), so asked them if they'd changed their procedures, and was told that they had.

I wouldn't have blogged this if it had only been one experience. Sorry I didn't make that clearer in the original post.

Anonymous said...

Are you sure you rang Natwest? Maybe the operator could not hear you or you were busy typing in your card number when they were trying to introduce themselves? What procedures have they changed? Can you clarify with more details please.

Improbulus said...

It wasn't me, it was a friend who banks with NatWest, it happened several times to my friend, who actually asked to speak to a supervisor to complain about it.

Read my post for the procedure change. They no longer introduce themselves with the name of the bank so you only know you got through to "John"!

Improbulus said...

Oh, and a big business answering its phones with "Hello" is as bad as answering with "Hi this is Mary" without indicating which outfit it is you've got through to! Very unprofessional.