Readers, I wrote this letter not for myself, nor for its recipient but for you. If you have ever been frustrated by the goons who run the businesses who make your life a misery, add this to the list of rants that nobody notices much. It probably will not change the world, and it almost certainly will not improve the service offered by Isobel McKendry or her sales team at the Intelligent Finance branch of the newly nationalized Lloyds-Halifax-Bank of Scotland-plus any other struggling bank they merged with recently. It did, however, make me feel a tiny bit better in the face of their raving absurdity.
Head of Service
Lloyds Halifax Bank of Scotland Uncle Tom Cobbly and All
PO Box 17316
2nd April 2009
Your Ref: MK/Securities
Dear Ms. McKendry,
Re: Insurance; how I have it and will not be buying it from your business
I refer to your recent letter of 27th March 2009. Please see the enclosed photocopy of my home insurance policy. Per my conversation with a customer services representative at date of writing, this should satisfy my obligations per terms and conditions F.13.1.8, which reads: “You must show us details of the insurance and proof that it is still in force, if we ask you.”
Of course, the thought that comes to mind is, why exactly are you asking me to provide proof of my insurance now, after years of being a good customer? Is it a random request, asked of a sample chosen by computer? No. Is it because you have some good reason to believe I do not have insurance? No. Is it because of a recent telephone conversation where I got extremely bored of telling a member of your sales team that I do not want to buy insurance from your business? Yes. Is it because you run your business like draconian maniacs who have shut the door long after the horse bolted? Possibly.
You may not have understood the most important part of that last paragraph, so please let me reiterate. I do not want to buy insurance. Just to reiterate, I do not want to buy insurance. Just to reiterate, I do not want to buy insurance. Apologies if this letter is becoming repetitive, but I can assure you, it is a lot less repetitive than talking to one of your sales team. And just let me reiterate, I do not want to buy insurance.
As you can see from the attached schedule, I have the insurance I need per the terms and conditions of my mortgage. I do not need any other insurance. I do not need to tell you why I do not want any other insurance. I do not need to justify my decision not to buy insurance. I especially do not wish to pay for a telephone call and find my time is spent talking to a member of your sales team who keeps asking me to buy insurance. And just let me reiterate, I do not want to buy insurance.
There are all sorts of insurance, of course. There is insurance in case you die, insurance in case you fall ill, insurance in case you crash your car, insurance in case you fall off your skis, and insurance in case your house gets swallowed by a gigantic lizard beast from another planet. I have to admit I am not sure if my buildings insurance covers me for that last eventuality. Will that be a problem? I do hope not. But just let me reiterate, I do not want to buy insurance.
Good for you that you double-checked that I have buildings insurance. You cannot be too careful with money. I know I am. As a qualified chartered accountant, and company director of my own small business, I am glad to see that you are now being careful with the taxpayer’s money that was poured into your business after it failed so spectacularly. If only your business could have bought some insurance to protect it from the consequences of the utter incompetence of its management team. At last reckoning, their mismanagement has resulted in a £10.8bn loss and about £200bn of what is euphemistically called ‘toxic’ debt. Your business took such awfully misjudged risks that it not only needed to be rescued by Lloyds Bank, but the massive black hole in its numbers then forced Lloyds to be rescued by the taxpayer. Of course, you cannot buy insurance for such eventualities. All you can do is sit back and wait for the taxpayer to cover your losses, and try to be more careful in future. I can see you hard at work on that last point. And just let me reiterate, I do not want to buy insurance.
As part of your new risk-averse approach to customer service, will you be asking me to provide proof of my building insurance on a regular basis from now on? Will this be based on the vindictive whims of your sales staff, or is there a more fundamental pattern in how you intend to annoy your customers? I notice your letter asked me “to provide details of the insurance company who are providing you with the buildings cover along with the proof that the cover is still in place.” If you want me to send you a photocopy of the policy statement, why not just say that? It would save everybody time and money if you made your requirements plain, instead of sending a vaguely-worded letter which forces me to call your contact centre and be kept on hold whilst someone finds out exactly what it is you wanted from me. And just let me reiterate, I do not want to buy insurance.
Following the nationalization of your bank, you may have taken a misguided view of life in the public sector, and be engaged in a vain bid to make work and increase job security by aimlessly multiplying unnecessary calls and paperwork. However, I understand your ultimate goal is to eventually return to profitability, and wasting my time, along with your own, will not help you do that. And just let me reiterate, I do not want to buy insurance.
You letter refers to the recent telephone conversation with your sales team. Let me tell you a little more about how that went. If you do not believe me, just listen to the obligatory recording ‘for security and training purposes’. I wish I had recorded it too. I certainly received a thorough training experience: I was trained never to speak to a member of your sales team ever again, if I can possibly avoid it. The conversation began with me asking if I could rearrange my mortgage. As the entire premise of the “Intelligent Finance” product is that credit and debit balances net off, I wanted to go through an artificial exercise of increasing the total value of the mortgage (a liability for me) and the value of the money held in the netting savings account (an asset for me) with a consequent net exchange of value of exactly zero. Rearranging the mortgage would hence have no impact on the amount owed or the interest paid. It would not increase the risk to your business, or the burden on me. In exchange, you would have charged me a fee for this service, which I would have paid. Amazingly, I was refused. However, that is your choice, and I have no complaint about that. You are now being careful with money and it is your right to refuse. It is also my choice not to buy insurance. I was, however, very perplexed by the attitude of your sales representative. The conversation went something as follows:
“Do you have life insurance?”
Forgive me if I misunderstood the relationship between a customer and your business, but I was not aware that I needed to explain and satisfy your sales staff about why I do not have or want to buy insurance. I gave an explanation why I did not want insurance, which would have satisfied most sane people. Any normal person would have concluded from my answer that I was not going to be buying any insurance under any circumstances. However, your sales representative persisted:
“But what about your dependents?”
“I don’t have any.”
“But who will get the house?”
“You can have it.”
Have you noticed a pattern yet? I did. I noticed I was talking a lot about insurance when I phoned to talk about a mortgage. The conversation went on (and on)…
“Do you have critical illness cover?”
“But what if you fall ill?”
Good question. What if I fall ill? Here was my answer:
“You can have the house.”
“But how will you live?”
“I’ll live like everyone else who does not have a job and cannot afford a house.”
I would have thought that would be a satisfactory answer for a business like yours. What if everything went disastrously and unpredictably wrong? Then I will do nothing and let the taxpayer bail me out. That should sound familiar, as it is precisely the business strategy followed by your executive team. Still, this was not good enough for your sales representative, who said:
“I had a company director on the telephone yesterday and we paid out under his critical illness cover…”
There you have it: a statement that belongs in the hall of fame for bad financial advice. I should buy insurance because somebody else had insurance and it paid out for him. Insurance, as I understand it, is about risk. I perceive the risk of what adverse events might happen, I look at the cost of the premiums, and I judge how much would be paid out, and by considering all three I make a reasoned evaluation about whether insurance represents good value. Apparently, though, this is misguided. I should just find out if one of your call centre staff ever spoke to anybody who ever received a payout from an insurance policy and, if they did, I should get a policy too. Is this mis-selling? On balance, I would have to say no for two reasons. First, the advice is so inane that only an imbecile would be influenced by it. Even the executive management team of your bank would know better than to evaluate risk based on a gossipy story about one person they had never met. Second, and more importantly, I did not want to buy insurance, so no selling took place, whether mis-selling or otherwise. And just let me reiterate, I do not want to buy insurance.
I thought this utterly painful conversation was nearing an end when the insurance interrogation was suspended long enough to inform me that my mortgage application had been denied. The delightfully one-sided nature of information flow was underlined when I asked:
“Can you tell me why I was denied?”
At this point, as you can imagine, I was at least thankful that this tedious dialogue had come to a seeming end. I had been asked a lot of superfluous questions about insurance and my attitude to insurance, the sole purpose of which I can only assume was to sell me insurance. My attitude to buying insurance had not changed since I first entered into a mortgage contract with your bank, so I guess you will have to learn to live with it. I had wasted my time, and the cost of the call, but seemingly that was all. However, to my surprise, there were yet more questions about insurance:
“Do you have buildings insurance”?
The question in my mind at this time was not whether I have buildings insurance, which of course I have. As you point out, it is a stipulation of the terms and conditions that I have insurance. The question in my mind was “why I am wasting my time and paying for a call to answer this stupid question when I have already been refused the product that I had phoned to ask for?” So my answer was:
“Is there a financial regulation that obliges you to ask me that?”
Of course your sales representative does not know. She is just reading a script from a screen. She is not qualified to give good advice and if I bought a bad product there would be lots of shirking of responsibility and saying it was all my fault, whether that is a bad mortgage product or a bad insurance product. The dialogue should hence be limited to areas that are relevant to dealing with the customer’s queries, and not some ill-judged attempt to sell insurance, or, worse still, an ineptly executed attempt to manage the risk to your bank. My response was rather flippant:
“Then I don’t think I have to answer, and I’m not going to tell you.”
That was the end of the call, because I hung up. My attitude to the query is straightforward. If you want to ask me a stupid question, you could at least have the decency to pay for the call, instead of wasting my money as well as my time. I mean, asking people if they have insurance is not exactly a sophisticated approach to risk management, is it? Here is a tip for you: some people lie. The people who do not have insurance will probably lie about it and say they do. I did not lie. I just refused to answer the question. And just let me reiterate, I do not want to buy insurance.
When I spoke to another customer service representative today, she read the little notes on the screen about my earlier call with your sales team. The little notes said that I had no insurance. I think we can agree that note is in error, and suggests a woeful approach to listening to your customers’ answers whilst cross-examining them. Given that you are such poor listeners, please let me reiterate that I do not want to buy insurance.
It does not take a logician to point out that my refusal to answer a question does not justify the incorrect conclusion that I do not have insurance. That means your records are in error. I do have building insurance. I never said I do not have building insurance. You now know I have building insurance because you have the photocopied schedule (much like every other schedule for every other year I have had the house and the mortgage, would you like to see them all?). Perhaps you should also go back and listen to the recording of the conversation and explain to your sales representative the difference between a customer refusing to answer her stupid question and a customer answering her stupid question in the negative. And just let me reiterate, I do not want to buy building insurance, because I have it already.
Ironically, my main reason for trying to rearrange the mortgage was to bolster my application for a visa to escape this country, which I find to be run by utter nincompoops that have destroyed its economy and then punish the taxpayer for trying to make a living. As the ‘Head of Service’ you will also appreciate the irony relating to my call. I called in the hope of obtaining a service from your business, was hassled about a lot of services I did not want, was refused the service I did want, and subsequently made to provide you with paperwork to justify my continuing to receive the service I already had. I will now manage the risk of this recurring by never talking to one of your sales team again. This should considerably reduce the time and money wasted on not buying insurance and not sending you documentation per F.13.1.8 or any other annoying clauses in the terms and conditions. And just let me reiterate, I do not want to buy insurance.
The good news for you is that I will be retaining my mortgage with your bank. I will not be transferring it anywhere else. Now that you are government-owned, your bank will always offer a leading rate of interest to borrowers, because the government is just as desperate to help the voters who over-borrowed from your bank as they are desperate to maintain jobs for employees of a bank that was too generous in its lending. I fully intend to take advantage of that low lending rate by continuing to borrow as much as I can for as long as I can under the current mortgage agreement, and will do nothing that violates any aspect of the terms and conditions, no matter how annoying you are. I will be paying my mortgage back as slowly as possible and generally doing nothing to help you rebuild your withered capital base. With a bit of luck, the pound will keep on falling, making my liability smaller and smaller and hence easier to repay with the income I intend to make overseas. And just let me reiterate, I do not want to buy insurance.
However, there is also some bad news for your bank. The bad news is that my company definitely will be closing its business account. That asset will be transferred to another bank which was not so horribly mismanaged (though I admit the choice is poor), has not been nationalized, and which can pay a better rate of interest on deposits. I hope this gives you an opportunity to reflect on whether this obnoxious attempt to sell insurance, followed by the spiteful demand for paperwork to support my existing mortgage, has helped to increase the profitability of your business. I think you should conclude it had the opposite effect. And just let me reiterate, I do not want to buy insurance.
Eric R. A. Priezkalns
P.S. Forgive the comical use of a postscript, but I did not want to spoil the flow of the letter. Let me assure you that it is of no consequence to me whether you read this or not. My primary goal in writing this letter was to amuse the readers of my website, and to warn them about your derisory approach to “service”, which I can see from your letter is part of your job title but will otherwise assume you have no responsibility for. In the unlikely event that you actually have some responsibility, and this letter prompts you to do something to prevent atrocious experiences like this happening to your other customers, that would be an unexpected bonus.
P.P.S. Just let me reiterate, I do not want to buy insurance.
+++ Update +++
To be fair to HBOS, I have since been called by not one but two people, both of whom had obviously listened to the recording of my rather painful conversation about-but-not-about insurance. Both took my complaints very seriously. Is this evidence of a big business that really does try to respond to its failings in handling customers? It makes a nice change to think so!