Self service – If banks can't get this right, what hope is there?

How safe is the self service channel for selling? Most banks would say it's quite safe, certainly safer than relying on in-store sales staff who, as Lloyds recently experienced, can end up costing you money as well as making it. But we forget that these self service channels are managed by people who can mess up as easily as the staff in store, writes Billy Bambrough

How safe is the self service channel for selling? Most banks would say it’s quite safe, certainly safer than relying on in-store sales staff who, as Lloyds recently experienced, can end up costing you money as well as making it. But we forget that these self service channels are managed by people who can mess up as easily as the staff in store, writes Billy Bambrough

Almost 12 months ago the then Lloyds TSB stopped selling their packaged accounts in branch and over the phone amid claims of aggressive sales practices. The bank continued to sell the accounts online, deeming this a safe way to do so.

The banks official line has been that it is in the process of retraining staff to sell things safely and it has now announced it will be selling them again in store from some time in 2014. This was not enough for the bank to escape a rap on the knuckles from the FCA and a nominal fine of £28m, although the bank could supposedly incur much greater costs if it is made to reimburse customers.

In the meantime Lloyds has continued to sell its packaged accounts online, reasoning if there is no sales person involved, then how can they be accused of aggressive sales strategies? And they are right, they can’t; but sales strategy is only one half the issue.

I recently was looking around the Barclays website at their packaged accounts that were available. Wanting to take a look at the terms and conditions for one of the packs I tried to download it, but was unable to do so. The product was still available to buy online though, against the rules of the regulator, saying all information must be provided before the sale of the product.

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I raised this issue with Barclays and they responded that they were looking into it but declined to answer questions on how many products had been sold to people who were unable to view the full terms and conditions before hand.

The bank was also unable to identify what was causing the problem for me when trying to download the document, claiming that they were able to do so at their end. The Twitter conversation ended like some many of them do with the bank asking me to call a toll phone number to speak to someone as the self service channel had obviously failed.

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The FCA were equally silent on the issue and were unwilling to clarify their position further on how failure to make these documents available might affect the bank beyond their guidelines stating that a customer must have access to the appropriate information before a being bound by the terms of the contract.

There have been no sign of an investigation by any regulator into the sale of online products yet as it becomes more common banks will have to ensure they are doing everything they can to make required information available to potential customers and failing at this most basic of hurdles is nothing short of an embarrassment, which could become a costly one at that.

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