More mis-selling among high street banks

Scandal over fee-charging accounts lower trust, again.

The PPI mis-selling scandal has threatened to engulf the packaged account offerings of the UK’s high street banks.

In February of 2012 it was reported that the fee-charging account market in the UK was booming, worth nearly £2bn and rising. With regulation on the up and a low interest margin rate adding pressure to an industry facing crisis after crisis, banks turned to packaged accounts as a source of regular, easy cash.

Unfortunately they may have taken to them with a little too much enthusiasm, with banks being accused of signing up people who have no use, and may not even be eligible, for the features of their packaged accounts.

Amid claims of aggressive sales practises Lloyds TSB pulled their packaged accounts from sale in their stores and over the phone from the 1 January 2013. The AVAs are still available for customers to sign up to online, far removed from pushy sales staff.

According to Lloyds the reason for removal of their bundled accounts from sale in-store is that they wish to “harmonise the way we sell bundled accounts across all brands within Lloyds Banking Group, to align the sales process with that currently used within Halifax.”

Halifax continues to offer its packaged account while the sales process is “harmonised” across the group.

A December 2012 Which? investigation of more than 500 front line bank staff showed that there is still high pressure to make sales in Lloyds, Barclays, RBS, HSBC and Santander.

Over half (65 per cent) of bank staff in sales roles and have sales targets say there is now more pressure than ever to meet the goals set for them.

The report showed that mis-selling of products is rampant in all of the big five high street banks. Nearly 50 per cent of staff in sales know someone at the bank who has mis-sold a product in order to meet their targets and 40 per cent say their targets encourage employees try and get the sale when it's not appropriate.

Metro Bank, which turns three in March, removed their packaged account offering in December 2012. Metro Bank Plus was pulled because the fledgling bank “considers its market proposition on an ongoing basis to ensure that it gives the best value to its customers.” Meaning the packaged account was not giving value to customers because no one who bought it (most commonly, it seems, suggestible little old ladies) could use the features.

Santander, who also fled from packaged accounts before the mis-selling scandal consumes them, ditched their packaged accounts in March 2012 in favour of the “simplified” 123 Account. Despite this being a paid current account with bundled features, Santander maintains it does not count as a packaged account.

The ongoing mis-selling scandals are a result of banks who have not yet adjusted to life post-2008 financial crash. Banks who believed the good times and endless credit would never end and that people would happily pay out £10 a month for products they were unlikely or unable to use.

While the mis-selling of packaged accounts won’t bring down the economy, it will only further peoples belief that banks are not your friend and are not to be trusted.

Photograph: Getty Images

Billy Bambrough writes for Retail Banker International at VRL financial news.
 

Photo: Getty
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The Prevent strategy needs a rethink, not a rebrand

A bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy.

Yesterday the Home Affairs Select Committee published its report on radicalization in the UK. While the focus of the coverage has been on its claim that social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are “consciously failing” to combat the promotion of terrorism and extremism, it also reported on Prevent. The report rightly engages with criticism of Prevent, acknowledging how it has affected the Muslim community and calling for it to become more transparent:

“The concerns about Prevent amongst the communities most affected by it must be addressed. Otherwise it will continue to be viewed with suspicion by many, and by some as “toxic”… The government must be more transparent about what it is doing on the Prevent strategy, including by publicising its engagement activities, and providing updates on outcomes, through an easily accessible online portal.”

While this acknowledgement is good news, it is hard to see how real change will occur. As I have written previously, as Prevent has become more entrenched in British society, it has also become more secretive. For example, in August 2013, I lodged FOI requests to designated Prevent priority areas, asking for the most up-to-date Prevent funding information, including what projects received funding and details of any project engaging specifically with far-right extremism. I lodged almost identical requests between 2008 and 2009, all of which were successful. All but one of the 2013 requests were denied.

This denial is significant. Before the 2011 review, the Prevent strategy distributed money to help local authorities fight violent extremism and in doing so identified priority areas based solely on demographics. Any local authority with a Muslim population of at least five per cent was automatically given Prevent funding. The 2011 review pledged to end this. It further promised to expand Prevent to include far-right extremism and stop its use in community cohesion projects. Through these FOI requests I was trying to find out whether or not the 2011 pledges had been met. But with the blanket denial of information, I was left in the dark.

It is telling that the report’s concerns with Prevent are not new and have in fact been highlighted in several reports by the same Home Affairs Select Committee, as well as numerous reports by NGOs. But nothing has changed. In fact, the only change proposed by the report is to give Prevent a new name: Engage. But the problem was never the name. Prevent relies on the premise that terrorism and extremism are inherently connected with Islam, and until this is changed, it will continue to be at best counter-productive, and at worst, deeply discriminatory.

In his evidence to the committee, David Anderson, the independent ombudsman of terrorism legislation, has called for an independent review of the Prevent strategy. This would be a start. However, more is required. What is needed is a radical new approach to counter-terrorism and counter-extremism, one that targets all forms of extremism and that does not stigmatise or stereotype those affected.

Such an approach has been pioneered in the Danish town of Aarhus. Faced with increased numbers of youngsters leaving Aarhus for Syria, police officers made it clear that those who had travelled to Syria were welcome to come home, where they would receive help with going back to school, finding a place to live and whatever else was necessary for them to find their way back to Danish society.  Known as the ‘Aarhus model’, this approach focuses on inclusion, mentorship and non-criminalisation. It is the opposite of Prevent, which has from its very start framed British Muslims as a particularly deviant suspect community.

We need to change the narrative of counter-terrorism in the UK, but a narrative is not changed by a new title. Just as a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, a bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy. While the Home Affairs Select Committee concern about Prevent is welcomed, real action is needed. This will involve actually engaging with the Muslim community, listening to their concerns and not dismissing them as misunderstandings. It will require serious investigation of the damages caused by new Prevent statutory duty, something which the report does acknowledge as a concern.  Finally, real action on Prevent in particular, but extremism in general, will require developing a wide-ranging counter-extremism strategy that directly engages with far-right extremism. This has been notably absent from today’s report, even though far-right extremism is on the rise. After all, far-right extremists make up half of all counter-radicalization referrals in Yorkshire, and 30 per cent of the caseload in the east Midlands.

It will also require changing the way we think about those who are radicalized. The Aarhus model proves that such a change is possible. Radicalization is indeed a real problem, one imagines it will be even more so considering the country’s flagship counter-radicalization strategy remains problematic and ineffective. In the end, Prevent may be renamed a thousand times, but unless real effort is put in actually changing the strategy, it will remain toxic. 

Dr Maria Norris works at London School of Economics and Political Science. She tweets as @MariaWNorris.