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.

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Can Trident be hacked?

A former defence secretary has warned that Trident is vulnerable to cyber attacks. Is it?

What if, in the event of a destructive nuclear war, the prime minister goes to press the red button and it just doesn't work? 

This was the question raised by Des Browne, a former defence secretary, in an interview witht the Guardian this week. His argument, based on a report from the defence science board of the US Department of Defense, is that the UK's Trident nuclear weapons could be vulnerable to cyberattacks, and therefore rendered useless if hacked. 

Browne called for an "end-to-end" assessment of the system's cybersecurity: 

 The government ... have an obligation to assure parliament that all of the systems of the nuclear deterrent have been assessed end-to-end against cyber attacks to understand possible weak spots and that those weak spots are protected against a high-tier cyber threat. If they are unable to do that then there is no guarantee that we will have a reliable deterrent or the prime minister will be able to use this system when he needs to reach for it.

Is he right? Should we really be worried about Trident's potential cyber weaknesses?

Tangled webs 

The first, crucial thing to note is that Trident is not connected to the "internet" we use every day. Sure, it's connected to the main Ministry of Defence network, but this operates totally independently of the network that you visit Facebook through. In cyber-security terms, this means the network is "air-gapped" - it's isolated from other systems that could be less secure. 

In our minds, Trident is old and needs replacing (the submarines began patrolling in the 1990s), but any strike would be ordered and co-ordinated from Northwood, a military bunker 100m underground which would use the same modern networks as the rest of the MoD. Trident is basically as secure as the rest of the MoD. 

What the MoD said

I asked the Ministry of Defence for a statement on Trident's security, and while it obviously can't offer much information about how it all actually works, a spokesperson confirmed that the system is air-gapped and added: 

We wouldn't comment on the detail of our security arrangements for the nuclear deterrent but we can and do safeguard it from all threats including cyber.

What security experts said

Security experts agree that an air-gapped system tends to be more secure than one connected to the internet. Sean Sullivan, a security adviser at F-secure, told Infosecurity magazine that while some hackers have been able to "jump" air-gaps using code, this would cause "interference" at most and a major attack of this kind is still "a long way off". 

Franklin Miller, a former White House defence policy offer, told the Guardian that the original report cited by Browne was actually formulated in response to suggestions that some US defence networks should be connected to the internet. In that case, it actually represents an argument in favour of the type of air-gapped system used by the MoD. 

So... can it be hacked?

The answer is really that any system could be hacked, but a specialised, independent defence network is very, very unlikely to be. If a successful hack did happen, it would likely affect all aspects of defence, not just Trident. That doesn't mean that every effort shouldn't be made to make sure the MoD is using the most secure system possible, but it also means that scaremongering in the context of other, unrelated cybersecurity scares is a little unjustified. 

Barbara Speed is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman and a staff writer at CityMetric.