Invisible institutions

Fifteen years ago, I worked mainly from home.  I wrote, typed, printed, folded and posted my own letters.  When I ran out of postage stamps and went to the local post office, I invariably found it was pension payment day and there was a long queue of pensioners with time on their hands and an appetite for a conversation with the counter clerk about the weather, their pension and their aches and pains.  As a result, I acquired a franking machine enabling me to frank my letters in my own home and to top up the postage down the line.

At about the same time, bank managers as I used to understand them became extinct and bank branches started building those sheep-dip arrangements designed to manage long customer queues.  As a consequence, I started to use internet banking, giving me the pleasure of never having to go into a bank again.

A little later, banks and many other large public utilities developed call centres to centralise many customer service functions and to reach ever-growing markets. Now I have an aversion to listening to recorded messages and pressing buttons in the hope of eventually accessing a human being.  Even worse, I loathe noisy musack while I wait for attention.  I have therefore resolved that I will use the internet whenever I can to request a service and, where a bank or other utility will not use this medium, I will write my request in a nice, if old-fashioned, snail mail.

However, I find more and more that banks, credit card companies, insurance companies and utilities are increasingly reluctant to provide an address for written communications.  They clearly want to force their customers to use the telephone call with the delays, frustrations and absence of a permanent audit trail of what was agreed.    I find this wholly unacceptable and would like to see a legal requirement that all customer-facing institutions must provide a correspondence address for their customers.  Is that too much to ask?

About Keith R Mitchell CBE

Qualified as a Chartered Accountant in 1967. Pursued a successful career in financial training and publishing until selling his interests in 1990. Elected a County Councillor for the Bloxham Division in 1989. Leader of Oxfordshire County Council 5 November 2001 to 15 May 2012. Chairman of the South East England Regional Planning Committee July 2002 to July 2005. Chairman of the South East England Regional Assembly July 2005 to July 2008. In HM the Queen’s 2007 Birthday Honours, appointed a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in recognition of services to local government.
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