Abbey normal behaviour for a bank

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So much for The Power of the Blog – I had a salutary reminder of the power of the mainstream media this week.

My girlfriend can be found beaming from page 17 of the Observer Cash supplement today under the headline Abbey bids to rediscover good habits. For those of you who haven’t been following the Observer’s Why Are We Waiting? campaign, the issue concerns the failure of Abbey’s probate and bereavement centre to release dead relatives’ accounts on the basis that apparently too many people died in 2006.

What I can vouch for is this: Alex and her mother have spent months pursuing this, taking days off work to have meetings with bank staff, making phone calls that go unreturned, getting fobbed off with standard impersonal letters. For the situation to get sorted out, what it ultimately took was a single phone call from a journalist. Either Huma Qureshi has mafia-like powers of persuasion, in which case her byline photo doesn’t do her justice, or banks really are craven when it comes to bad publicity.

When I read claims that ‘There is room for people to make mistakes – but if mistakes do happen, then we have procedures in place to deal with things quickly,’ I am thus sceptical.

The real scandal is that if this had concerned a public sector organisation, the story would have been on the front page of at least one major national newspaper. Yet for some reason we seem much more ready to suspend our critical faculties when it concerns a private company. I’m not blaming the media here, for understandable reasons. It is ultimately the mores of the general public that relegates this to the money pages. It is as if Adam Smith’s “invisible hand of the market” has taken on semi-mythic status – people assume they don’t need to keep a wary eye out because something called the “market” will do it for them.

These problems arise all the time, and time and again they appear to be rooted in an assumption within banks that they can afford to try it on on the basis that so long as most people don’t make a fuss.

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