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Banking made inhuman


One in five Brits can’t read their bank statements, claims an 82-page FCA report which landed on our desk last week*.

Nope, VnN dudes didn’t read it, either. Finance always sounds so dull. And 82 page-zzz…

Even though we didn’t attend Bank Statement reading classes at school, either, we don’t get why something so basic should be so baffling.

Our bank statements normally come in two simple sizes: ‘overdrawn’ or ‘very overdrawn’.

Banking made inhuman

I obey

But help is on the way.

In our much-loved and exciting technology-led fashion, banks are deploying robots to give us poor financial services-challenged and low-wage, bank-statement-illiterate bobos new, state-of-the-art, robo-advice.

And we said finance was dull? We did.

So in our readers’ interests VnN has done a little digging. Not for gold but for robo-info. Because the future of our individual financial health is likely to get even trickier than not being able to read simple bank statements.

From driverless cars and lorries, intelligent lawnmowers and home vacuum cleaners, to virtual assistants such as Siri and Cortana, Google’s Now and Facebook’s M to chips in our central heating systems, thermostats and fridges which connect with their manufacturers or our smartphones to warn of malfunctions or servicing…where will it end?

Well, banks are just at the beginning of a robo-revolution. And as this is a topic which affects us all, VnN decided to do a bit of calling around to a few well-known high street banks (HSBs). Asking if they might be able to provide an update on what robo-ised services we may expect from them in future…Now, even.

VnN: Hello. I’m thinking of opening an account with you but understand you may be employing robots to do all the work your humans are currently doing is this true?

Coming soon

Coming soon

HSB: (Laughter) Ah…no, no, no. And good morning, Sir. Thank you for calling (gives name of bank). My name is George. May I take your name, your postcode, the first line of your address, your email address, the first school you attended, your mother’s maiden name and the last four digits of your current account with us?

VnN: Actually, I’m just phoning up for some advice, George. I don’t have an account with you and I’d like to—

HSB: If you are not a customer and just calling for advice, Sir, we suggest you visit our website at (gives website address). There you will find very easily all the information you need to open an account with us. Now is there anything else I can help you with today, Sir?

VnN: Yes, there is…look, I’m talking to you now and I don’t want to check on your website. Can’t you just answer a few questions for me now?

HSB: I’m very happy to do that, Sir. May I take your name, your postcode, the first line of your address, your email address, the first school you attended, your mother’s maiden name and the last four digits of your current account with us?

VnN: Jeez! Is there anyone else I can talk to there, George? We don’t seem to be getting very far with this. This sounds like I’m talking to a robot! 

HSB: (short silence…sound of something like throat clearing) Ahem…Indeed there is, Sir. Would you like to talk to my supervisor?

VnN: Well…I guess if he/she can be more helpful then yes.

HSB: Thank you for calling (gives name of bank) today, Sir. Please stay on the line while I pop you through to my supervisor. Have a nice day, Sir (phone clicks / goes silent).

VnN: (holding on)

HSB: Hello. Thank you for calling (gives name of bank). My name is Linda. May I take your name, your postcode, the first line of your address, your email address, the first school you attended, your mother’s maiden name and the last four digits of your current account with us?

VnN: Whoa…look Linda, I’ve just been speaking to your colleague, George, and tried to explain to him that I’m not a customer and all I want is some advice—

HSB: Hello. If you are not a customer and just calling for advice, Sir, we suggest you visit our website at (gives website address). There you will find very easily all the information you need to open an account with us. Now is there anything else I can help you with today, Sir?

VnN: (hangs up).

Banks have always wanted HNWs. Low-value, everyday, bank statement illiterate punters who don’t have the sort of £££ that banks want.

Especially now with their retail estate and margins under pressure, their huge investment in technology and the lack of consumer on-line engagement which should be adding value to banks’ disproportionately high cost bases but isn’t.

So what to do? Robo-advice. Everyday poor people…who needs ’em? George!

And this is just the first step. Algorithmic, back office automation of simple transactional banking with robots replacing humans isn’t new. But full-blown financial advice and even asset management are the more serious strategic intentions.

Yet this is the best bit: based on your answers to a carefully-arranged series of financial questions, robo-advisers will suggest various courses of action. And the human being (that’s all of us; apart from a few ex-Publicis noodles) makes the final decision. So…guess who’s responsible if things go wrong: the robot.

Try taking he/she/it to court in future for providing duff advice. But at least bank statement illiteracy will soon be a thing of the past.

Editor’s note: In the interests of civility, VnN did try phoning back the bank where George gave us such miserable advice. But we were told George had been promoted. Probably to supervisor.

*

Financial Conduct Authority's Report

*Financial Conduct Authority’s Report

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