| || || |
Putting My Money Where My Mouth; Not Nearly As Straightforward As I Thought
The best laid schemes of mice and men often go awry. Or they take a bit longer than expected. That’s at least the case for my latest paved-with-good-intentions endeavour to do my bit to improve the world. Alas as I write I am not in the most objective of moods. I have just spent a very frustrating afternoon in yet another abortive attempt to set up an account with the Co-operative Bank.
After months of prevarication on hearing of the CSM’s ‘Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is’ Campaign I finally made the first tentative steps towards setting up an account with a more ethical bank.
I won’t lie. My motives were driven more by guilt than principle.Of course I agree in theory that the banking system is woefully exploitative and weighted in favour of the fat cats at the top.I concur customers should contribute to the clamour for change by voting with their feet and moving their money to institutions who are at least trying to act with a conscience.The problem is that, like the storm surrounding climate change, I believe campaigners put more pressure on the ordinary person on the street to make small, nominally significant adjustments because those individuals or organisations who have the kind of clout to result in more speedy, effective changes are either too stubborn or inaccessible (or both) to impact.
The supercilious tone of the Ethical Consumer Website did not exactly help my quest either.They had a depressingly long list of other companies that had – in their view-questionable practices somewhere along the line.‘At this rate you might as well turn your back on modern civilisation.Too many skeletons in too many closets’ I thought.It was unfortunate that I had accounts with some of the worst offenders; Halifax and the nefarious Barclays, who, even before the Libor Scandal, was at the bottom of the Ethical Consumer Pile. And who can forget their recalcitrant support for Apartheid before the Anti-Movement had the them sluggishly divesting (some of) their interests? That should have been enough of an incentive not to give them my custom in the first instance. I must have forgotten that inconvenient truth when opening my account. But I was recovering from a bad experience with HSBC and jumped at the one other bank that had seemed to have served a few of my family well.
My begrudging capitulation to the ‘Move Your Money’ campaign was complicated further by which new bank to choose.Some of the highest rated institutions on the Ethical Consumer list had no branches in my home town and those that did were miles away.Although I am a fan of online banking I wanted to be able to access one in my vicinity for eventualities such as making emergency cash deposits.The Co-operative was the next best option given that they have branches everywhere...except they score badly on the EC’s Current Account list (7.5 out of a possible 20).And yet the site and CSM both give the Co-op a big thumbs up.
Bugger this. If these banks are much of a muchness, I’ll save myself the bother. My Jobseekers Allowance would be a royal pain to set up for another account and despite the promises made by the Move Your Money and EC websites, transferring your direct debits and standing orders is not as easy as made out.
The Ethical Consumer site justifies its recommendation by claiming the Co-op’s ‘...relatively low score... is more than compensated for by their sector-leading approach...’ So, brownie points are given for good intentions. Does that also extend to the customer who hasn’t got around to making the necessary change yet?
Don’t think I am not aware that my reasons for my reluctance and feet-dragging are not wholly convincing. That we are creatures of comfort and that changing banks involves some minor inconvenience is small fry compared to proving to the major culprits that their unscrupulous activities will be tolerated no more. When Jesus admonishes us to take up our cross and follow Him, it is hardly a call to a lifetime of easy options. As Christians this ethos must extend to every area of our lives, not least money; an area which Christ constantly challenged His followers to evaluate during His earthly ministry.
So why still, in my case, the begrudging attitude? Well for a start, I had the misfortune of having a not-so-playfully sardonic adviser at the Co-op. He also happens to be a jobsworth who, despite me providing documentation on several occasions (to my inconvenience) that would normally suffice for the setting up of an account, refuses to accept them due to a slight variation in the spelling of my surname (one of which I am aware and prefer). Contrast this churlish behaviour with the pleasant folk at my local Barclays.
Besides, I have nothing against them personally. I am sure they do not endorse the dubious practices of the organisation for which they work. But they have to earn a wage like everyone else. And in the current economic climate, much of it caused by the very hand that feeds them, high street bank employees can’t be readily dismissed as mercenaries when alternative employment is not so easy to come by. Maybe I should not be so swift to condemn the customer service over at the Co-op. Nevertheless that kind of first impression is difficult to shake. It’s all very honourable mobilising consumers to take action against a corrupt banking system but let’s hope the alternative takes care of the little details, such as decent customer service, as well as the bigger fight. Simple politeness from staff is more accessible and measurable in the mind of Joe or Jane Bloggs than tackling systemic corporate rot.
Mind you, all this apprehension about moving my account is a great way to side step a self-righteous attitude. I wouldn’t be so quick to let others feel the heat of my moral indignation if they decide that, although the MYM campaign has justice on its side, the nitty-gritty of it just feels like too much hassle. Better the devil you know and all that.
So I remain in a state of limbo. Hobbling resentfully towards ethical banking and not entirely sure if my heart is in it or I’m being carried along on something akin to a guilt trip. The thing about doing what’s right is, sometimes you’ve got to just forge ahead despite yourself and eventually, your heart and mind will follow.
Tola Ositelu, 30/07/2012