Errant texts highlight weaknesses in banks’ digital shift

Ulster Bank told several customers they did not qualify for break they already approved

 Ulster Bank last year topped the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman’s list of upheld complaints. File photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Ulster Bank last year topped the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman’s list of upheld complaints. File photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

Irish banks like to make much of their move away from traditional branches to dealing with their customers digitally, which is a polite way of saying over the phone, internet, or even by text.

Only these systems are not perfect. This week, it emerged that Ulster Bank recently told a number of customers by text that they had not qualified for the Covid-19 mortgage payment break extension. The lender had already told the same clients that they did, in fact, qualify for the concession. The bank did not withdraw either payment breaks or extensions from the customers.

Ulster explained this week that it began using text messages to communicate with customers because it is quick. The bank also explained that it backed these up with letters, e-mails and phone calls.

Nevertheless, the mistake it made with what was probably a small number of customers, out of the 12,000 with which it agreed mortgage payment breaks, shows that the system is not foolproof, as with many other banking initiatives.

Ulster Bank last year topped Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman (FPSO), Ger Deering’s list of upheld complaints in 2019. Overall, his office upheld 21 complaints against the lender, 11 of them were fully upheld, three substantially and seven partially.

However, it was not the only offender. In a statement issued when his office published figures for last year at the end of March, Deering said the “FPSO continues to receive a high volume of complaints, notably in relation to mortgages”. In short, many Irish people remain unhappy with the service they get from their banks.

Covid-19 threatens to expose further weaknesses in what the banks call their systems. The crisis has created extra problems for them and more particularly for their customers, many of whom are facing difficulties they would never have predicted six months ago.

Mix-ups in communication from their banks, however minor, are only going to add to their customers’ stresses. If lenders continue to make mistakes when dealing with their clients, they can only expect more complaints against them as a result.

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