Just saying sorry – and meaning it – could save banks money and effort

Outlook: The Financial Ombudsman today reports that complaints are on the rise again

Could solving one of banking’s most intractable problems really be as simple as saying “sorry” in a way that makes people feel the apology is meant?

The Financial Ombudsman today reports that complaints are on the rise again, if you strip out the payment-protection insurance (PPI) scandal. Guess which industry is on the naughty step?

An overall rise of 3 per cent to just over 57,000 complaints for the financial-services industry as a whole in the first half of this year was fuelled by a 7 per cent increase in gripes about, you knew it, banks.

It’s true that PPI complaints were down by about a half, but that issue still accounted for 134,000 new cases and with 2.5 million set to be re-reviewed by the banks themselves at the behest of the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), that scandal is not even close to being put to bed.

Interestingly, the Ombudsman says that even before the FCA stepped in a lot of the complaints it was handling were repeats. These have included people querying the way their case was handled, or the amount of compensation they were offered.

Sometimes they approached the Ombudsman after being driven to distraction by those chilly letters filled with acronyms and legalese that are put together by computers with a screen printed signature of some beetle-like non-entity added to the bottom.

The Ombudsman says a huge weight of files are being generated simply because customers don’t feel they have been listened to.

At this point, the industry’s defenders will likely jump in and point to the sheer scale of the PPI review that banks have been conducting, which makes some sort of industrialisation of complaints handling not just necessary but essential.

That’s not unreasonable. But the Ombudsman can point to the fact that it too is dealing with an industrial process and that showing customers – who have after all been ripped off – a little love needn’t cost all that much.

A little thought being put into the letters that are sent out, their presentation, on the training given to staff and the way the process works could count for a lot. Thousands of man-hours of complaints-handling work could potentially be eliminated and the industry might save itself a big chunk of the costs it has been wracking up.

There’s a story the Ombudsman tells about the customer who rings a bank up to complain. They’re offered £50 “go away” money. Explaining that they’re still not happy the person on the other end of the phone says gruffly: “Well, d’you want the money or not?”

This is why we won’t likely see the volume of complaints easing anytime soon. You’d think that by now someone might have seen the business case for doing things a little differently. But it looks like billions more will be wasted before the penny drops. If it ever does.

Expanding Heathrow is the least-worst option

 If its economy is to flourish over the coming decades the UK needs to see a step change in capacity at its airports, and particularly at those in the South-east. Like it or not, that means Heathrow.

It’s true Heathrow’s expansion isn’t a particularly palatable option. It’s an unlovely introduction to this country at best. The environmental cost of expanding it will be considerable and its neighbours will be outraged. But none of this changes the fact that it is still the least-worst option. This was abundantly clear even before Sir Howard Davies assumed the role as head of the Government’s Airports Commission. It will strain credibility if Sir Howard and his colleagues come to any other conclusion.

This country is being damaged by the fact that businessmen from its rivals can simply hop on direct flights to South-east Asia that simply aren’t available from London.

Eurosceptics like to argue that the UK should forget about a declining EU and concentrate on trading with the world’s most economically dynamic region. It is ironic that a man who many see as their potential champion is doing everything in his power to frustrate that ambition.

Despite the deals, Barclays shares are still too cheap 

Sometimes the stock market makes little sense. Take Barclays. It’s just announced the sale of two businesses, in Spain and the United Arab Emirates, realising a net loss of £500m and a profit of £100m respectively as its de-risking efforts continue.

The Spanish deal, in particular, looks hurried and Investec’s Ian Gordon, for one, has questioned whether Barclays really needed to take quite such a hit.

All the same, the deal does improve the bank’s capital and leverage, while demonstrating it’s serious about getting shot of the junk parcelled up into its bad bank – sorry, non-core division.

All of which begs the question, why are the shares so cheap? It is true Barclays has lots of regulatory issues to deal with – which could lead to potentially enormous fines – but the bank is hardly alone in that. And even with investment banking struggling, should the shares really trade at a whopping 30 per cent discount to the value of Barclays’ in force book of business, making it 20 per cent cheaper than even RBS? 

Wags call chief executive Antony Jenkins “Saint Antony”. Numbers like that make one wonder what he has to do to bring in the worshippers.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
Suited and booted in the Lanvin show at the Paris menswear collections
fashionParis Fashion Week
Arts and Entertainment
Kara Tointon and Jeremy Piven star in Mr Selfridge
tvActress Kara Tointon on what to expect from Series 3
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
Sport
footballBrighton vs Arsenal match report
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has spoken about the lack of opportunities for black British actors in the UK
film
News
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Tax Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Tax Assistant is required to join a leading ...

Recruitment Genius: Outbound Sales Executive - OTE £25,000

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Developer - Watford - £45,000 - £47,000

£45000 - £47000 per annum + bonus + benefits: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / ...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Product Manager - (Financial Services) - SW London

£35000 - £38000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - Marke...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine