lördag 9 augusti 2008

Nationwide Building Society cockup

Yesterday I went to Stockholm and caught the ferry to Waxholm, through the Skärgård. My enjoyment was marred by the fact that my Nationwide debit card had, suddenly, not worked and I had had to pay by cash, which left me with only just enough for the return journey. I could not help wondering what had happened. When I got to Waxholm I tried three cash machines, all of which refused to issue me with any cash. Which left me with about 10 kronor after I had paid to get back. I thought at first that the problem was with the magnetic strip, but rang a friend of mine who told me that her Nationwide card had suddenly stopped working too.

Eventually I rang, at great cost, the Nationwide office in the UK and they explained that I should have been using a new card which they had issued in April. I had not received any such card, though I had been issued with a special electronic card reader, and in any case my present card was valid till 05/10. No, they said, it was no longer working,and no, they could not reactivate it. No, they said, they cannot (= will not) post a replacement card to Sweden.

So someone is going to have to go through my post, recover the envelope with the card in it and post it to the right adress in Sweden, which is going to be awkward as I am going to one place next week and a different one the week after. Fortunately I have my Co-op Bank card with me.

No doubt Nationwide will be getting a deluge of calls soon from alarmed customers who suddenly find they can't get cash and can't pay for anything, and not all of them will have other bank accounts. It was all very avoidable. Nationwide should have made sure that the new card readers would read the old cards, or alternatively, introduced the new cards at their normal expiry date.

But there is another point about Nationwide. They maintain a substantial department of economists and publish a monthly index of house prices. These indices are highly misleading as they are really indices of land prices, so far as they mean anything at all. The value of bricks and mortar does not change according to the economic cycle; it is the value of the underlying land. This confusion makes it difficult for policy makers and the public at large to understand what is going on and, possibly, come up with solutions, for such do exist. All Nationwide does is to spread the confusion.

In the meantime, one has to ask why Nationwide bothers to collect and publish this information. It would be better to get rid of this expensive department. They should concentrate on making sure that their customers were not faced with problems like the one just described. They could also do with more staff in their branches, as there are always long queues, especially since they merged with the Portman.

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