Have takeovers overtaken the customer?

Corporate buy-outs, buy-ins, mergers and alliances are all a normal part of the daily life of big business.  But what effect do these have on our bank accounts and insurance policy terms?

Financial gobbledygook often clouds the relationship we have with banks and, in turn, our hard-earned money.  Since Plain English Campaign started its fight against jargon, some organisations have brought plain English communication to their customers. As businesses must make sure their profits continue to soar, they must also continue to keep clear lines of communication open with their customers, even amidst potentially complex takeovers and mergers.

Most recent television advertisements from banks suggest easy-going accessibility by portraying their employees and customers singing and smiling their way through the simple process of opening a bank account or selecting new car insurance. Breezy public relations promotions aside, the truth may be rather different. A bank fails its customers if it continues to use financial gobbledygook and still insists on incorporating Latin, legalese and jargon in customer information without fully explaining such terms. ‘Jargon-free’ now often means a token badge of approachibility that bears little scrutiny, and is no longer the undisputable right of the customer.

To cite an example, over 20 years ago, NatWest were the first organisation to officially pledge clear communications to their customers with a Life Membership of Plain English Campaign. Ten years ago, Royal Bank of Scotland Group acquired NatWest and at this point the new NatWest/RBS amalgamation brought an end to the strong working relationship with plain English.

In recent years we have seen continual evidence of Natwest/RBS producing customer leaflets and letters riven with legalese, financial jargon and gobbledygook.  NatWest’s television adverts highlight longer opening hours, but say nothing about any new attempts at providing clearer information. We are told by their communications team that RBS are currently undergoing further structural changes and recognise the need to improve their written communications for customer, both in NatWest and RBS.

In the meantime, another part of the RBS Group, Ulster Bank, have been providing clear communications following recommendations to the industry following a public inquiry. The Competition Commission has called for key fact information on personal current bank accounts throughout Northern Ireland. This allows customers to easily compare between other services and providers, along with other benefits.

Do you have any examples of impenetrable or difficult bank communications? Please send us your emails with examples of the offending text to press@plainenglish.co.uk.

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