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Banks criticised by BBC for automated calls

I'm working in San Diego this week, but over the weekend I was sent an interesting story.

The BBC Radio Money Box program has been investigating the use of automated outbound calling by UK banks to chase bad debts.

Some consumers claim that this had led to them receiving up to eight calls a day and Privacy International is arguing that this potentially constitutes harrassment. I can see how this is especially frustrating if the calls are chasing a family member no longer resident at that address.

Lloyds TSB, Natwest/ Royal Bank of Scotland and Halifax Bank of Scotland all use these systems to some degree but say they would not call that often. They say they follow the guidelines laid down by Ofcom, the UK communications regulator and (in the example of Lloyds TSB) they would not expect to call more than perhaps four times and not for more than four days in a row.

To me, this just seems another case of the bank's shooting themselves in the foot. I wrote about the ineffectiveness and decline of outbound calling last week ("Further thoughts on outbound in the UK.....") and while automating the calls might make it cheaper, it hardly makes it more popular. This only adds to thoughts I've had in posts like: "Abbey National fined £30,000 by Ofcom & the future of Outbound in Financial Services" that outbound calling is gets the industry a bad name.

I appreciate fully that banks need to chase bad debts (and some consumers appreciate reminders). However with Ofcom looking to release new, almost certainly tighter, regulations on these outbound systems in June, this may not be the best time for the banks to have poor public relations.

P.S. If any reader requires a guide to call centre outbound technology, this past post provides it: "Outbound, an explanation of the technology"


Comments: (1)

Alex Noble
Alex Noble - McAfee - London 03 June, 2008, 17:00Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

From feedback, I realise I probably didn't set out the two big problems with this form of outbound clearly enough.

The first problem was reasonably well stated, that multiple calls to an individual may construe harassment.

The second, slightly more subtle point, is that a phone number doesn't necessarily map to an individual. It's quite easy to think of scenario where two parents have children either living at home or using the home address while they are at university. In these circumstances, potentially informing whoever answers the phone that another family member has a credit problem strikes me as a significant breach of privacy.


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