So I split up with my girlfriend. Hey, it wasn’t particularly acrimonious, but I’d prefer it if she didn’t get my mail, just as much as she’d like not to have it piling up. So far I’ve managed to get everyone to take my change of address by phone or online, usually after answering up to ten security questions (WHAT is the flying velocity of a loaded sparrow) – except the good old bank. I happen to bank with Barclays, but I daresay this little mess might apply equally to other banks’ customers too – let me know if you’ve been affected in this way.

BARCLAYSAnyway, I contacted Barclays personal bankers – or at least the call-centre where you can speak to such as James Wood and be patronised to their hearts’ content. Now, when I opened my account… ooooooooh must be fifteen years ago, I gave them a whole load of personal information that even my ex-wife wouldn’t have known… all for the purpoise of positive identification. Unfortunately Barclays obviously wasn’t content with this little pool of Jon’s deepest darkest secrets. Perhaps the bank’s security was breached and they weren’t quite sure what information got out. I don’t know… but anyway… Sometime back in 1999 Barclays allegedly gave me a 5-digit PIN for telephone banking. From there on, therefore, five paltry little digits were thus all that stood between anyone and my money. Unfortunately I don’t have any record of getting this PIN, and so lord knows where it got to and who received it.

So cut back to my most recent telephone call to Barclays, in order to register my change of address which has already occurred. Of course, not having my telephone banking PIN, Mr James Wood was unable to help me. Actually, that’s not quite true, he was able to help me in one of two ways: first, by sending a new telephone banking PIN to the address they have on file – yes, my ex-girlfriend’s address; or by sending all my statements and correspondence to my branch, which for historical reasons is 140 miles away from me in Aylesbury. Thus, Mr Wood’s “help” was akin to offering to cut the surviving foot off a man who’s just had his foot shot off, in order to even them up a bit.

Security is a funny thing. So they say, within a few years, 80% of the processing power of your (no doubt considerably more powerful) PC will be used just to protect itself from nasties attacking it from outside. The banks seem to be incredibly worried about security. But actually, they’re not. They’re incredibly cavalier about the entire subject. They couldn’t give a damn about protecting their customers’ personal data. Just a few years ago my online banking details found their way into the hands of someone with whom I was in litigation – courtesy of… yes, Barclays Bank. I got a nice little cash deposit to say sorry for that one.

If the banks were at all worried about security they wouldn’t be bothering with all that silly chip-and-pin nonsense that causes frayed tempers and growing queues at Asda, they’d have gone for the solution that I and a whole load of other sensible people were proposing back in the late 90s – an escrow/brokerage system (this isn’t the place to explain that one so get in touch if you’d like to know).

As ever, the only customer served by banks’ customer service is the banks themselves. The banks do everything they do for profit, not for us. Call centres employing James Woods are cheaper than branches and branch staff. Opening things up to just a little fraud is ok, because it’s cheaper than proper security. And different PINs for everything might just be a lovely way of covering up possible security problems of the past.