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BEN WILKINSON: NS&I must not shut out older savers in its online drive

A cheque on arrogance: NS&I must not leave older savers behind in its drive to move online, says BEN WILKINSON

Many of us will have paid little attention to NS&I’s announcement last year that its savers would no longer receive cheques in the post for its prize draw winnings.

But then again, many of us are adept at using the internet and have no qualms using a website to submit our bank details.

And, on paper, it seemed like a smart idea — streamline the prize payments system and save lots of paper and money in the process.

Convenient: But receiving a cheque in the post was part of the charm and the attraction of Premium Bonds and many older savers are not comfortable using apps or the internet

But in its drive to become super-efficient, NS&I forgot to consider those the move would leave behind: those who are not comfortable using the internet, and those who enjoy the simple pleasure of receiving a prize cheque in the post. 

That, after all, was part of the charm and the attraction of Premium Bonds — the nation’s favourite savings product — for more than 60 years.

What’s more, the announcement came as National Savings was in the throes of a customer service crisis, struggling to handle calls from savers when lockdown restrictions blighted its call centre operation.

NS&I chief executive Ian Ackerley readily admits it was bad timing. The mostly elderly savers who loved getting prizes in the post found their fears of technology were justified — the system wouldn’t work, and they couldn’t get any help when they desperately needed it.

Money Mail heard from readers who were left confused and lost by the change. They felt forced online and simply didn’t like it.

NS&I made the decision without considering older savers and those who didn’t use the internet. It was a cold-hearted boardroom move that overlooked the fact that many savers are excited to receive a letter and a prize when they win.

So we at Money Mail are delighted that NS&I has now abandoned its plans to scrap prizes in the post.

The bank has managed to get a significant number of savers to register to receive their prizes straight into their bank account or savings pot (thus, saving some money), and those unhappy with the change can keep their postal prizes. It’s a victory for common sense.

One day, everything will be handled online and we will almost all be computer-literate. But that change should come gradually and naturally. 

The hope now must be that other financial firms — who seem obsessed with driving customers online — pay heed to this dignified revolution.

Telephone torture

Money Mail has repeatedly called for customer service operations to up their game in the pandemic. 

For too long now, the virus has been used as an excuse to keep us waiting or to ignore us all together. 

And, as our story today shows, the situation is now beyond a joke.

Just because call centre staff find it easier to work from home, it doesn’t mean they should — especially if customers are the ones paying the price.

Crypto carats

I was baffled to see Sotheby’s announce that it would accept cryptocurrency when bids open for a rare diamond expected to fetch more than £10 million.

The auction house in Hong Kong said: ‘The most ancient and emblematic denominator of value can now… be purchased using humanity’s newest universal currency.’

The problem here is that most economists do not accept that Bitcoin is a proper currency. 

It has no backing and, therefore, no intrinsic value. It is only considered valuable by those dazzled by the buying craze. That’s why its price can plunge if a powerful voice suddenly decries the crypto religion.

I wonder if Sotheby’s has considered what might happen if the diamond is bought with Bitcoin – only for a remark by tech entrepreneur Elon Musk on Twitter to send the value of the digital currency plummeting?

Sotheby’s may as well accept chocolate coins.

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk