Sometime in the dim, distant past — heaven knows exactly when — I must have registered for internet banking.
Or so the wretched Lloyds app has kept telling me over the past couple of weeks, every time I’ve tried to register anew.
Before you tell me I should just click on ‘forgot your user ID or password?’, believe me I’ve tried. But no dice.
The bank, of which I’ve been a customer for almost half a century — 47 years, to be precise — has refused to recognise my mobile phone number or my two email addresses.
Tom Utley: ‘The bank, of which I’ve been a customer for almost half a century – 47 years, to be precise – has refused to recognise my mobile phone number or my two email addresses’ (stock image)
And though I well remember my account number, my sort code and the names of my first pet, the street where I grew up and my favourite children’s book (I won’t reveal the answers here — I’m not that daft!), none of this appears to have cut any ice with the online security people at Lloyds.
I can only suppose that when I first registered, I must idiotically have used the long-defunct work email address and the number of the mobile phone they gave me at the old job I left almost a decade and a half ago.
But until recently, it didn’t really bother me that I was unable to log on under my own name to the joint accounts I share with Mrs U. (I have an old-fashioned belief, inherited from my parents, that you’re not properly married unless your money is jointly held; I meant it when I promised: ‘With all my worldly goods I thee endow’.)
It didn’t trouble me because for many years now, on those rare occasions when I’ve made bank transactions online, I’ve logged on using my wife’s User ID, her password and her personal information, all of which seem to work a treat.
Lloyds recently announced that it was introducing new security measures to ensure that imposters cannot log on using other people’s details
Before I go any further, I should stress that there was never anything underhand about this.
Where our finances are concerned, at least, we have no secrets from each other — unless you count the exact price Mrs U may have paid for the occasional new frock or pair of shoes, or the horrifying amounts I tend to spend on the razzle, on my rare nights off the marital leash.
No, I’ve always used her details with her full knowledge and permission — which is only fair, as she will readily acknowledge, since something like nine-tenths of the money in our joint current and savings accounts was earned by me.
But all that changed a few weeks ago, when Lloyds announced that it was introducing new security measures to ensure that imposters like me didn’t log on using other people’s details.
Another worry was that one of our savings accounts — the one I use for putting aside cash for my income tax — is in my wife’s name alone, since she opened it for me online.
What if, God forbid, she were to die before me? Shouldn’t we put all the cash into joint names, just to be safe?
In short, we decided that the moment had come to regularise our affairs, so that I could gain access to our accounts under my own identity.
The pair of us would have to visit our local branch together, and get this sorted out once and for all.
When Mrs U rang to arrange an appointment, they suggested that I should contact a helpline instead.
The bank began by closing local branches and urged everyone to go online instead
No doubt they reckoned that ours was a straightforward problem, whose solution could be explained over the phone, in words of one syllable, even to a senile technophobe like me.
But since helplines had been a fat lot of use to us in the past, my wife insisted on a face-to-face visit.
Best to leave the technical stuff to the experts, she said — even though this would mean waiting a fortnight for a time that suited both us and the bank.
So at the appointed hour, a week ago today, we presented ourselves at our local branch. Did I say local?
Well, it’s not so local, since Lloyds closed our nearest branch and shifted our account 45 minutes away from our home by public transport — an hour and a half, there and back.
Mercifully, we have a car for the 20-minute drive, but what about people who don’t?
Anyway, the long and the short of it is that we were closeted for almost two hours with a charming and apparently super-efficient young woman, who patiently tried to register me online.
It wasn’t her fault that her computer kept crashing, or that she had to ask me to type in, then confirm my mobile number, email address, new password and personal information no fewer than five times each — or ten times in all.
Technophobic though I may be, it seems I’m not the only one who experiences the odd difficulty with the online banking they want us all to take up.
Nor was it her fault that by the time we parted, she still hadn’t succeeded in registering me.
But she assured me that within two working days, the Lloyds computer would have absorbed my new information and I’d find it plain sailing to log on. But more of that in a moment.
Apart from wrestling with those technical difficulties, this very nice woman spent part of our interview trying to interest me in insurance services offered by the bank.
She also put me in touch with a firm of financial advisers, with links to Lloyds, saying they might be able to arrange an alternative to our savings account (which, I discover, pays a less-than-princely 0.02 per cent interest per annum!)
Again, I don’t blame her in the least. She was only doing her job, after all. And I cannot stress too strongly that everyone at the branch was extremely pleasant to us.
Even the bank manager himself (they come and go so quickly these days that he must be at least my 20th since I opened my Lloyds account in 1972) dropped in to shake our hands and bid us a cheery hello.
Yet, fairly or not, I couldn’t help getting the feeling that beneath all the camaraderie, the bank was thinking quite as much about its own interests as mine. How could it make more money out of this long-serving customer?
Now, if I felt a little exploited last Friday, how much more reason to feel aggrieved have customers of Barclays, when they were told they would no longer be able to draw their cash from the Post Office.
First the bank closed local branches, urging everyone to go online instead.
Then it made an arrangement with the Post Office, to make up for shutting down its cash machines.
Then it announced that even this modest service was to be scrapped — further sucking the commercial life out of local communities.
And all this to save a paltry £7million a year — paltry, that is, to a bank which made £17million profit per day between July and December.
Why has it taken the intervention of customers, Parliament, newspapers and the Post Office itself to persuade the bank to change its mind (for which, belatedly, three hearty cheers)?
Is there nobody in the financial industry who, without prompting, can tell the difference between right and wrong?
But back to my online woes. This week, after two working days had elapsed since our interview, I attempted to log on to our joint accounts using my new User ID and password — with precisely the same result as before.
So I rang the helpline … to be told that I had entered the ‘wrong information’ and extra security checks would now have to be run.
I would be contacted within five working days — after which I would probably have to make an appointment at my local branch, bringing photo ID (will the picture on this page do?).
Meanwhile, I was on no account to try to log on using my wife’s details.
Oh, well, I suppose it’s nice to know that Lloyds takes cybersecurity seriously.
But I can’t help feeling it would be even nicer if it gave me access to my own dosh.