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a personal view from Erithacus
16th March 2003
Complain, complain, complain
If it is not right, we complain.
If someone makes a mistake, we complain.
No longer do we believe it is not British to complain. The stiff upper lip has suddenly become completely rigid - but far from its former tight-lipped silence, it is now more often stretched back across its owner’s upper teeth to make way for bellows of anger vented at all and sundry when something has not turned out as planned.
Quite right, you might say. Quite right that we should make our voices heard when we have not been treated fairly. Quite right too that we should endorse and encourage consumer groups and other who campaign for a "fair deal" for all.
Yet there are those who appear to be making a veritable art-form of complaining; those who, in the absence of anything to complain about will go out of their way to find something - anything - they can use to justify yet another complaint.
Complaining, now, has spread to our investments. Certainly we have much to be unhappy about. The falling stock markets of the last few years have left many of us struggling to see a reasonable return on our pensions, endowments and the many other investment vehicles into which most of us carelessly threw our hard-earned pennies in the expectation of financial safety and security. It is easy, now, to see most of those whose management methods were far from perfect; easy to see those who took chances with our money and whose prudence left much to be desired.
But do we really believe there are many, if any, of these who actually intended to hurt us? Do we actually think that for one moment there was a single one of them who did not believe that he and his financial organisation could produce for us at least as good a return on our investment as we would get anywhere else? Is there any investment product provider in this country that has not always done its best - or as close to its best as makes no significant difference?
I doubt it.
So, without losing sight of the importance of highlighting and investigating matters that have clearly not gone according to plan, perhaps we should also be looking a little more closely at those doing the complaining.
Take, for example, the "Investors Association". Its very name might have been designed to strike fear into the hearts of less-than-prudent investment product providers, and stir the apathetic long-suffering investor into action. It can be found on the Internet at www.investorsassociation.org, and with such an impressive web site and such noble aims of championing the small investor, it must surely be just what we need in these days of falling investment values and question marks over the ways investment providers run their businesses.
To look at the campaigns the Investors’ Association is running takes the visitors straight to the web site forums. Excellent, one thinks, a chance to see what the members are talking about. A little disappointing to note there are currently just 158 members, but perhaps not all of them are recorded. And so I join, to put my weight behind those already commenting and discussing all the problems in the investment industry.
Odd. I have completed the registration procedure, and now more "forums" have appeared as I am a "member" instead of merely limited to a guest’s view. Yet still I cannot add my opinion to any of the forums.
Ah, yes. There it is. A little note telling me that only "editors" can add their comments. Never mind. I’ll read what they all have to say.
As I read I become more and more concerned. With every one of the thousands of messages in the many, many threads of complaint displaying letters to and from financial organisations is there the slightest indication that anyone other than the few founders of the "association" have ever had a single one of their own complaints considered. Nowhere, despite the plethora of pseudonyms under which the mountains of complaint are written is there any sign that a single line has been composed by anyone other than those same few founders of the "association". Certainly there are copies of letters written by long-suffering officials at banks and building societies laboriously replying with remarkable patience and polite forbearance to the matters raised by one or other of the founders of this "association". But as for representing any other "members", I could find not one shred of evidence it had ever happened.
And as I continue from one message to another, all the time a mass of flashing, coloured advertisements at the top and side of the web site’s display on my computer screen exhorts me to take a loan; to collect coins; to have a £500 free overdraft; to transfer my credit card balance; to play the Lottery; and much more.
So here, indeed, is complaining taken close to its ultimate. Through the medium of the Internet a very small group can not only give the impression of being a much larger organisation, pander to the whims and fancies of its owners, but also can do all of this at very little cost to themselves and happily funded by simple advertising. Excellent, if you have something to complain about.
But perhaps the rest of us and those on the receiving end of the complaints might do well to beware of such sheep in wolves’ clothing.
16th March 2003
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