Bad Form

My bank is large and I am small: Perhaps that is why it feels entitled to write to me so impertinently. I received a letter from it the other day with the heading “Some of your account information needs updating.”

My account information does not need anything; it is not the kind of entity that has needs. “It’s very important that all of the information we have about your business is up to date.” To whom is it important? Not to me, it isn’t. All I want is that the bank should operate an account on my behalf into which I can pay money in and out.

“This is to help us stop financial crime.” By that it presumably means financial crime not committed by itself, since earlier this year it was fined $2,000,000,000 for wrongdoing, only one of a succession of many such fines. (Of course, I also have my doubts about the probity of the authorities that levy the fines, which are a convenient way for governments to raise revenue without resorting to taxation.) I find it rather difficult, however, to imagine a financial criminal who was likely to be caught or even deterred as a result of filling in the form sent with the letter.

How an Economy Grows a... Schiff, Andrew J. Best Price: null Buy New $10.99 (as of 12:20 EST - Details) “What you need to do,” says the letter, addressing me in the tone of Richard III refusing the Duke of Buckingham’s request. “Complete the form…along with your supporting documentation…. You’ll need to complete ALL sections of the form and sign the ‘Declaration and signature’ section. We’ll be in touch if there’s anything else you need to do.” Finally, just to introduce a nice little touch of cognitive dissonance, “We’re here to help.”

It appears that, unbeknown to me, I was a very needy person. It so happens that on the day that I received the form from the bank—fillable online, of course—I received a form from my local council. “This form is not a registration form but you do need to complete it.” This would enable the council to know the persons in my house who were eligible to vote and “need to register.”

It seems that neither large corporations nor government agencies are able to make the distinction between “you need to” and “we require you to.” In the case of the council, at least, the menace was explicit: If I failed to fill the form, I could be fined £1,000. In the case of the bank, there was no explicit punishment for failure to fill its form, but on the other hand there was no real benefit offered, either, unlike the council form that told me that “Your vote matters,” and therefore “Don’t lose it.”

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