Time for a tech slowdown: The future may be digital but we don’t need to rush people there, says VICTORIA BISCHOFF
If watching re-runs of Downton Abbey has taught me anything, it’s that new technology can be intimidating.
During the early days of the show the cook, Mrs Patmore, and butler, Mr Carson, are mystified by ‘modern’ gadgets such as electric mixers and toasters.
They fear such advancements could put them out of work and worry they are being left behind.
Tech rush: Any digital drive has to be handled with enormous care so we do not abandon vast swathes of the population – who are often among the most vulnerable
Yet you need only replace electricity with the internet and suddenly this story line is modern day life.
When we ran a campaign to save Premium Bond prize cheques last year, your moving handwritten letters really hammered home how the digital revolution has left so many people feeling alienated.
One particularly heart-wrenching note from an older reader said she felt as though the world was just waiting for her to die so it could move on.
This is why any digital drive has to be handled with enormous care so we do not abandon vast swathes of the population — who are often among the most vulnerable.
Part of the problem is that so many companies now view their customers as numbers on a spreadsheet. Shifting everyone online is good for the bottom line, but what of the consequences?
The key to digital revolutions is in the planning. Take telecoms giants, for example. They want to switch all landline customers from traditional copper wires to new digital phone lines that run on the broadband network by 2025.
We repeatedly asked if they had considered what would happen if there was a power cut and if panic alarms would still work. Had they thought about customers who live in rural areas without a decent mobile phone signal?
Despite assurances, it was (predictably) a disaster and the rollout had to be paused.
Banks are often no better. Branches are disappearing as more customers manage their accounts online or via a smartphone app.
But for millions of people, this isn’t an option and they have lost their independence because they are unable to travel ten miles to their next nearest bank.
Then there’s the smart meter rollout — arguably the biggest digital flop of the past decade.
The idea is sound. Customers no longer need to scramble under the stairs to read a meter and can keep a closer eye on their energy usage.
But the technology simply wasn’t ready. They often don’t work in rural areas, high-rise flats or if a property’s walls are too thick.
And we also now we have a situation where millions of devices need upgrading because older models ‘go dumb’ if you switch supplier.
Meanwhile, early claims these gadgets could save you lots of money were nonsense. And heavy-handed marketing letters wrongly informing customers smart meters are a legal requirement have done little to improve perceptions.
So while I have little doubt that the future is digital, firms must slow down a little. We do not need to get there tomorrow.
If banks are so worried about spiralling fraud levels, perhaps they might consider making it easier for victims to report scams?
The new 159 fraud hotline is a great idea. But for it to work, customers need to know it exists. Yet since it’s so poorly advertised, I’d wager hardly anyone does.
It would also be far more useful if callers were directed straight to their bank’s fraud team rather than being passed around the houses.
We are reminded again and again that cyber crooks move at the speed of light. Any delay in reporting a scam drastically reduces the chances of recovering stolen cash.
So given the public’s lack of awareness of the new 159 service, banks should not be treating it as a substitute for a dedicated fraud helpline of their own.
And these numbers should be clearly advertised on the homepage of their websites so panicked customers can see them at a glance.
Staff should then be on hand to pick up the phone in seconds, rather than leaving victims on hold for close to an hour.
Fraud is now the most common crime in the UK.
So it’s vital banks’ response to scam reports is as urgent as when you dial 999 in an emergency.