Pru fined after mixing up two customers

Prudential officedChris Young/PA Archive/Press Association Images

The Information Commissioner has fined Prudential £50,000 for a mistake it made in 2007, and took 42 months to resolve. It all went wrong when the company confused two customers with the same name and birth date and merged their accounts.

So what happened next, and could it happen to you?
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Confusion

The problem started when the company mistakenly merged the retirement accounts of two customers with the same name and date of birth. To be fair to them, this came about because a financial adviser accidentally sent the first customer's address to the company - asking them to add it in as the second customer's new address.

However, the customers in question then made every effort to resolve the problem, but ran into brick walls every time. In one instance one of the customers wrote to the company saying that there was clearly a mistake, because he hadn't changed his address for the last 15 years.

However, Prudential failed to deal adequately with the mix up for more than three years, by which time thousands of pounds had been put into the wrong account.

Failures

The fine was issued not because of the original mistake, but in the way it had subsequently been handled. Stephen Eckersley, the commissioner's head of enforcement said: "Inaccurate information on a customer's record, particularly when the record relates to an individual's financial affairs, can have a significant impact on someone's life. We hope this penalty sends a message to all organisations, but particularly those in the financial sector, that adequate checks must be in place to ensure people's records are accurate."

He added that Prudential had revisited staff training and improved the way customer records are handled as a result of the case. It should mean less chance of this happening at this particular company.

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Pru fined after mixing up two customers

More than 46,000 of 106,000 the complaints received by the FOS in the second half of last year related to payment protection insurance (PPI). And the organisation is expecting to receive a record 165,000 PPI complaints in 2012/2013.

The huge numbers are due to the PPI mis-selling scandal that should now be a thing of the past, but there is no doubt that the insurance, which can add thousands to the cost of a loan, is highly unpopular!

(Pictured: Martin Lewis after the PPI payout ruling)

Complaints about mortgages jumped by 38% in the last six months of last year, the FOS figures show, compared to an increase of just 5% in investment-related complaints.

Common gripes about mortgages include the exit penalties imposed should you want to sell up or change you mortgage before a fixed or discounted deal comes to an end, and the high arrangement fees charged by many lenders.

While there is nothing in the data released by the FOS about the number of complaints relating to savings accounts, hard-pressed savers have been struggling with low interest rates for several years now.

You can get up to 3.10% with Santander's easy-access eSaver account, but many older accounts are paying 1.00% or less and even this market-leading offer includes a 12-month bonus of 2.60% - meaning that the rate will plummet to just 0.50% after the first year.

Banks are imposing the highest authorised overdraft interest rates since records began, with today's borrowers paying an average of 19.47%, according to the Bank of England.

A typical Briton with an overdraft of £1,000 is therefore forking out around £200 in interest charges alone. Coupled with meagre returns on savings, it's enough to make your blood boil!

While authorised overdrafts may seem expensive, going into the red without permission will cost you even more due to huge penalty fees.

Barclays, for example, charges £8 (up to a maximum of £40 a day) each time that there is not enough money in your account to cover a payment.

If you need to send money abroad, the likelihood is that your bank will impose transfer charges - and offer you a poor rate of exchange. Someone transferring a five-figure sum could easily lose out by £500 or more as a result.

The good news, however, is that you can often get a better deal by using a currency specialist such as Moneycorp.

Automated telephone banking systems, not to mention call centres in far-flung parts of the world, are one of our top gripes - especially as we often encounter them when we are already calling to report a problem.

In the words of one disgruntled customer: "What is it about telephone banking that turns me into Victor Meldrew? Well, maybe it's the fourteen security questions, maybe it's the range of products that they try to push or maybe it's because I'm forced to listen to jazz funk at full volume while my phone bill soars.

"Actually though, I think it's because the people I eventually speak to rarely seem able to solve the issue I'm calling about."

The days of a personal relationship with your bank manager are long gone - for the huge majority of us at least.

When ethical Triodos Bank investigated recently why around 9 million Britons would not recommend their banks to a friend or relative, it found that almost a third felt they were not treated as individuals. Another 40%, meanwhile, were simply disappointed with the customer service they received.

When you're in a rush, the last thing you want to do is wait in a long queue at your local branch.

Researchers at consumer champion Which? recently found that most people get seen within 12 minutes, but you could have a much longer wait if you go in at a busy time. Frustrating stuff!

The Triodos Bank research also indicated that the bonus culture that ensured the bank's high-flying employees received large salaries, even when it was making a loss at the taxpayer's expense, was hugely unpopular with consumers.

About a quarter of those who would not recommend their current banks said this was the main reason why. And with RBS executives sharing a £785 million bonus pool despite the bank, which is 82% publicly owned, making a loss of £2 billion last year, it's not hard to see why.

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Would it happen to you?

And while the company was keen to point out that the chances of falling foul of this sort of mistake are very small, mistakes do happen in all sorts of companies. Eckersley added: While data losses may make the headlines, most people will contact our office about inaccuracies and other issues relating to the misuse of their information." In fact, inaccurate data is the third most common complaint to the Information Commissioner.

The only way to protect ourselves from it is to keep up with the paperwork. We need to know what we expect from each company we have dealings with - from our insurer to our bank and pension company. We need to know roughly what money we expect to have in each instance, and we need to check every piece of paper that comes through the door.

It may not make for fascinating (or cheerful) reading, but it's the only way to stay one step ahead of a mix-up that could leave you substantially out of pocket until it is resolved.

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Figures from charity Age UK show that 29% of those over 60 feel uncertain or negative about their current financial situation - with millions facing poverty and hardship.

Even though saving for retirement is not much fun, the message is therefore that having to rely on dwindling state benefits in retirement is even less so.

To avoid ending up in this situation, adviser Hargreaves Lansdown recommends saving a proportion of your salary equal to half your age at the time of starting a pension.

In other words, if you are 30 when you start a pension, you should put in 15% throughout your working life. If you start at 24, saving 12% of your salary a year should produce a similar return.

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