Beware! Barclays doesn’t know when your card is being used!

Is the second time in four weeks that Barclays blocks my access to my and my company’s accounts online. Or do they?

I have a couple of savings accounts with them and a current account where I receive a small amount every month. This amount goes straight to the savings account every month, so I only use the debit card to access my accounts online, no shopping, no ATM use (and apparently that qualifies as not using the card regardless of how many times you use it per day to access your accounts online).

A while back I already wrote about the inconvenience of their PINsentry invention, and how the ill-thought experiment cost me more than my share of stress for the sake of security (from their own incompetence, I guess.) They don’t even count the forced used of your card on their PINsentry as existent.

Two unrequested debit cards were issued from our business account and this created a problem too difficult for their little brains to handle.

My personal debit card was blocked (hence I couldn’t access the accounts online), I received a business debit card and no PIN for it, so I couldn’t access online banking.

After several calls with as many useless customer service assistants as I could speak to, they told me I had to go to the original branch where I opened the account to ask “why” they had block my personal debit card. Needless to say, living now 50 miles away, I refused to do a 100 mile round trip just for their incompetence.

I walked down the local Barclays branch and the manager couldn’t figure out what had happened and told me to call customer services again.

After a week without solutions, someone at business customer services told me that my account seemed duplicated, and they had blocked my personal account (even though we never asked for debit cards to be issued from our business account). The lady on the phone told me that she would try and fix it, but she couldn’t told me when. “Keep trying” she said. But if I tried more than 3 times, my online access would be blocked automatically, so I told her I could not do what she was asking me to. Her solution?  “You will have to call every now and then to see whether it has been fixed.” (!!!!)

After a week, I tried at an ATM and the card was working again.

Fast forward to last December 31. Same problem as above. Don’t try to sort anything over new year’s, so I just called them again.

Same thing but this time around, dealing with India. Duplicated account, expired card (true, but never got a replacement) and manual block of the card from the branch were I have to go personally. I refuse again and they told me to go again to a branch and try to find out. I asked to speak to someone who would tell me why business debit cards were issued without our consent and why my personal debit card was blocked and not replaced and she tried to put me through with the complaints department!! That’s how they solve problems, pass it on to complaints department.

I went ballistic and when I asked her why she was putting me through with the complaints department when I didn’t have any complaint (yet) I just wanted an answer, the lady on the phone told me that “that’s just the name of the department but they deal with it.” Ludicrous.

I am now waiting for the local branch to open and start all over again. Ridicoulous.


On the lottery, the infamous tax on the poor, a £49m jackpot

I saw a TV commercial for the next Euromillion lottery draw. There is a £49,000,000 estimated jackpot. That would come handy, wouldn’t it? You could even buy a couple of banks these days.

It is commonly said that lottery is a tax on the poor. Let’s see why:

The theory:
A k-combination is a subset with k elements. The number of k-combinations (each of size k) from a set S with n elements (size n) is the binomial coefficient (also known as the “choose function”):

Where n is the number of objects from which you can choose and k is the number to be chosen, and n! denotes the factorial (the product of all positive integers less than or equal to n). Ein?

For the layman:

Winning selections (Odds)
Jackpot – Match 6 main numbers (1 in 13,983,816)
Match 5 main numbers plus the bonus number (1 in 2,330,636)
Match 5 main numbers (1 in 55,492)

Match 4 main numbers (1 in 1,033)

Match 3 main numbers (1 in 57)

If you look at lottery as a means of getting rich, forget about it, an odd player playing a lucky dip has statistically the same chances of winning the jackpot than someone who plays the same numbers week in, week out for a year. 1 in 13,983,816 chance or 0.0000000715 per cent for the one-off player and 52 in 13,983,816 or 0.00000371 per cent for the lotto junkie.

According to several sociological studies, the wealthiest and the poorest people are least likely to take a chance on the lottery. I thought that having a mortgage, a car and a terraced home was a sign of middle class, but since I use to play Euromillion online every week, I must have been one of the struggling masses. I stopped doing it in March, so I guess that I crawled out of poverty!

Of course, someone will get rich, but don’t forget it, it is just a game. Becoming addict to the weekly draw, playing always the same numbers or playing more than one combination at a time, is a waste of money. A tax on middle and poor classes. Governments should be ashamed of fooling their own customers, sorry their own citizens.

As the old Russian proverb goes, pray to God, but keep rowing to shore. Don’t expect government bailouts of any kind, you are your own bailout.


On the Reticular Activating System and how stupid we are when shopping

You just purchased a flashing new item, and all of a sudden all you can see is other people wearing, driving, eating or carrying that very thing you cherished so much a short while ago.

At some point or another I am pretty sure it has happened to you. A few years ago my girlfriend notoriously confused my friend’s Ford Cougar with a spanking new Merc SL500 convertible. An egg and a kiwi fruit you say? To my surprise, since we bought an Audi A4 Avant, that’s all she sees now, and this time the cars are really like ours.

She’s been hit by the Reticular Activating System (or RAS).

What is this RAS?

Imagine that you’re walking through a noise ballroom. Think of all the noise – hundreds of people talking, music, announcements, waiters offering nibbles and drinks. How much of this noise is brought to your attention? Not a lot. True, you can hear a general background noise, but not many of us bother to listen to each individual sound.

But then you hear your name. Suddenly your attention is full on. Your RAS is the automatic mechanism inside your brain that brings relevant information to your attention.

Your reticular activating system is like a filter between your conscious mind and your subconscious mind. It takes instructions from your conscious mind and passes them on to your subconscious.

Some self-help theories are based on creating a very specific picture of our goal in our conscious mind (like us giving a speech or visualising the perfect summersault). The RAS will then pass this on to our subconscious – which will then help us achieve the goal. What in theory this does is bringing to our attention all the relevant information which otherwise might have remained as ‘background noise’.

Good enough, but what effect RAS has on retail therapy? You think of something you want, you visualise it, you go to the shop, you pay for it, you are momentaneously happy for your purchase and on the way back home, you see the garment (or gadget for the boys) being worn by at least a dozen of people and in four magazines. It ends up at the bottom of the wardrobe.

My advice for all those shopaholics out there, take your time before you go shopping, think a lot about what you want to buy, visualise it, and you will see it in so many places that the novelty will fade off and you won’t desire it anymore. However, if you have a weak self-steem, you might end up craving for it even more… so I am not sure what effect this could eventually have on your current account… Oh well, you can always use spare brain time around you!


On the root of financial problems according to Shel Silverstein

I was just reading Nudge by Richard Thuler and Cass Sunstein (interesting but a bit too academic) and I run into this little poem by Shel Silverstein.


My dad gave me one dollar bill
‘Cause I’m his smartest son,
And I swapped it for two shiny quarters
‘Cause two is more than one!

And then I took the quarters
And traded them to Lou
For three dimes — I guess he don’t know
That three is more than two!

Just then, along came old blind Bates
And just ’cause he can’t see
He gave me four nickels for my three dimes,
And four is more than three!

And I took the nickels to Hiram Coombs
Down at the seed-feed store,
And the fool gave me five pennies for them,
And five is more than four!

And then I went and showed my dad,
And he got red in the cheeks
And closed his eyes and shook his head–
Too proud of me to speak!

As an interesting note, the authors of the book point you to find the poem via Google, as the managers of the late Mr Silverstein estate refused to let them print it on their book. Perhaps they should read the poem themselves.

Perhaps we all should learn of it.


On human nature and making firewood from the fallen tree, the funny side of the credit crunch

I am going to try to put together the few funny bits I’ve come across with during this global human misery that we all now call credit crunch:


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On pooh, Lord Vernment and the lessons to be learnt from Credit-upon-Sink. A medieval story

Once upon a time, there was a small hamlet named Credit-upon-Sink where the Lord Vernment ensured safety and security from strangers. Live was kind, and the banks of the river Sink, fertile.

Lord Govvy, as he was known in the valley, would collect taxes from villagers based on the number of seeds planted every season by the hamlet’s farmers. They were years of mild and gentle weather so it was easy, even for a bourgeois ex-city dweller to work the land and make a profit even after paying the seed-tax.

The newcomers

People from all around the county heard of the opportunity that Credit-upon-Sink’s microclimate represented, so ever greater numbers of blacksmiths, goldsmiths, barristers, architects and glassblowers left the cities for the promise of golden plough.

They brought their savings and started to purchase lots off the hamlet’s farmers who, having discovered that using animal dung for their fields, they could get up to 20 crops per year more than before, so leasing or selling part of their family land would allow them to purchase more cows’ pooh as fertiliser, now renamed manure.

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On the British People’s Bank of Halifax hiking credit card rates

I have a mortgage and a credit card I pay religiously every month to the British People’s Bank of Halifax and to my surprise I received today an ugly piece of marketing literature. It didn’t even come in an envelope, so I almost discarded it, but close inspection made me realise that the content of the flyer was much important than the dress it came in.

Changes to your Halifax Credit Card Conditions

[…] The compound annual interest rates on your credit card will increase to the following:

  • Purchases 25.95% p.a. (variable)
  • Balance Transfers 25.95% p.a. (variable)
  • Cash Advances 29.95% p.a. (variable)
  • Credit card cheques 29.95% p.a. (variable)

The charges will apply to your account from your June 2009 statement date. […]


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