The size of a company seems to be inversely proportional to the quality of service it provides. As markets mature you get consolidation, resulting – in the opinion of this writer – in less choice for the customer and more chance of being lost in the system.

As a case in point I offer you my recent experiences trying to set up online banking for an account I’ve not used in a while. I’ll spare you the details and give you the shorthand. First I had to wait two weeks while they changed one letter – a typo – in the address details they had on file, which of course required a written letter. That done, the website didn’t recognise my bank details so I couldn’t apply online.

So I applied using good old fashioned snail mail, filling in an application form and posting it. A week later, a letter arrived which I expected to be my activation letter. No, it was a letter saying my paper application had been rejected because the address I supplied didn’t match the one on file. Two calls to the bank revealed that – no – the addresses did match, and they would look into it and call me back. The back and forth so far has been between at least 5 different divisions of the bank.

I should mention that this an account I have had for over a decade and which I originally set up over the phone.

Passing my local branch the other day, I decided to pop in and see if they could help. Lo and behold, the system they accessed showed an address that I haven’t lived at for six years, even though I’ve been getting statements to my current address for the entire subsequent period. While the bank hasn’t yet sorted out my online access, my view is that the problem lies with a defunct account I might have had that was with a previously independent bank that the behemoth bank has acquired.

Can you imagine what the back end systems and customer information are like after a generation of M & A activity? It’s hard to imagine how many gremlins are lurking among the mainframes. In this era of multi-channel dealing, where we may choose to interact with suppliers through a variety of media and devices – witness my current issue which I have tried to address by paper, face-to-face, phone, web and chat – they don’t have a cat in hell’s chance of catching up and competing.