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The repeal of the Trucks Act in the mid 1980’s changed workers’ relationship with their wages for ever. A series of Acts in force since the 15th Century were designed to protect workers from bondage to company stores. With the abolition of the Act workers lost the right to request the payment of their wages in cash, and thus began our bondage to the banks. Suddenly, people who had been accustomed to budgeting by the simple expedient of putting their rent in one draw and their housekeeping money in another, were faced with dealing with money as a concept rather than a tangible object. Of course, the change rid employers of the burden of carrying cash and saved many a man from the temptation of handing his weekly wages over the bar on pay day, but it has also inextricably linked the individual to his bank through his deposit account.

For decades, having no bank account meant effective marginalisation within society. But now banks are set to take an even more intrusive role in everyone’s lives. Not only do the banks decline to give a worthwhile return on deposits, they are also mining depositors’ data and selling it to add to the profits they make on lending their money. And the big news is that UK retailers such as Morrison’s, Argos and Pets at Home are signing up to buy consumer data in an effort to predict future spending.

According to reports in Retail Week, ‘US data analytics firm Cardlytics has partnered with Lloyds Banking Group to provide Halifax customers with targeted deals. The service, called Halifax Cashback Extras, will launch in September with offers from retailers including Homebase, New Look, Ocado, The Body Shop, Urban Outfitters and Oasis. The service is the first in the UK to use customers’ banking data to provide targeted retail offers’.

“So what!”, you might say, “I’ve got nothing to hide”; and personally I’m not too worried about privacy either. It is so far eroded already as to be almost irrelevant to this debate. I’m more concerned about the rising tide of predictable drivel coming our way as a result of their efforts.

Anyone who ever made the mistake of handing over their details is accustomed to the never-ending stream of rubbish littering their inbox. I once gave my email address and mobile number to Dwell in exchange for a catalogue and thereafter had the  Sisyphean task of deleting enticements to buy their furniture. What they, and many others, can’t grasp is that just because I once made a vague inquiry about their products I didn’t  fall in love with them, and their persistence makes me less likely to do so! Many other retailers – including ones I like – top up my inbox on a daily basis, and on an equally regular basis I throw their electronic rubbish away! It’s become part of my computer hygiene regime; a bit like cleaning my teeth!

I suppose the major difference with offers generated from analysis of my spending patterns is that they will focus on things I’ve already bought rather than just idly inquired about. So, unless they use their intelligence and creativity, am I going to be bombarded with offers for stuff I’ve already got? Much depends on the way they interpret the data. For instance, I recently went to Peru. If the data miners use that information in the usual way, am I going to get endless offers of woolly hats, Pisco sours, and meals in Lima?

Spending data inevitably reflects what has already happened – history – yesterday! Aren’t shoppers more interested in today, tomorrow, future possibilities, and serendipity? If we’ve got to endure this stuff from our banks, let’s hope they use their imagination. Personally, I’d rather my bank forgot all this nonsense and concentrated on giving me a decent return on my deposits! Thankfully it’s now a whole lot easier to switch!

Michael Hoare