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Cobblers aren’t just for shoes.

The Family Building Society has always stood up for the use of Plain English in the conduct of its business.

This is excellent of course, but all the more notable from a financial services company because financial gobbledegook was invented by actuaries.

Actuaries, as we know, are hugely clever people – you can tell that because they don’t come out much - who calculate future risk based on collected data from past history. They then use this data to calculate what your insurance policy should cost you and the probability of them having to write a cheque if you claim successfully.

Simple enough in theory but actuaries, and the massive insurance companies they run, hate writing cheques and so they invented a whole new language that no-one but another actuary could possibly understand. Ancillary staff resized

And so tip-of-the-tongue phrases like Aggregate Limit of Indemnity and Ancillary Arbitration Clause were born and moved into pensions (which are essentially insurance policies against not dying) and things like Money Purchase Annual Allowances, Unitised with-profits Funds and my personal favourite, Uncrystallised Pension Fund Lump Sum came to be and so on into investment, banking and eventually taking on a life of its own.

And lo, in time, everyone got used to it and the impenetrable drivel that was the lingua franca of the financial industry. All right, I’m being gratuitously rude about actuaries – I’ve met some nice ones – and in fairness it’s not really their fault – it is what they do. But the evil of incomprehensible jargon, it seems to me, has now become an industry in itself.

So I was hugely amused this week to read in The Times (I have the cutting on my desk to remind me) that a judge attacked a social worker’s report in open court because of the language used in her report about a woman who wanted to care for two children she knew and whom otherwise faced adoption.

Judge Jeremy Lea, sitting in the family court in Nottingham said phrases used such as: “Imbued with ambivalence”, “Having many commonalities emanating from their histories” and “Issues having a significant interplay with histories” were akin to a foreign language and were “linguistic pedantry”.

Judge Lea is now my hero of the week and I hope his words will resonate throughout the corridors of social care as any other institution. It is ironic then, that, as the rest of the world begins to realise the serial flaws of self-created language i.e. that it doesn’t make you look clever, it is just nonsense – it is the financial services industry which is leading the way back to clarity. 

And your favourite Family Building Society is in the vanguard.

By Steve McDowell

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Family Building Society
Ebbisham House
30 Church Street
Epsom
Surrey KT17 4NL
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