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Why building societies should run the transport infrastructure.

Financial services is all about trust in the end

If you take out a mortgage you trust that after 25 years of diligently paying off the loan you will own your own home outright. You open a deposit account, say, and you trust that the interest the building society says it is going to pay you actually gets paid when they say it will get paid. And they’ll give you your money back! Also, you trust your insurance company to pay out of you have a car accident or you come home from holiday to find your sitting room ceiling has become a nice new rather soggy floor covering.

You trust that your investments, within certain parameters, will pay you back more than you put in when you need it for retirement, say. All these outcomes are why financial services exist at all and they happen every day. Yet there is an additional level of trustworthiness with a building society because it is a mutual organisation which means you the customers have a say in how it’s run and surplus cash is used to make its products more competitive.

What’s more, the staff are at hand, friendly and know their business inside out. They are more than willing to help with advice, guidance or even just a chat. In short, your money is safe and the provider does what it said it will do when you put your cash on the counter. That is why, compared with other types of institution, the financial ombudsman deals with relatively so few complaints about building societies. Resized Trust Image

Now, let’s imagine those values were applied to a couple of my experiences with transportation services this week. A normal, everyday business meeting in the great city of Manchester, leaving Euston at 8am and returning at 6pm the same day; easy, you would have thought – especially when the price is a snip at £170.

To cut a long story short, due to a ‘technical fault’ – a fabulous euphemism overused by transport operators – ended up with a double-booked train with no reservations, nowhere to sit and passengers camping out in the cycle racks. To make a short journey long, a two-and-a-bit hour journey becomes four when ‘a fault on the overhead lines’ saw us creeping through the home counties at a trundle. To make matters worse they had not re-stocked and ran out of coffee, beer and other vital travelling staples.

The staff did their best to deal with a bad-tempered train-full but there was a shoulder-shrugging sense of ‘not-my-fault’ through the entire experience. Trust breached.

Secondly, I am required to go to Portugal for the memorial service of a close friend. My ticket was booked in February. The Portuguese national airline – just like the country – is broke and the hand-tied government plans to partially privatise the national carrier in order to raise enough money to have a hope of keeping it afloat.

Cue a ten-day pilot’s strike. This endangers both the future of the airline and the Portuguese government’s tourism revenue, causing further unnecessary damage – and a £250 bill and a lost day to yours truly to make alternative arrangements. Trust breached again.

I say this partially just to have a good moan but on the other I think we should let building societies take over the transport network – it would run on rails.

By Steve McDowell 

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