After recently interviewing Tamsin Smith, of RED, (see: http://www.ethicalcorp.com/content.asp?ContentID=4693&ContTypeID=61 for the podcast) a collaboration of American Express, Gap, Motorola, and Apple on tackling HIV/Aids in Africa, I signed up for the American Express RED AMEX card.
AMEX were extremely professional in their handling of things. Except one small yet vitally important point if corporate responsibility in financial services is ever to really gain traction – unethical opt ins.
To explain, I am sure most readers will know the trick most companies, including all the banks and many retailers are now employing to squeeze some extra profit out of consumers. It’s called payment protection, or extra insurance. Basically its the same thing – buy a 200 quid product and lose it, and your 5 pounds a month ‘extra’ insurance policy will cover it (even if your household insurance might cover it).
With financial products, of course, its about if you lose your job or get struck down by illness yada yada. The financial and consumer regulators in the UK are now wise to the most onerous schemes and have cracked down, a bit.
Yet the irony of having AMEX put the insurance on my new card at a monthly charge when I specifically HAD not asked for it, while signing up for an ethical product, is not lost on me. Sneakily, they do it in a separate letter, which arrives several days before the card and is littered with confusing jargon and layout. Evidently this is in the hope the consumer will be confused and then will forget about the letter. The charge is added to the card ‘automatically’, according to the terms and conditions, so many wouldn’t notice it.
Upon taking this up with AMEX I was told that it was another department that deals with it (like I care as a customer, I want the brand representative I speak to to sort it, not to be put on hold) then that department, with a hard voiced nasal representative, informed me that it must have been since I had ticked the box on their website. While I am 100% sure I did not, since I am so aware of such scams I spent several minutes scouring the website to make sure I had not done so.
There’s no chance this was my mistake, (another application in a fictional name proved this to me), and so if I am right, this is decidedly dodgy practice by a well known brand that ought to know better. Perhaps this is how they fund their RED donations? I surely hope not.
Toby Webb, Editor