“Despicable” ME? – an update

A change of heart

ME Bank’s CEO, Jamie McPhee, issued a statement on their website and on Facebook on 8 May 2020 to advise that anyone who has had their home loan redraw limit reduced can request that it be changed back, and has acknowledged that their actions were “poorly communicated”. He has also stated that the action was not taken for liquidity reasons, which some pundits have alluded to across both formal and social media platforms.

While some people on Facebook have been saying that people shouldn’t have to request this, it should just be done, ME is arguing that some customers may be happy to leave things as is. In this regard, I think this stance is reasonable – they cannot magically know whose situation has been extremely adversely affected, so it makes sense for them to ask people to advise them of their preferred option. After all, isn’t that what everyone is saying they wanted to happen before having their redraw limits reduced? Communication is a two-way street.

To this end, ME have set up a dedicated hotline for people to call, and there is also an online form that customers can complete to request that their redraw limit be restored to what it was. The number and the link to the online form can be found on the CEO’s statement. The online form is pretty simple to complete, and you can opt to have the full amount returned to “available for redraw” status, or just part of it.

Communication issues

If there’s anything I’d particularly like ME Bank (and every other bank and business out there) to take away from this, it’s that timely communication really is the most important thing in maintaining the trust and good relationship between a business and it’s clients. And there’s more than one factor to “timely”, and that’s the postal service and any mailing house service to which the bank might potentially the printing and enveloping of their outgoing mail. When you factor in these elements, you really need to be well ahead of the curve when providing important information to customers.

I can’t speak to the efficiency of mailing houses, but I am a former Postal Manager so I know a bit about the postal service. When I cleared my post office box yesterday (8 May) I found a letter from ME advising me that my redraw balance was being reduced. That letter is dated 23 April 2020. From memory, I saw something recently – either in one of the online articles or in one of the responses to ME’s Facebook posts – that indicated that the adjustments to customers’ redraw limits were made starting on 24 April 2020 – the day after the letter is dated. (For the record, my loan account adjustment was made on 27 April 2020.)

Australia Post has been saying for some time now that they cannot meet the usual mail delivery schedules due to the reduction in available flights now that the airlines have been grounded, and the corresponding increase in parcel volumes (because we’re all shopping online now). They suspended their guarantee on Express Post, for example, on 20 April 2020, and advice that letter deliveries would be reduced was published in an article in the Sydney Morning Herald on 21 April 2020. They have also advised that the federal government is making some temporary changes to delivery standards in response to the restrictions imposed by the coronavirus pandemic. This includes (quote):

  • adjusting the existing service standards on other letters, meaning Australia Post will deliver letters in metropolitan areas every second day
  • extending the required delivery time for regular intrastate letters to five days after the day of posting.

Given these current impacts, producing a letter the day before you’re going to start removing customers’ access to funds cannot under any circumstances be considered to be timely advice. In fact, even if the coronavirus had never happened, this timing would’ve been hopelessly inadequate because normally a letter would take at least a day to reach a destination within the city of posting, and a minimum of two days to reach an interstate capital city. Add to this whatever delays might be caused by the use of a mailing house, plus the fact that businesses usually access bulk mailing services, which often exchange adherence to regular delivery schedules for a significantly reduced postage rate, and there’s basically no way for the business to know for sure when their customers will receive their letter. And just because a letter is dated on a particular day, that’s not proof that it was posted that day – in fact, the envelope my letter came in is postmarked 28 April 2020 by the Dandenong Letter Centre. Even allowing for the possibility that the letters were posted the day before they went through the postmarking machine at the mail centre, that still indicates that they were quite likely not posted any earlier than May 27.

Lessons learned, or lessons identified?

A former supervisor of mine who is highly experienced in project and high level policy work introduced me to the concept of lessons learned vs. lessons identified. I’ve done project work myself and have been through the process of identifying and documenting lessons learned. But my observation since is that my former supervisor was right – we do identify lessons, but it’s debatable whether those lessons are truly learned, because unless an organisation makes those lessons available for future reference somewhere where all employees can access them, then they really are only lessons identified.

So, will ME and other banks and businesses actually learn from this lesson, or will it just be a lesson identified? Only the future will tell!