VICTORIA BISCHOFF: Time for a tech slowdown

Time for a technological slowdown: The future may be digital, but we don’t have to be there tomorrow, says VICTORIA BISCHOFF

If watching Downton Abbey reruns has taught me anything, it’s that new technology can be intimidating.

In the show’s early days, the cook, Mrs. Patmore, and the butler, Mr. Carson, are confused by “modern” appliances like electric blenders and toasters.

They fear such advances could leave them unemployed and fear they will be left behind.

Tech-Rush: Every digital engine needs to be treated with tremendous care lest we abandon large segments of the population – who are often among the most vulnerable

Tech-Rush: Every digital engine needs to be treated with tremendous care lest we abandon large segments of the population – who are often among the most vulnerable

But all you have to do is replace the electricity with the Internet, and suddenly this story is modern day life.

When we ran a Premium Bond prize check save campaign last year, your moving handwritten letters really made it clear how many people feel alienated by the digital revolution.

One particularly heartbreaking note from an elderly reader said she felt the world was just waiting for her to die so she could move on.

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Because of this, every digital drive needs to be treated with tremendous care lest we abandon large segments of the population – who are often among the most vulnerable.

Part of the problem is that so many companies now think of their customers as numbers in a spreadsheet. Moving everyone online is good for the bottom line, but what about the consequences?

The key to digital revolutions lies in planning. Take the telecom giants, for example. By 2025, they want to switch all fixed-line customers from traditional copper lines to new digital telephone lines that run over the broadband network.

We kept asking if they had thought about what would happen in the event of a power failure and if panic alarms would still work. Were they thinking of customers living in rural areas without decent cell phone coverage?

Despite assurances, it was (predictably) a disaster and the launch had to be halted.

Banks are often no better. Branches are disappearing as more customers manage their accounts online or via a smartphone app.

But for millions of people this is not an option and they have lost their independence because they cannot walk ten miles to the nearest bank.

Then there’s the introduction of smart meters – arguably the biggest digital flop of the last decade.

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The idea is solid. Customers no longer have to crawl under the stairs to read a meter and can better monitor their energy consumption.

But the technology just wasn’t ready. They often don’t work in rural areas, high-rise buildings or if the house walls are too thick.

And we also now have a situation where millions of devices need to be updated because older models become “silent” when you switch providers.

Meanwhile, early claims that these gadgets could save you big bucks were nonsense. And ponderous sales letters misinforming customers that smart meters are required by law have done little to improve perception.

While I have little doubt that the future is digital, businesses need to slow down a bit. We don’t have to come there tomorrow.

scammers widespread

If banks are so worried about rising fraud rates, maybe they might consider making it easier for victims to report fraud?

The new fraud hotline 159 is a great idea. But for it to work, customers need to know it exists. However, since it’s so poorly advertised, I’d bet hardly anyone does it.

It would also be far more useful if callers were routed directly to their bank’s fraud team instead of being passed around houses.

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We are constantly reminded that cyber crooks move at the speed of light. Any delay in reporting a scam drastically reduces the chances of recovering stolen money.

Therefore, given the lack of public awareness of the new 159 service, banks should not consider it a substitute for their own dedicated fraud hotline.

And these numbers should be prominently advertised on the home page of their websites so panicked customers can see them at a glance.

Staff should then be there in seconds to pick up the phone, rather than leaving victims on hold for nearly an hour.

Fraud is the most common crime in the UK today.

Therefore, it is important for banks to respond to fraud reports as urgently as when you dial 999 in an emergency.

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