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Cahoot Online Bank
Advertising Practice


Why Dishonesty in Advertising Matters

I care about dishonest advertising.

On one level, there's the personal mugging aspect. I don't like being mugged and in the same way I don't like being lied to.

It's one thing being lied to by a relative, a teenager or some street beggar, but it's quite another being lied to by big corporations in a way which is condoned by society, and actually, for me, this second issue is the bigger source of disappointment for me.

The fact that we tolerate public lying-for-profit, formally, as a society, is grim evidence for the notion that our society is widely corrupt; dominated by powerful self-interested people who defend the practice because it keeps them in power and it keeps the masses under foot.

From Joe Blow's perspective, we become resigned to our lot, recognising that it's bigger than we are and we are powerless to fix it. We feel defeated and apathetic about any prospect of change.

Daily, in our homes on the TV, we are shown that success means dishonest manipulation. Our morals dissolve. Our society gets poorer.

What About the Watchdogs?

Yes, we have watchdog organisations. They're publicly financed, and in theory, put there to protect the interests of you and me. But, in my experience (which you can read about in this and other articles on this website), Watchdogs become institutions for protecting the livelihoods of those who draw salaries from them. And these employees move between these institutions, building careers out of paying lip-service but carefully avoiding any serious rocking of the rotten boat. Wouldn't want to get wet, after all.

So, they are slow to act, complacent, and inefficient. And in the case of dishonest advertising, they formally permit all kinds of deceit through the mechanism of arse-covering get-outs. In other words, they are expensive and useless, and out here in the real world, we continue to be up to our ankles in stinking nonsense.

The Large Print Giveth...

One of the annoying and all-pervading principles of advertising is that you can't actually LIE unless you take it back in the same ad. BUT - you can lie in big brightly-coloured moving images with emotive sound and dialogue - and you can take it back in tiny fleeting low-contrast text.

Our Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) doesn't see a problem with that, and really - that's all I need to know about our Advertising Standards Authority - right there. Knowing that they think that's just hunky dory, means I also know they are either astonishingly stupid (which is unlikely) or they are not really interested in upholding high ethical standards in advertising. Which makes you kind of wonder why they exist.

I try to fight dishonest advertising but it's ubiquitous, and since the ad people know that the ASA are not interested in real justice in advertising, they know how to play the game and manipulate us within the ASA guidelines.

We're making money hand over fist,
the ASA don't care,
and all's right with the world.

Comforting.

OK - off the soap box then, and on with the show.

Cahoot Online Bank

I have been a customer of Cahoot for a long time. I don't recommend them, but I'm not here to talk about their general incompetence. Specifically, I'm here to talk about one aspect of their advertising, and their dialogue with me about it.

Here's a snapshot from their website as it appeared at the time I was looking into this:

Cahoot home page

See the "headline rates?" 6.05%! Wow. Apply Now! Well, no - because you won't get that rate unless you have more than a million pounds to deposit. For the vast majority of us with less than £50K, we'll get 4.5%.

My guess is they'll claim (a) it says "up to" and (b) the full rates are all included on the same page. Sure. And in my world, (a) the phrase "up to" should be forbidden since it's only logical use is to mislead, and (b) yes, they are, and they're tiny and they're in low-contrast gray-on-white text.

Most people don't read web pages from top to bottom - they scan-and-click - and most will click APPLY NOW and see this next screen:

See how reassuring it is. See that the ugly real-world truth has gone now. They met the terms of the guidelines already, but hey - they don't want to rub it in, right?

That gray-on-white tiny text annoyed me more than usual. I thought it would be amusing to ask this fine upstanding bank - yes BANK - to explain this fine upstanding advertising conduct. So I did.

The whole sorry dialogue is below which my comments (which are simply my personal viewpoint) inline, for completeness, but the fast digest is below, and the conclusions is here.

        1. Why did you choose gray-on-white in small text to show your interest rates?
        2. We tried to call you - please call us
        3. I prefer writing - please write
        4. We feel the ads and the rates are clearly marked
        5. You didn't answer my question - please do so now
        6. Our legal team also agree our rates are clearly marked
        7. Please answer the questions I have asked you
        8. The ad says "up to" and the rates are clearly visible - there is no deceit
        9. You have not answered my question - please do so now
        10. We chose the colour-scheme with the visually impaired in mind
        11. Are you serious? Please confirm you are speaking for Cahoot
        12. Our ad has white-on-burgundy and black-on-beige
        13. No they're not - in two browsers, and here are screen-shots to prove it
        14. Our website has no visible issues as per your complaint & no-one else complained
        15. I'm very fed up with you people - please escalate this
          [they never did & ignored me from then on]

For my concussion, please go here.


On the Cahoot home page there is an ad for a savings account offering 6.05%.

When I click the MORE INFO link, I can see a bunch of other features, but I don't see mention of needing more than a million pounds to get that rate.
I see APPLY NOW.

However, way below that beige ad, in another panel, in small low-contrast grey in grey text, I see the rates you have sent me.

It seems clear to me, Melissa, that Cahoot's intention is to mislead potential savers.
The large print giveth, and the small print taketh away.
The headline rate will be available to almost no-one.

How does it look to you?

Specifically, why are your actual rates hidden in this devious way?

I'm sure Cahoot will come up with some creative corporate claptrap to explain this away,
but it will be interesting (in a REALLY annoying kind of way) to watch you do it.

Frankly - in my view, you're crooks. Crooks who own a bank.
And if I ruled the world, the architects of this particular piece of corporate deception would be serving time in prison.

OK, over to you and yours, Melissa.

Thanks,
Chris

Dear Mr Wesley

Thank you for contacting cahoot in Coventry.

I tried calling you today in regards to the email which you have sent, but unfortunately there was no answer.

If you wish to discuss this matter further, please feel free to call me on 0844 9000 900.

if you require further assistance please do not hesitate to contact us again.

Kind regards
Moomie Choudhury

Emails aren't always secure, and they may be intercepted or changed after they've been sent. cahoot doesn't accept liability if this happens. If you think someone may have interfered with this email, please get in touch with the sender another way. This message doesn't create or change any contract. cahoot doesn't accept responsibility for damage caused by any viruses contained in this email or its attachments. Emails may be monitored. If you've received this email by mistake, please let the sender know at once that it's gone to the wrong person and then destroy it without copying, using, or telling anyone about its contents.

cahoot is a division of Abbey National plc.

Abbey National plc. Registered Office: Abbey National House, 2 Triton Square, Regent's Place, London, NW1 3AN, United Kingdom. Registered Number 2294747. Registered in England. Authorised and regulated by the Financial Services Authority. FSA registration number 106054.

I have removed Cahoot's disclaimer from all subsequent emails to save space.
Hello Moomie,

I would prefer a written response in email, please.

Regards,
Chris

Dear Mr Sweeney,

Thank you for contacting cahoot in Coventry.

With reference to your email, my colleague has reviewed your complaint, we do feel we have marketed our product fairly and have advertised our rates clearly.

Please find enclosed the next stage you need to go through.

Please be assured we have carried out a full investigation for you. I hope
you feel we have offered a fair response to all of the issues you raised. If
you remain unhappy, you may refer your concerns to the Abbey Central
Complaints Team within 8 weeks, the address to contact is:

Complaints
Abbey
PO Box 5129
Milton Keynes
MK9 2YN

You can find details of how to take your complaint further with Abbey at
http://www.cahoot.com/legal/legal.html#importantInfo under the heading
'Complaints policy' which explains how we deal with complaints and the role
of the Financial Ombudsman Service.

I hope that I have fully answered your query and you are satisfied with my response.

If you require any further assistance please do not hesitate to contact us again.

Kind Regards,

Claire
cahoot

I have no idea why Claire thinks I'm Mr Sweeney. Perhaps sheis imagining the monster she must be dealing with.

Note also that each time we go round the "customer service" loop, I get a new person. I'm sure they keep a log but when customer services is set up this way, it's a recipe for having your customer kicked from pillar to post. Each operative may feel the urge to kick the customer over the fence with any old guff, knowing that next time they come back (if they can be bothered - and they know that most won't) - some other poor operative will get to deal with it.

Imagine how different it would be if Clire knew that she was stuck with me until I decided to go away. An entirely different set of motivations come into play.

However, no-one does that. It seems to me that customer service operations these days are set up to make customers so tired and frustrated that the pain of using it outweighs the pain of putting up with whatever it was you were moaning about in the first place. The call centre staff are just canon fodder; under-paid and under-trained - there to soak up abuse and stodge up the customer's urge for a sensible resolution to their complaint.

Yes, I understood that the first time you said it.

You say that you hope you have fully answered my query, but really - that's just standard guff, isn't it?

Because you know full well that you have not answered any part of my query.

Could you answer the questions I asked you in my last email, please?

Thanks,
Chris

Dear Mr. Wesley

Thank you for contacting cahoot in Coventry.

I am very sorry that you are not happy with the responses that we are sending to you however we have referred your query to our legal team and the response we have received is that the way in which our rates are marketed are not misleading to our customers.

If you remain unhappy with the way in which our products are marketed or even with our responses to your queries, you may refer your concerns to the Abbey Central Complaints Team within 8 weeks, the address to contact is:

Complaints
Abbey
PO Box 5129
Milton Keynes
MK9 2YN

You can find details of how to take your complaint further with Abbey at http://www.cahoot.com/legal/legal.html#importantInfo under the heading 'Complaints policy which explains how we deal with complaints and, the role of the Financial Ombudsman Service.

Kind Regards,

Clare Martin

I resisted all of their attempts to push me down their complaints process. It is paper-based (i.e. slow and costly), and I was concerned that it might be a second-level motivation sink.

Anyway - I was there, now - speaking with things called "Customer service representatives". Why can't they deal with my issue - or find someone who can, and route them to me via email?

We are going around in circles, and it reflects very badly on your service quality.
Review the case history, and stop providing knee-jerk formulaic responses.

Please read my questions and then answer them.

Thank you Claire,
Chris

Almost no-one is bloody-minded enough to get this far, and I think that is what they rely on. Most of us roll over and take it where the sun don't shine and try to feel good about it.

As far as I can see - either each and every person I have dealt with thus far is an idiot, or else - they're not idiots, but they're trying to make me go away through stonewall-induced frustration and fatigue.

Dear Mr Wesley,

Thank you for contacting cahoot in Coventry.

We have explained that on the homepage, it states 'up to 6.05% gross p.a .'.

However when you click on 'more info', the bottom of the page then states:

*The cahoot savings account rates apply as follows:
4.50% gross p.a./AER for credit balances under £50,000; and,
4.75% gross p.a./4.63% AER for credit balances of £50,000+ ***
5.00% gross p.a./4.75% AER for credit balances of £100,000+ ***
5.25% gross p.a./4.88% AER for credit balances of £250,000+ ***
5.50% gross p.a./5.00% AER for credit balances of £500,000+ ***
5.75% gross p.a./5.13% AER for credit balances of £750,000+ ***
6.05% gross p.a./5.28% AER for credit balances of £1,000,000+ ***

It also states when you click on rates and fees at the bottom of the page and click on savings account, in detail, the rates on the cahoot savings account.

It is not 'deceptive' or 'hidden' from the potential customer and is advertised correctly.

Please be assured I have carried out a full investigation for you. I hope you feel I have offered a fair response to all of the issues you raised. If you remain unhappy, you may refer your concerns to the Abbey Central Complaints Team within 8 weeks, the address to contact is:

Complaints

Abbey
PO Box 5129
Milton Keynes
MK9 2YN

You can find details of how to take your complaint further with Abbey at http://www.cahoot.com/legal/legal.html#importantInfo under the heading 'Complaints policy which explains how we deal with complaints and, the role of the Financial Ombudsman Service.

This is the next step if you wish to take this matter further as there is not anything we can advise you of further in regards to the advertisement of the rates of the cahoot savings account.

It is clear and explanatory on the cahoot homepage of what we can offer you if you wish to apply for a cahoot savings account.

If you require any further information please do not hesitate to contact me.

Kind regards

If you require any further assistance please do not hesitate to contact us again.

Kind Regards,

Donna Egan

You have not answered my questions.

You placed the the interest rates outside the main area of focus. You placed them in small text, in a low-contrast grey-on-grey colour scheme.
I have repeatedly asked you why you did that.
You have repeatedly avoided answering that question.

Now. I will keep asking until you either answer me or you refuse to continue this dialogue.
Whichever it is, at that point, I will publish the entire sorry mess on the web for the world to see how well you deal with enquiries like mine.

Over to you.
Dear Mr Wesley,

Thank you for contacting cahoot in Coventry.

Any rate changes on your account are sent out also via email giving you 30 days notice of any charges applied to your account.

In regard to the colouring of our web site we consulted a number of organisations to bring the web site in line for the visually impaired.

Kind Regards,

Wendy Brookes

Important - FRAUDULENT EMAILS

We would like to confirm that cahoot does not send any emails to customers requesting their security details or any other confidential information.
If you are concerned that you may have disclosed any confidential information, or have any queries about security, please click on 'contact us' once you have logged in.

Now, I give Wendy some credit here, because she is the first person in 9 interactions who actually tried to answer the simple question I asked.

Unfortunately, the answer she presents is preposterous, if delightfully so.

Wendy,

Thank you so much for brightening up my morning.

Are you SERIOUSLY saying that you chose small grey text, on a grey background - not to hide your actual interest rates - but to assist with the visually impaired?

Please answer that, officially, YES or NO on behalf of Cahoot and Abbey National Plc.

Feel free to escalate if you don't have the authority to make such a statement.

And then - What kind of visual impairment is that strategy designed to help with?

Regards,
Chris

Dear Mr Wesley,

Thank you for contacting cahoot in Coventry.

We have checked the web site it shows that our rates and fees are white wrighting on a burgundy back ground and black wrighting on a pale pink back ground.

As advised by my college if you have any further complaints you will have to address these to our stage two complaints address:

By post:
Complaints
Stage Two
PO Box 5129
Milton Keynes
MK9 2YN

By phone: 0845 600 6014*

By fax: 0845 600 1378

By e-mail: customerservices@abbey.com

Kind Regards,

Wendy Brookes

Wendy,

I have included a screenshot of what I see when I view the page - it makes no visible difference if I look at the page in Internet Explorer or Firefox.
The full list of rates is at the bottom of the screenshot below. They look like grey on grey to me.

Perhaps you could make a case for saying it's slightly purple, but that does not materially affect the fact that the rates are very inconspicuously displayed,and that this looks like a conspicuous decision on Cahoot's part.

No-one has answered my question - so it remains to be answered by you - or perhaps - yet another of your colleagues.

Regards,
Chris
Dear Mr Wesley,

Thank you for contacting cahoot in Coventry.

We have checked our website and it shows no visible problem as per your issue. If you wish to proceed please call the centre on 0844 9000 900 so that we can complete a technical investigation.

Please note there have been no reported problems from any other customers and we have checked our website ourselves.


Kind Regards

Harjit Dhesi

It just goes on and on and on and on and on and on and on, doesn't it?
I will not phone you.
I will not initiate a "formal complaint" to your postal address.
I will not give up nor go away.
I will keep going until you either answer satisfactorily or discontinue this dialogue, at which point I will publish all of this online.
In the meantime, you just keep growing a longer and longer record for being at best incompetent and at worse, devious and manipulative.

Please escalate this to your customer services manager and have them respond to me in email please.

Thank you.

Chris Wesley

Conclusion

Well, yes, I gave up despite what I said. They ignored me.

Today, months later, I have no credible explanation from Cahoot about why they chose gray-on-white text, outside the main ad in small text, to display their full rates, whilst they chose large, brightly coloured high-contrast text inside the main ad to highlight a rate which almost no-one will get.

Well, I didn't completely give up, because I've spent this Sunday morning writing up the whole pathetic episode in the hope that it might make some difference. And there is some evidence to suggest that it will. Ocean Finance no longer say their "rates are competitive", and Duracell specify which kind of battery theirs lasts much longer than.

And there's one more lever on decency I am going to try.

Please use the form below to express your views on this article and on Cahoot's conduct in dealing with my enquiry and in designing their ad in the first place. Perhaps if Cahoot get thousands of emails form people who think they stink they'll think again, and if I get thousands of emails telling me I'm a tiny-minded moron, then maybe I'll jump out the window and save everyone a lot of bother.

Cahoot have been notified of this article. If they would like to provide a response, I will include it here verbatim.

Please provide feedback on this issue

Your email address:

Why did Cahoot present their interest rates as they did?

How well do you think Cahoot dealt with my enquiry

Anything else to add?

Please enter "1998" in the box below to keep out SPAM-bots:

 

Here is your feedback so far:

CahootMotive = They were trying to mislead

CahootSupport = 2 - Sub-standard

Comments = I have nothing to do with ABBEY or any of shoots / companies to do with it
I think the article is excellent, and wish you well.

what I do find odd though, is that you yourselves have then made blatant attempts to mislead site visitors (BTW - I have no affiliation with Abbey/Santander/Cahoot) in the placement of your google adsense ads - which clearly are designed to look like navigation items, but are actually advertising links which you get paid for should someone be stupid enough to click on......and whilst I acknowledge your disclaimer, it is also tantamount to asking people to click on your ads, which is against Googles T&Cs for adsense......

RESPONSE:

Firstly, thanks for bothernig to write. Secondly, I welcome your frank criticism, but it is based on a false premise. We do not control what ads Google places on our pages. Google works out what it thinks the page is about, and displays the ads it feels would be most useful to page visitors. In some cases (like this one) is may seem that we're biting the hand that feeds us, and I guess we are (though it feeds us very little indeed), but we're not doing it deliberately. We have added an explanation of this to next to the Google ads on all of our pages.

CahootMotive = They were trying to mislead

CahootSupport = 2 - Sub-standard

Comments = I also am annoyed by this Banks application process - which I feel is discriminatory. An apllication for a fixed rate bond online requires that you have 2 phone numbers - otherwise it doesnt process. Thats it - no second phone - you're not worth dealing with.

CahootMotive = They were not trying to mislead

CahootSupport = 5 - Excellent

Comments = To be honest I think the advertising is absolutely spot on. Of course the rate is highlighted, but the words 'up to' are clear even when I take my glasses off.
Hey ho. Storm in a teacup.

They sent quite a few more e-mails than I would have, and understandably probably went out and got drunk.

RESPONSE: ... and you provided your email address. Very unusual.

There is only one logical meaning of the phrase "up to" and that is "not more than". So why use it? The answer is clear -- because you can put a big number there without making an illegal claim. Despicable.

And what about the large print/small print divide? Why do that? Of course, there is only one reason - it is to decieve the casual observer. It is to create a falsely positive impression in the reader. It is fundamentally evil.

You probably think it's just fine and dandy to call broadband packages "unlimited" in big print, then point out in some distant and tiny, low-contrast sub-note somewhere, that actually "unlimited" means 500MBytes.

If you have substantive arguments against these conclusions I would love to hear them.

This isn't a storm in a teacup, it is systematised lying, supported by the watchdogs.

I would also be interested to know if you are an employee of Cahoot, or of an organisation which uses similar advertisign pracice to promote products and services through deceit, or work in advertising yourself.

Are you?

CahootMotive = They were trying to mislead

CahootSupport = 1 - Appalling

Comments = What did you expect? - the CEO of Santander plays golf(or maybe no longer) with Fred Goodwin.........

YOu might add AA Savings aka HBOS to the rogues' gallery on account of their lousy customer service.

 

 
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