Does my bank know whom it is addressing?

2012-11-23 10:27

Georgina Guedes

A couple of weeks ago, I received this SMS from my bank: "Let Absa notify u via SMS of transactions on ur Absa credit card." I would have thought it was clearly from some kind of phishing scammer, if it wasn't for the fact that it then directed me to Absa's actual website.

I am 34 years old. I am a Platinum account holder. I am a language practitioner. I don't appreciate being spoken to like this by my bank. I am not some teenager whose brain is so numbed by SMS shorthand that I wouldn't know proper grammar and punctuation if it leapt from a page and lodged itself in my eyeball.

The offence I have taken is twofold. The first problem is the security issue. If my bank wants me to query any "suspicious" e-mails that they send me, then there should be a consistent tone to their communications - one of formal professionalism.

Their SMSs should not sound like they are written by teenagers who didn't do so well in English. The use of informal SMS speak brings them dangerously close to sounding like the e-mails I get all too often telling me to click on the link to confirm my details.

My second point of offence is my own sensitivity to bad language. A large part of what I do for a living is consult to companies about how to speak plainly, and how to adjust their message appropriately for different audiences and media. But no matter whether they were talking on Twitter, SMS, e-mail or telephone, for anyone who isn't my buddy to address me like one is in appropriate.

My husband put it beautifully when I showed him. "I want my bank to be able to do maths and write in English." I agree. Their communications should fill me with confidence that the operation storing and investing my money for me is staffed with intelligent and competent people well suited to the jobs that they do. "Ur Absa credit card" most certainly does not.

Interestingly, manages to run a serious business - keeping planes in the air and passengers alive - while communicating with their customers using humour. The difference there is that they are slick and they are consistent. I know I'm going to get greeted by their staff as a superhero, and that's OK, because it's done in such a way that it’s clear that they’ve hired clever people to shape that kind of messaging.

Absa's SMSs sound like they've let some manager's teenager daughter handle customer comms while she's on her school holidays. And don't come to me with any nonsense about saving characters. I could have come up with about seven ways to make that sentence shorter that didn't require butchering the English language.

At the same time as I abhor jargon like "attached herewith" and "should you require… please do not hesitate...", and encourage all my clients to address their staff and customers in plain English, I don't believe that this extends to downgrading all communication to teenage joshing.

- Georgina Guedes is a freelance writer. You can follow @georginaguedes on Twitter.

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Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

  • squeegee.pilot - 2012-11-23 10:59

    Well said. SMS language drives me potty, especially when used on News24... ABSA should know better.

      JohncarlosBiza - 2012-11-23 11:48

      They don't do it coz they're lazy, they use shorthand coz they can't fit all the characters into one SMS if they type the words out in full. Many other companies do this. Storm in a teacup

      squeegee.pilot - 2012-11-23 12:21

      John.. read the article before you comment - the writer addressed that issue...

      clive.pops.5 - 2012-11-24 08:50

      JohncarlosBiza, what is "coz"? Can't you fit "because" into your comment?

      clinton.bowden1 - 2012-11-25 19:34

      No, it's because John is lazy

  • sean.crookson - 2012-11-23 11:00

    Coincidentally, I've just had a phone call from a bank representative with only a first name. Instead of telling me who she was, she began with the very common; "Who am I speaking to?". She then asked me to update my personal details. I was then placed on hold. The only recourse here is simply to hang up.

      Bingo - 2012-11-24 12:36

      She was probably in such shock that someone had listened to her entire prepared opening "speech" that her flabber so so well and truly gasted, she knew not where to go so had to put you on hold

  • stephen.j.dickson.3 - 2012-11-23 11:05

    I could believe this of ABSA. The worst of the big 4 Banks in this country. They are so bad that I think that Abel Mamisela, the guy who released a bag of puff-adders at ABSA Towers a few years back, should be named South African of the century. That guy is my hero for what he did. He showed them up for the bunch of snakes they are.........bottom line.

  • alwyn.vantonder - 2012-11-23 11:08

    EXACTLY! I hate it when individuals respond on a site like News24, but they use ridiculous sms language.. They don't have the decency to write it in full, and it is disrespectful towards education..

  • eldon.wessels.1 - 2012-11-23 11:13

    'in appropriate' ??? oh the irony..

      mike.bundy.73 - 2012-11-23 16:07

      Lol, true. The sentence ending in "didn't do so well in English" made me cringe too.

      fpstevens - 2012-11-24 10:51

      @Shannon, If this was an article about kittens or e-tolls, I would agree with you, I really dislike "the grammar police" on forums, but this is an article about how the author dislikes professionals who do not communicate using proper grammar and spelling.

      stirer.kathray - 2012-11-25 08:02

      I have two views. Firstly I support the "grammar police" and hate to see the ongoing deterioration of the English language. On the other hand, if the English language didn't evolve, we would all still be talking like Shakespeare. The worst thing is that all the grammar you are taught at school, is discarded by the media - radio, television and the press - as soon as they discard their school uniforms.

      Bob.Cee123 - 2012-11-26 00:32

      The difference is, Georgina will realize her honest mistake and avoid making it in the future. ABSA will likely continue to address all of their clients as if they are Mxit buddies. There is a difference between an honest typo and willful misuse of language in order to pretend to be something you're not, at the same time confusing your clients into thinking your corporate communication is actually coming from Lagos, Nigeria.

  • rudi.groenewald - 2012-11-23 11:46

    I couldn't agree with you more Georgina.

  • osama.pascal - 2012-11-23 12:51

    I hope young graduates read the article because most of their writing skills is exactly this sms crap.

  • djmain1 - 2012-11-23 13:14

    Besides that, bankers are the biggest criminals in the world. They have a LOT to answer for and their time is coming fast.

  • alan.bottoms.1 - 2012-11-23 13:39

    Seriously?! With all that's happening in the world right now and how blatantly these banks are ripping off people at every turn, encouraging more and more people into debt even if they really cant afford it, credit facilities that have only helped companies to push up their prices and so they can take advantage of our need it want it now mentality, creating more stress in our lives you're going to moan about grammar in SMS's? Well everyone to their own I guess...

  • john.m.mcdowall - 2012-11-23 15:53

    Who is the top dog at absa? Question answered.

  • gordon.turner.37 - 2012-11-23 16:02

    At least they ask to FICA you for the 20th time...

  • lacrimose.wolf - 2012-11-23 19:34

    Not a fan of SMS-speak. I find I have to read it a few times before I can comprehend what is being communicated. Ur was a place in Mesopotamia! :) My personal pet peeve is the phrase "going forward". Or would that be gng fwd?

  • Bingo - 2012-11-24 12:34

    When communicating via SMS, why not use abbreviations that everyone understands. The author clearly understood the economical use of the alphabet used primarily to avoid banging away at so many tiny keys on a tiny keypad and intended to be displayed on a tiny screen. Times they are a changing....and language as a tool used for communication must adapt to this change. Consider the lowly ' that replaces the odd vowel here and there, the word pram that replaces perambulator. Fuddy duddy I say!

  • SarelJBotha - 2012-11-24 14:10

    They actually do not care one bit about you. Profit is all they care about. Once you accept this and start asking them the right questions, you will realize how they actually hide from you and how they openly do you in.

  • michael.kleber.376 - 2012-11-25 08:19

    you being pedantic sms language is just that sms language and it was an sms , get with the times or get a telex machine .

      michael.kleber.376 - 2012-11-25 08:33

      by the way fnb have been offering this service for years time you upgraded

  • El Kayem Lu Khan - 2012-11-25 19:41

    Such lack of professionalism just taints the image of any business or corporation as far as I'm concerned. Whats even worse is that this is seemingly becoming a trend, since I find that most businesses send texts written exactly the way Georgina described.

  • Bob.Cee123 - 2012-11-26 00:58

    While we're at it, when will the relatively recently abbreviated 'Ts&CsApply!' become 'T.C.A' and when will that simply become some poorly enunciated 'Tca!!' sound at the end of all financial services ads? Formal communications should remain exactly that. For good reason.

  • vania.leonard - 2012-11-26 08:16

    I think in appropriate is one word

  • michelenefina.lange - 2012-11-26 23:30

    Please don't call me "u".

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