Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Credit Crunchie

The MD of Egg has had to step down after 'presiding over a PR disaster'. That's right, since she didn't engage a decent strategy to handle the obvious backlash from withdrawing credit cards from 160,000 customers.

But the nature of the backlash deserves a critical eye. Egg stands accused of dropping customers that were perfectly responsible with their accounts. They feel hard done by - but they acknowledge they may have been unprofitable for the company. Credit cards aren't provided by the state, no-one has a right to them. In the end, fewer credit cards around is a good thing: so what's the problem?

Maybe it would have come across better, PR-wise, if Egg had gone with this honesty, rather than telling us it was something about helping people avoid bad debt. But "if this is a case of them ditching long-standing credit worthy customers because they make no money out of them ... perhaps this is an issue that requires an Office of Fair Trading investigation." (This is money)- why is it?? Egg is entitled to remove accounts from people that aren't making it money, isn't it?

But I wonder: is this more about the peculiar Western Capitalist tradition of self-esteem and position in society being understood by the credit card(s) one owns? Such that those whose accounts have been withdrawn see it as a negative assessment of their character. They've had to phone the agencies to console themselves their credit 'rating' is 'excellent', as if desperately seeking some kind of parental approval. If true, I find it both ridiculous and sad. Sad for the individuals who might want something more substantial in their lives by which to value themselves (good deeds? family?) and sad for society if it engenders such economically-biased judgment of human worth.

For me, the idea that a credit card conveys some kind of status and standing largely disappeared a few years ago. When a mailer drops through the door that says 'You've been carefully selected for us to offer you credit! Need a new hat? Think of all the nice things you can buy with our credit. We're offering you our extra premium Platinum credit card: apply now!'

..I substitute, in my head, 'debt' where it says 'credit' - and somehow the appeal disappears.

A vested interest here: I'm an Egg customer of several years standing. So far, my card seems safe!