Comments on: Why banks don’t write in English A slice of lime in the soda Sun, 26 Oct 2014 19:05:02 +0000 hourly 1 By: jonstein Mon, 13 Dec 2010 01:09:25 +0000 Felix,

Jon Stein here, CEO of Our goal at Betterment is to make smart investing simple and accessible (as it should be!) – and an important part of that mission is explaining things as clearly as possible. I agree that most bank and investment firm communications are incomprehensible. Granted, it’s not always easy to make complex concepts simple – the work is in choosing what’s important to focus on, and what is unnecessary detail. I’d love to ask for you and your readers’ help in making our site and product more accessible. Check us out at

We love your writing and have re-tweeted and written linking posts to some of your pieces. Thanks!


By: Polycapitalist Thu, 09 Dec 2010 18:21:37 +0000 Simon,

With all due respect, please consider walking the talk and banking somewhere other than a Too ‘Bigger’ to Fail institution like Citi. d-governor-hoenig-too-bigger-to-fail.htm l

Thank you,

The PolyCapitalist

By: Danny_Black Thu, 09 Dec 2010 18:00:06 +0000 FifthDecade, this is what the OFT had to say:

“19.1 Regulation 7 states:
(1) A seller or supplier shall ensure that any written term of a contract is
expressed in plain, intelligible language.
(2) If there is doubt about the meaning of a written term, the interpretation
which is most favourable to the consumer shall prevail …
19.2 Clarity in contractual language is widely recognised as desirable in itself,
but the Regulations go beyond promoting that objective alone. In line with
their purpose of protecting consumers from one-sided agreements, and the
requirement of the underlying Directive that ‘consumers should actually be
given an opportunity to examine all the terms’ (Recital 20), they have to be
understood as demanding ‘transparency’ in the full sense. As the High
Court has found in a case relating to the fairness of bank charges, it
requires ‘not only that the actual wording of individual clauses …be
comprehensible to consumers, but that the typical consumer can
understand how the term affects the rights and obligations that he and the
seller or supplier have under the contract.’46
19.3 It follows that what is required is that terms are intelligible to ordinary
members of the public, not just lawyers. They need to have a proper
understanding of them for sensible and practical purposes. It is not
sufficient for terms to be clear and precise for legal purposes, except in
contracts normally entered only on legal advice.”  /unfair_contract_terms/oft311.pdf;jsess ionid=1D9163E1CDA404BBC8E21712FF17B8BF

I am surprised more financial contracts are not thrown out under this law given the standard is what a typical english person would understand….

By: FifthDecade Thu, 09 Dec 2010 04:26:19 +0000 Don’t you just love lawyers and legal departments? Thank God John Major set the ball rolling back in 1990 for a return to Plain English and UK banks followed. Now their letters are still legal, but also understandable. I suspect they are also covered by the Unfair Contracts legislation too, something about if an average citizen cannot be reasonably expected to understand what is written, the clause is not acceptable legally.

There must be something in the US that protects the consumer from the corporates and the banks, surely?

By: Danny_Black Thu, 09 Dec 2010 03:51:38 +0000 The T&Cs are not really there for your benefit, they are there for the banks. That is why they are written in this legalese. Especially these days when people are trying to get out of contracts by finding any possible technicality, exactly what motivation have they to express themselves in possibly vague “simple english” vs tried and tested legalese?

Also sending out the whole agreement when a tiny bit has been changed is not terribly green and it is even harder to scour a document to see what the new changes are. That agreement is a legal contract, you should really keep it – no I didn’t keep mine either…

By: Monetarius Wed, 08 Dec 2010 23:43:05 +0000 If you looked up “decummulation” in your dictionary, you won’t find it. You won’t find “deccumulation” either.

By: Monetarius Wed, 08 Dec 2010 23:33:45 +0000 A perfect example of deliberate obfuscation. The banks want to make sure that their clients are convinced of their inability to understand financial issues so that they remain dependent on the presumed expertise of bank agents. Their use of language as a means of control goes so far as to fabricate words. The current conceit of the financial services industry is that they, and they alone are able to manage the “decummulation” by retiring boomers. Look that up in your dictionary.

By: gorndog Wed, 08 Dec 2010 19:56:09 +0000 BankSimple?

Forget the banks.

Take a look at this … a personal online wallet:

By: BrianVan Wed, 08 Dec 2010 15:51:13 +0000 To answer the question:

“Is it possible to change that culture?”

It’s highly unlikely that a large wayward corporation can ever reform itself for the sake of better relations with customers when it’s already so far down the bad path. It’s like dutch elm disease for a company. It actually infects its peers if leaders in the industry are not careful.

However, this is the exact sort of competitive advantage opportunity that new competitors seize upon to win market share, against the usual odds.

Why are credit unions suddenly getting attention again? Because they stayed true to their missions, they didn’t do what Citicorp did to grow and profit recklessly, and they didn’t end up in the compromised position that Citicorp is in now as a result. A good credit union can (and often does) provide a much better customer service experience than one of these large, faceless, merciless retail banks that are now desperate for cash. That’s enough of a difference to make the choice easy for new customers. (slightly better interest rates and friendlier credit offerings help, too)

By: qsym Wed, 08 Dec 2010 14:55:51 +0000 They don’t want their customers to figure out that: 1) When they expect rates to be going down, they pay you interest based on the latest prime rate of the cycle (so presumably the lowest possible rate for the month) and 2) When they expect rates to be going up, they pay you interest based on the prime rate at the beginning of the cycle (so presumably the lowest possible rate for the month). Looks like Citi expects the prime rate to start rising sometime soon.