Hmm, feels like Subject 17 hasn’t had an outing for a while.

I’m a big fan of the National Lottery draw programme on BBC1 at 10.35pm on Wednesday evenings.  It’s not that I take part in the Lottery – I never do, and if I did I’m sure I’d enjoy the programme much less.  But I really do love its completely formulaic and stylised structure – a structure so rigid and so meticulously maintained that, quite literally, if they repeated a programme from 5 years ago you’d never, ever know.

Well, actually, if you were paying very close attention, there’d be one clue that would give it away.  During the main Lotto draw, as the winning balls are chosen and roll down into their on-screen display slots, the commentator burbles on  about the frequency with which each ball has appeared, and the most recent occasion it did so.  “Number 27,” he tells us.  “”243rd time out for that one – saw it most recently three Saturdays ago.”

For the regular and observant viewer, that key number would jump revealingly backwards in the five-year-old broadcast.  Suddenly we’d be back to the 186th time out, or whatever.  And since there are many, many thousands of viewers just as observant as I am, it would be much too big a chance to take.

Still, the commentary does serve to make one thing absolutely clear, which is that there are only 47 balls in the lottery and the whole enterprise depends on them rotating in different and irregular combinations from one week to the next.

The same – hopefully a bit less obviously – is true of this blog, except that there are a lot fewer than 47 themes rotating irregularly from entry to entry.

I’d say there are more like 20, and of these number 17 – known in full as “Why oh why won’t the financial services industry allow us to pay more for a better service?” – hasn’t had an outing for a while.

It usually takes a recent real-life experience to bring a theme back to the top of the pile, and once again on this occasion the real-life experience comes from the world of motor insurance.

(For this reason, in this blog, I’m killing two themes with one stone, because there is also a secondary appearance of theme 11, “Why does everyone say general insurance is such a normal and straightforward financial services sector when in fact it’s really bizarre?”)

My little real-life  anecdote starts in the usual deeply weird place, with my insurer deciding to reward my loyalty by trying on a 60% premium increase.  It goes on with the inevitable visit to a price comparison site and the discovery that I can in fact reduce my last year’s premium by about 60% if I switch.

So, obviously, I do.  Or rather, did. Because that was about three months ago, and a quarter of a year later I still haven’t managed to satisfy my new insurer, Privilege, that I’m entitled to the No Claims Discount which I say I am.  We’re continuing to have a fantastically irritating and frustrating slow-motion correspondence in which they demand some (unspecified) kind of documentary evidence of this entitlement, I rummage about in what I laughingly call my filing system to find something which seems to do the trick and send it to them, they then reply to say that this isn’t satisfactory and I need to send them something else, I rummage about in what I laughingly call…. and so it goes on. And meanwhile, of course, every letter I receive from them reminds me that if this isn’t sorted out soon, they’ll have no option but to invalidate my cover.

My question, within the framework of Theme 17, is simply this:  why on earth won’t they let me pay whatever it is, an extra £50 a year, for a service in which they check my NCD entitlement with my previous insurer?  I can’t tell you how much I don’t want to have to do it, and how much I want to escape from the Sisyphean task  of endlessly trying and failing to provide them with a piece of paper that will satisfy them.  In a world where I’m spending huge chunks of my income on any number of services, many of them premium, which save me from having to do things I don’t want to do – cleaners, taxi drivers, tax accountants, gardeners, Caffe Nero baristas, Audi service centres, waiters, non-NHS dentists, easyJet Speedy Boarding fares, the office IT bloke, private schools for the kids (not any more, thank goodness), the local insect control company here in France to deal with a nest of hornets who seem to have moved in much too close to our front door, the dry cleaners, Amazon’s gift-wrap service, the list just goes on and on – most of the world of financial services stands out for its refusal to give me the pay-more-get-more option.

I say “most of” because all Theme 17 blogs have to acknowledge somewhere that there are exceptions (I can’t find the words to tell you how happy I am to pay for the premium benefits of my Coutts bank account and charge card).  But, “most of” the time, the financial services industry reveals itself to be populated by one-class egalitarians:  there is quite simply no option for me to pay more for a better service.

I would say more.  Perhaps a lot more.  But better not – I need to have another rummage around for a scrap of paper with my NCD level on it that those morons at Privilege will accept.

Cheer up, Lloyds TSB guys, the Olympics will be over soon.

To be honest, I’m not quite sure which entity, or entities, within Lloyds Banking Group are sponsors of London 2012.  Among their portfolio of brands, it seems that Lloyds TSB and Scottish Widows are, but Cheltenham & Gloucester, Halifax and Bank of Scotland aren’t.

In any event, as the Games excitement-ometer plateaus at fever pitch, I bet those at Lloyds TSB and Widows responsible for making the most of the sponsorship – “activating” it in sponsorship-ese – are looking enviously in the direction of their counterparts at C&G and Halifax, and thinking to themselves how much easier life would be if they didn’t have to bother.  Activating a big-ticket, high-profile, long-duration sponsorship is a real shag.  And, I must say, a challenge that seems to be rather defeating those responsible for tackling it at the moment.

If you go to the Lloyds TSB website – go on, try it, – at first glance you won’t realise that the bank is an Olympics sponsor at all.  That’s because, amazingly, there’s no trace of the Games, not even a logo, on the home page above the fold.  True, if you scroll down to where you usually find the health warning and the site map, you’ll find a link to their 2012 site, with the heading “Follow Our Local Heroes At The Games” – but, honestly, who scrolls down below the fold?

Their 2012 website,, is unsurprisingly a good deal more Games-focused, but it’s still remarkably lacking in news, liveliness and up-to-date-ness.  Much of it is written in what is now an inappropriate future tense (“the Games will be a great event…”) and the main thing the site does to provide up-to-date content is to give a link to, which I think is a bit of a cop-out.

Scottish Widows try a bit harder – at least they do show a 2012 logo and a link to a 2012 blog by Roger Black on their home page above the fold – but actually the link to Roger’s blog shares a rotating panel with two other topical features headed “Life Assurance” and “See Our Latest Tool,”  which, together, rather put Roger in his place.

This distinctly half-arsed (well, more like quarter-arsed) effort is in sharp contrast to the heavy hitters.  I looked randomly at the home pages for McDonald’s, Adidas and VISA, and found that all three had completely remade their websites to that they appear completely focused on the Olympics.

I suppose that to be fair to Lloyds TSB, there could be a touch of “business as usual during the current emergency” about their astoundingly low-key approach.  If you’re going to their website to do some online banking, or to find details of their first-time-buyer mortgages, at least you won’t be distracted or sidetracked by any Olympic Games nonsense, whereas on the McDonald’s site it’s significantly harder than usual to check out your local branch’s opening hours or investigate the nutritional value of a quarter pounder with cheese.

But on the other hand, if you’re worried about your hugely expensive sponsorship getting in the way of honest, no-nonsense, transaction-hungry customers, I’d suggest that the thing to do is not sign up for the sponsorship, rather than sign up for it, pay the money and then tuck it away below the fold where no-one will see it.

Oh well.  It’ll all be over soon.  And while McDonald’s, Adidas and VISA will have a ton of work to do restoring their websites to business as usual, at least Lloyds TSB will only have to restore the health warning and the site map to their customary below-the-fold positions.