‘A new banking phone system will identify those with low credit approvals, and put them through to a call centre in India’. (Daily Mail)

It’s been far to long in coming, but at last Barclays has come out bravely and decided on a radical approach to the problem of dangerous credit-crunch causing customers with no money: they will be put through to the bank’s Bombay Confusion Centre.

The Call Centre will offer a counselling service, dispensing advice on how to live on 50p a month, insulate a straw roof, and deal with the plumbing problems encountered in river-houses built on stilts two feet above low tide level. Actually,I made that bit up as an ironic comment upon soi-disant Western ‘poverty’, but it’s not that daft as an idea. Certainly, it would be infinitely more useful than patching perhaps lifelong customers through to a screen-wallah who knows nothing about British life – so he can talk to somebody who in turn can’t grasp 90% of what he says.

I know I will stand accused of childish racism for that gag, but let’s not forget the last Barclays fiasco as the bank exited India three years ago. The reason for departure that the press room gave was – and I quote:

“A great many of our customers said they couldn’t understand the executives manning the Indian call centre, but we would nevertheless stress that we have the highest confidence in our Indian workforce”.

Now that is patronising racism.

The jaw-dropping thing about the Barclays proposal is the mindlessly blatant way customers genuinely in need of help and on-the-ground advice are to be thrust upon underpaid Indians who know nothing of UK culture, and even less about people so irresponsibly in debt they can’t even be given the piggy-bank key. It is so manifestly unfair to the poor sods on either end of the phone, it makes me want to take the Barclays HR and customer service directors and feed them to something. Preferably something with a voracious appetite, and effective but painfully blunt teeth.

Before the ‘commercial’ perspective police join the comment thread, I would simply like if I may to lob a couple of things into the corporate mindset.

First and foremost, no bank is an island. In fact, over the last two years we have all been taught this lesson in the most painful manner possible. Not only that, but these same banks hard-sold and direct-mailed those customers far too much credit, often simply upping their credit limits to meet arbitrarily set business targets – and thus encouraging them to sink deeper into a pit of indebtedness.

It is good community-chest PR (and wise insurance against lynch-mobs) to now recognise that they have a duty to help those they crippled. They don’t have to give them any monetary help: just advice that’s well-informed, relevant to their needs, and – who knows? – might help one day turn them into profitable customers again.

Second, Barclays are cynically passing customers (some of whom will be desperate) onto folks who can’t say yes, but can say no. Not only will this increase customer frustration and bitterness, it is almost certain to lay the Indian staff open to stressful abuse of a fairly predictable kind.

And finally, having publicly admitted that the Indian call centres are inadequate, Barclays now proposes giving customers a service even more impractical than the potty loans they sold them back in 2006.

Still, you always know where you are with banks: faced with a challenging but safe and moral option, they will always choose the effortlessly dangerous and sociopathic one.