Establishing my identity

Charmingly, a customer of mine still uses an old style Bakelite telephone with rotary dial to call me. For her it is an everyday object which works for what she needs it to do, but some of these old telephones have become collectors’ items and now sell for up to £175 from specialist dealers.  In some respects, it is astonishing that such old technology still interfaces with modern telecommunications systems, enabling her to book a taxi, but it does.

For me, travelling about 40,000 miles a year in my taxi, modern technology like smartphone apps is essential to carry out everyday business administration, wherever I happen to be waiting for work.

Last week, the small plastic random number generating device used to gain access to my commercial banking accounts broke and I had to request a new one. That was an easy enough process, as they are stocked at the bank’s Abingdon branch and they handed one over right away.

However, activating the device and getting back into my bank accounts was quite another matter, which was to take three days, involve multiple telephone calls, two visits to the branch and a meeting in person.

At one point, it felt like I was engaged in some kind of dystopian struggle to prove my own identity, despite being known to staff at the branch where I go every Monday, to pay in the meagre amount of cash eked out of the dying night time economy in Abingdon over the previous weekend.

In order to regain access to internet banking, it was first necessary to get credentials from telephone banking. What works for one does not work for the other and I have not called them for years.

Passwords are usually easy enough for me to remember, as they are invariably based on obscure theological nomenclature, with an arbitrary series of letters, numbers and diacritics thrown in for good measure.

But what really disconcerted me was the random question about the middle name of a former wife of mine, when this commercial account was first established.

"Madam" - a salutation I never use, as my mother hated it - I say, "you are asking me to tell you the middle name of an ex-wife of mine from more than 20 years ago; I've been remarried and divorced again since then, and I simply can't remember.”

In that case, I was told, it would be necessary to attend an appointment in the same branch, to re-establish my identity. No appointment was available for a further three days, but at this meeting, I would be required to choose new passwords and random questions, for the next time I need to speak with them by telephone.

No doubt that will not be for another 20 years, by which time the technology and protocols required may well have changed again beyond recognition.

As published in the Herald Series on Wednesday, 13 June 2018

  1. Antique GPO Phones, 12 June 2018, as retrieved 12 June 2018