UK technology fail

Since moving to the UK after living in Norway, France and Switzerland, it seems that this country, more than any other I know of in the Western world, is stuck in the 20th century. Here are some examples encountered in the last few months:

  • Many banks support no other authentication than usernames and passwords. No one-time pads, SMS codes, smart cards or client certificates, at least one of which was supported at all of my other banks. My bank forces you to enter your password at the counter, in front of other customers.
  • Don’t talk to me about Internet banking. Compared to every other bank I’ve used, my UK bank has by far the worst usability. If something fails, it doesn’t give any hint to what happened, and just sends you to the front page. Retrying means finding the same form again and filling in everything. It doesn’t play nicely with any online shops. It takes several days to add every single payment recipient. And its “company search” doesn’t find big UK companies.
  • Usually three or four buses arrive within two minutes, and then none for 20 minutes. Sometimes these clumps even have more than one of the same bus line.
  • Automated check-outs at supermarkets are sometimes OK: They take cards and cash, weigh your items properly, and calculate the sum properly when there’s a discount. However, none of them do all of these, and some of them seem to do none of them.
  • The phone only has a signal when the stars align just right. At home 1-2 bars, at work 0-1 bars.
  • The roads are too narrow for buses to pass, but there’s still parking on both sides.
  • I just ordered something online (via bank transfer since the card doesn’t work for some reason). The confirmation page showed the bank details. The confirmation email showed the final sum. Neither showed both.

Sometimes it’s so surprisingly backward that it’s amusing. Mostly I just wonder whether people care about service at all.

Regarding finger scan as part of IELTS identity verification

Verbatim email to

Dear British Council,

While going over emails related to my taking of the IELTS test, I came across the disturbing news that you are in the process of implementing a mandatory scheme of finger scanning for candidates.

According to your “IELTS candidate identity verification” page “[T]est centres in these countries will advise candidates before they register that finger scanning is in place.” I have received no information to that effect. Please advise as to whether finger scanning is (or will be) mandatory in Switzerland in 2012. If it is (or will be) mandatory, I shall on the grounds of basic decency have to refuse to take the test with your organization.

A disappointed customer

Got a reply the next morning:

Dear Mr. Engmark,

Thank you for sharing your concerns with us. New security measures (finger scanning and / or photography taken on the day) are in place in all the IELTS exam centres to deter candidates who ask somebody else to take the exam for them, hoping to get a higher score.

While we are happy that in Switzerland the number of attempted identity frauds has been insignificant, we have to be prepared and act in line with the global standards. Therefore we have already introduced the test day photography (which means that a photo of each candidate is taken on the day of the test, and this photo will be printed on the Test Report Form). We have not introduced the finger scanning, and do not have plans to do so.

I hope this information will be of help in your decision of taking IELTS with the British Council in Switzerland. Please see further details on registration and available practice materials on

Thank you again and have a great week ahead!

Best regards,
[redacted] | Exams Services Manager | British Council Switzerland

And my response:

Thank you very much for the quick and informative response; I will attend.

A relieved customer

I guess it might have more to do with the country in which the test is done than the British Council themselves. Good to know.