A couple of years ago, NatWest, one of the United Kingdom’s biggest banks, launched a ‘robo-advice’ service that uses customer questionnaires and its own algorithm to generate automated investment advice. The customers don’t interact with a single human, as the entire service is digital, from start to finish.
According to ComputerWorld, the responses to the robo-advisers have been mixed: Some customers appreciate being able to answer all of those questions on their own time, while others say they were “disappointed” by the experience. NatWest is still perfecting the service, but unlike its human employees, at least none of the virtual advisors have said they want to punch vegans in the face.
A woman who says she wishes to remain anonymous called into BBC Radio Bristol to share the experience she had when she called NatWest to apply for a loan. She was asking the bank for £400 ($516) so she could pay for a nutrition course, and she casually mentioned that she was a vegan.
According to her, the bank’s employee pretty much lost it. “I told him I was an active vegan and he proceeded to say that all vegans should be punched in the face ,” she said. “I asked him what he meant by that and he said it was in regards to ‘chalk activism’ which is when activists draw pictures of animals and then write messages like ‘friends not food’ on pavements. He said vegans were doing it where he lived and that vegans were forcing their beliefs on to him.”
She said that she switched to a vegan diet after her daughter had a cancer scare, and felt like the man’s words were an attack on both her and her family. In addition to calling into the radio show, she also filed a complaint with NatWest.
In a statement to The Telegraph, a NatWest spokesperson apologized for the man’s behavior, and said that the company had “provided feedback” to ensure that none of its workers suggest that vegans should be punched in their meat-free faces ever again.
“We are extremely sorry for the way the customer was treated by a member of our staff and apologise for any distress and upset that this behaviour caused,” the spokesperson said. These comments were wholly inappropriate and we have commenced disciplinary proceedings. We will be speaking to the customer at her convenience to apologise and discuss what we can do to rebuild our relationship.”
The woman’s loan application was denied—not because she’s vegan, but because the amount was too small—but the bank knows that threats of face punches aren’t a good look, so it gave her the £400 for the class, and an additional £185 ($239) in compensation.
Very few people deserve a fist to the mouth (except, say, Nazis), but vegans in the UK have made some terrifying threats of their own in recent months. Last June, a family-run butcher shop in Kent, England was vandalized and threatened with “petrol bombs” for no reason other than the fact that it is a butcher shop. The perpetrators, believed to be members of the Animal Liberation Front, spray-painted “STOP KILLING ANIMALS,” “GO VEGAN,” and the group’s logo on the Marlow Butchers shop.
And in November, the Greendale Farm Shop near Exeter, England, was also vandalized and received death threats after posting a ‘Pick Your Own Christmas Turkey’ offer on Facebook. In addition to having to wash the words “MURDER” and “GO VEGAN” off the front door, one of its employees had to field a phone call that threatened to “cut up” the shop’s butcher and feed him to customers.
On second thought, is there a way that NatWest could just replace all of us with digital assistants?