UK Regulatory Pressure to Contact Customers Increases

In recent weeks, UK government and financial services organisations have received increasing political and regulatory pressure to make greater efforts to proactively notify policy holders and account owners of their rights and savings information. To avoid the threat of regulatory fines, organisations have quickly prioritised data quality initiatives to the top of the list but in reality, the benefits of data suppression and enhancement go far beyond avoiding fines and in fact will make for stronger business models, more trustworthy brands and better customer service.

What’s New

A report in July by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee quoted Treasury estimates that from 200,000 to 236,000 victims of the collapse of Equitable Life may miss out on compensation payments because it may not be able to trace between 17%-20% of policyholders by that date. The committee urged the Treasury to take urgent action to track down as many former policyholders of the failed insurer as possible (many of whom are elderly) before the March 2014 deadline. Payments totalling £370 million are due to be made by that date.

More recently still, there has been discussion of the huge number of interest rate reductions affecting savers without them being notified – banks and building societies last month announced a further 120 cuts to rates on savings accounts, some as high as 0.5%, on top of 750 made to existing easy access accounts this year. According to the Daily Telegraph, “around 17 million households are believed to have cash in an easy access account”.  While savings providers are able to make cuts of up to 0.25% without notifying customers, a spokesman for the regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), told The Telegraph that “it is keeping a close eye on the activity of banks as the blizzard of rate reductions continues.”

Case in Point

To avoid the risk of potentially massive future penalties, a variety of organisations have taken up the challenge of contacting large numbers of customers, to provide the requisite communication. In fact, a financial services organisation which was recently advised by the FCA to make reasonable efforts to contact all its customers, retained a helpIT client to run a suppression job which netted significant savings: of the initial mailing file consisting of over seven million customers, half a million new addresses were supplied, half a million gone aways were removed and over 200 thousand deceased names suppressed. In this instance, the actual and potential savings for the organisation were enormous and went well beyond the cost of non-compliance – to say nothing of the savings to brand reputation in the eyes of new occupants and relatives of the deceased.

Easy Options

Fortunately, the right software makes it easy to compare customer data to an assortment of third party suppression files in different formats, keyed according to different standards. In fact, huge savings can be achieved by employing standard “gone away” and suppression screening, as well increasing the success rate in contacting old customers by finding their new addresses. While there used to be only a couple of broad coverage “gone away” files, these days there is a wealth of data available to mailers to enable them to reach their customers, going far beyond Royal Mail’s NCOA (National Change of Address) and Experian’s Absolute Movers lists. This “new address” data is in many cases pooled by financial services companies via reference agencies such as Equifax (in the reConnect file) and by property agencies via firms such as Wilmington Millennium (Smartlink). Similarly, deceased data is now much more comprehensive and more readily available than ever before.

New address, gone away and deceased data is also easy to access, either as a web-based service or downloaded onto the organisation’s own servers. Costs have come down with competition, so it’s certainly cheaper now to run gone away and deceased suppression than it is to print and mail letters to the “disappeared”.

Although it is never going to be 100%, data and software tools do exist to make it easy for the organisation to take reasonable steps to cost-effectively fulfil their obligations, even on names that might be considered low value, that an organisation might ordinarily have forgotten about.

Bottom Line

These numbers should give pause for thought to organisations of any type that are tempted to “spray and pray” or decide to keep silent about something their customers would really like to know about, regardless of regulation. What’s more, the value to the business, the customers and the brand goes far beyond the regulations with which they need to comply.

Royal Mail Mailsort Changes April 2012

As anybody who uses Mailsort will no doubt be aware, a number of major changes have recently been introduced by Royal Mail, which will take effect on 2nd April.

So, what’s different from the usual selection code and price changes?

Well, for the first time in many years, there’s been a complete overhaul of the services, replacing all the old services with new ones – there are no direct replacements of old services with new ones, but some new services bear a close resemblance to certain old services e.g. the Low Sort services are similar to the 120 services in that they only require 3 digit (town level) selection codes, and there’s no minimum selection size when presenting the items in bags. Similarly, the High Sort services cater for Direct and Residue selections, like 1400 or Presstream services used to. None of the new services bear any similarity to Walksort, although Royal Mail do suggest appropriate services for Walksort mailers. You can read Royal Mail’s “Product Comparison” document, which contains suggestions as to which of the services should be used for different types of jobs, here.

We first learned of Royal Mail’s intention to make radical changes to Mailsort on 4th Nov at a Mailsort Software Suppliers Forum. At the time, we weren’t convinced that these changes would really be introduced that quickly, given past experience of delays with less pervasive changes. But we started to plan for the work anyway, which promised to be substantial. Although we appreciated the advance warning, we weren’t actually able to get on with most of the development until detailed information about the new services was released on 31st Jan. The new price tariffs were made available on 20th Feb although these were not finalised (confirmed by Postcomm) until 15th March.

As mailers often prepare jobs well in advance of the mailing date, our customers have been calling us all this month asking for information about the availability of the new version of the sortIT module of the matchIT suite, to support the Mailsort changes. We were able to tell them that we’ve worked hard to get it ready in time, and would release as soon as the price changes were confirmed, or soon after if there were any changes to the proposed prices. In fact, there were no changes so we did release on 15th March. However, it must have been difficult for some software suppliers and some mailers to be ready in time, let alone in advance for those jobs prepared before 2nd April but mailing on or after 2nd April. Fortunately, Royal Mail did decide, after some discussion, to allow a six week grace period, so mailings can be sent using the old selection tables and old services, but with new prices, until 12th May. Unfortunately, accreditation for the new services won’t be available from Royal Mail until the beginning of June, so there is no way of independently verifying the accuracy of any software updates until then.

Below are some FAQ’s relating to these changes, which will hopefully help clarify things that might not be immediately obvious…

To sum up, we love a challenge! We would love to hear comments and experiences from any other Mailsort software suppliers or mailers out there. Let us know how you have managed.


1. What are the key changes to Mailsort?

A. The Mailsort Database (the database is used to generate selection codes within records, based on the records postcode or town) has been replaced with a new database called “Selection Files 2012”.  The old database was “Mailsort Database 2012 R1”.

B. The list of old Mailsort services has been completely replaced by a list new services. The basic list of new services that are available is as follows:

  • Advertising Mail – High Sort
  • Advertising Mail – Low Sort
  • Business Mail – High Sort
  • Business Mail – Low Sort
  • Publishing Mail – High Sort
  • Publishing Mail – Low Sort

C. The old tariff (the base prices and discount percentages, last updated 18th April 2011) has been updated.


2. What are the features of each new service?

The following document outlines the key properties of each service:


3. Which new services replace which old services?

As discussed above, there are no direct replacements of old services with new ones, however, some new services bear a close resemblance to certain old services. Check out the Royal Mail’s “Product Comparison” document for more information.


4. When should I update the software I use for sorting data?

Selection Files: All mailings that are to be posted on or after April 2nd  must be sorted using software that contains the 2012 selection files. Therefore, the very latest that the new selection files can be applied is April 2nd.

Services: The old Mailsort services can be used from until May 12th, just as long as they are used in conjunction with the 2012 Selection Files during the period between April 2nd and May 12th. Therefore, the very latest that the new services can be applied is May 12th.

Tariff: The new tariff applies to any mailings that are to be posted on or after April 2nd.  Any costs and discounts that may be displayed on a summary or computer planning report will not affect the validity of the sortation, so it is not a requirement to update the tariff in your software, in order to sort data.  However, if you wish to ensure accurate costs are calculated, the very latest that the new tariff should be applied is April 2nd.

Over the next few weeks, I will be sorting data for mailings before and  after April 2nd: This means that your software will need to use the old selection files (Mailsort Database 2010 R1) to sort the mailings that are being posted between now and April 1st, and the new selection files (Selection Files 2012) to sort data that is being posted on or after April 2nd.

If your Mailsort software has an option to choose which selection files to use for each sortation, then you will need to choose the appropriate option before sorting each data file. Otherwise, you will need two separate installations of the software – one containing the old selection files and one containing the new selection files.