Thursday, 11 June 2009

The importance of not being Michael Allen

Cold callers ring me at work rather a lot. Mostly it’s to offer me unbeatable opportunities to advertise in journals read – or, more likely, binned – by a lot of people none of whom I want to promote products to. Sometimes it’s to invite me to attend an exhibition which is completely unique in its kind, if you don’t count all the other identical exhibitions I’m invited to attend week in, week out.

Recently however I’ve been getting a lot of calls from pensions advisers. Strange, I never used to have any calls from them. It’s almost as though there had been some sudden problem in financial services out there.

Anyway, one of the callers told me that they would like me to meet a representative – sorry an adviser: representatives try to sell things and these guys weren’t going to do anything so vulgar – who would offer me the opportunity to pay less than I do now and still get a better pension when I finally retire (which will be at about 80, I suspect, as things are now going).

Pay less? Receive more? Who could ask for a better offer?

And the amazing thing is that I hadn’t even told them how much my contributions were now or what they were likely to produce by way of a pension. They’d worked it all out for themselves. Someone that smart you have to see, so I agreed to an appointment, which duly took place yesterday.

The day before, I got a call on my mobile while I was at home for lunch. Yes, for the first time for a quarter of a century I live within a mile of work and can get back for lunch if I want to. In fact, since I now have my bike again, I can cycle each way. It’s brilliant. It’s also given me a completely new outlook on the journey. I’m sure I must have been intellectually aware of the hill up to my house while I was using the car, but to be really conscious of it, I needed to start using the bike. I can now say without a shadow of a doubt that I understand that there’s a climb to get to my front door.

But enough of that digression. I was at home the day before yesterday, at lunchtime. My mobile rang. Was it in my bag? Was it in my jacket? Was it on the table? By the time I’d found it, it had stopped ringing. But I could see the number, which I didn’t recognise – though I knew the area code, the same as that of a key client, so I rang back.

‘Hello,’ a woman said, ‘who’s this?’

‘It’s David Beeson.’ No reaction. ‘You rang me. I’m just returning your call.’

‘Do you know who we were trying to reach?’

‘No. Me perhaps?’

I had a mental image of someone scrolling through a list of names and phone numbers on a computer screen.

‘Ah, yes. Are you Michael Allen?’ She’d found the entry.

‘No,’ I replied, ‘still David Beeson.’

‘Strange,’ she said, ‘we have this number registered to Michael Allen.’

I couldn’t think of anything useful to say.

‘Sorry to have bothered you,’ she went on.

‘No problem,’ I replied and hung up.

A little later I was back at the office, after an easy downhill ride. My colleague – and friend – Emma was on reception. She was just finishing a phone call as I came in.

‘Ah, David,’ she said, ‘that was somebody who was trying to contact you. Though she said she was looking for a Michael Allen. But she had your mobile number. Something to do with pensions.’

Right. It was the pensions thing.

‘Yes,’ I said, ‘she tried to call me – or rather Michael – on my mobile.’

The mobile started to ring again.

‘That’ll be her,’ said Emma, and she was right.

‘Is that Michael Allen?’ asked the woman. A very young woman, it seemed to me.

‘No,’ I said. ‘This is David Beeson. This is my mobile. I quite often answer it if it rings. I wouldn’t expect Michael Allen ever to answer it.’

‘But, I don’t understand…’

‘No, I can tell.’

‘You see … we have this number registered to a Mr Michael Allen.’

‘Yes,’ I replied, ‘I’d gathered as much.’

‘But how can that have happened?’

‘Perhaps someone recorded my mobile number against Mr Allen’s name? You know – by mistake?’

‘But we don’t do that kind of thing…’

‘Well perhaps you don’t. But how is this really a problem for me?’

‘Well, do you know Michael Allen?’

‘Fraid not. There’s no-one by that name working here either.’

‘I see. That’s bad news. I really need to speak to Michael Allen.’

I took a deep breath. ‘I’m not sure how I can help. I’m not Michael Allen. I’ve never been Michael Allen. I don’t expect to become Michael Allen. I have no plan to try to turn into Michael Allen.’

She finally asked me the question I’d been waiting for. ‘Are you expecting to see a pensions adviser tomorrow?’

‘As it happens, yes. But he’d better ask to see David Beeson if he wants the meeting to take place.’

With that straightened out, we confirmed my appointment.

The adviser turned up yesterday morning. Quarter of an hour late. I didn’t care: I was at my desk getting on with things and quarter of an hour one way or the other wasn’t going to make the slightest difference to me. He, however, clearly felt the need to apologise.

‘Sorry,’ he said. ‘I was practically here on time. But my Sat Nav told me to go on past the roundabout. Instead of turning left.’

I wanted to say ‘your company isn’t lucky with communications equipment, is it?’ but felt that would be cruel.

As it happens, the meeting wasn’t all that useful. He didn’t really want to talk to me about my pension. He wanted to talk about switching the whole company from its existing arrangement to one organised through him. For that he needed to speak to the Finance Director. We don’t actually have one, but I didn’t tell him that. It shouldn’t take him more than a few weeks to find out.

In the meantime, I hope he has a more productive meeting with Michael Allen.

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