13 December 2013

The Dour And Unfathomable Nandsi

Thought I'd buy some British Premium Bonds. With interest rates on deposits almost non-existent at the moment, the idea that my cash is safe while standing a chance of winning something is far more attractive than 2 or 3% at best! Even if I win nothing all year I'll have lost no more than the cost of a pizza or two for each £1000 invested.

But how difficult does HM Treasury (or whatever those who hold the purse strings at National Savings) make it? You'd think anyone offering to top up the Government's coffers at this time would be welcomed with open arms.

First, I cannot just go on-line and buy them. I need some number. You can only get a number by downloading a form and printing it, signing it and posting it to somewhere near Blackpool.

Three weeks later, I get a letter with a secret password. It's almost something you'd expect to find in a Corgi Toy James Bond car set - little peel off windows with what could be invisible writing to the uninitiated. It might have been exciting had it not been so slow. I went to the site again and tried logging in with this new password. No luck.

It seems that the password isn't the number I need at all. That, apparently, arrives in a separate letter. So I wait. Another few days go by and this morning a letter arrives with a number. No peel off secret mission things, though. Never mind, now I can access the site, amusingly called nsandi.

The number works. Great. So does the password. But before I can do anything else I have to change it. I invent something complicated. No good says the first message in tiny red capitals in a red outlined box like something you might have seen in the late 1990s. Apparently I need a special character. OK, I throw in a full stop. Success.

Now I have a page that shows I have a massive £7 of Premium Bonds. Actually, I thought I only had one so that was a surprise. Now to buy a few thousand more... There ought to be a link to buy more, invest or something somewhere...

A few minutes later and I am still searching. OK, I'll try the main site rather than my account section. No Buy Now button anywhere so I try an Invest link and follow that through a page or two. It wants me to enter my number again. OK. here goes. More little red capitals. Number not valid. Hang on, it seems to want my Holder's Number and that is not, by the seems of it, my number. OK. I dig out my original Premium Bond document, now on fading yellowy paper with computer printing like an old typewriter.

So, I put that number in and it gets accepted. But then another box of small red capitals tells me that I have already registered. Well yes, I know that. So what? So I couldn't go anywhere from there and there was no clue whatsoever on the page to tell me what to do now. I went back to my account section, logged in again. At least that was uneventful. Here I looked around again.

No obvious place to buy at all. OK, I thought, I'll look at what I have already and clicked a link to my £7 Bonds. Interestingly, I saw that they'd all been bought in 1957. There was a link to see if any had won so I gave that a click and there's a place to enter two dates. I try some time in 1957 in one box and today in another.

Small red capitals again tell me to select a date bigger than 1/1/2011 for the start box. OK, I see a note saying there are no records on-line prior to the on-line service starting but there is no clue as to when that was. I presume it was that 1/1/2011 date so enter 2/1/2011 just to be on the safe side.

More little red capitals tell me to choose a date bigger than 13/12/2011!! By now the air is blue and I am glad the children aren't within earshot. I enter another date and it tells me in the same tiny red capitals that I haven't got any prizes in that period. Nothing about the previous 54 years, though. If they had come up notification could have gone to any one of about thirty addresses. Oh well. Move on, and back to trying to buy some more.

It occurred to me that my Holder's Number was like an Account Number and not the 'Premium Bond' number and so maybe, as it currently held 7, there could be a way to add to that. Sure enough, there was. Finally.

It took over three weeks and at least thirty fraught minutes but I have now got 1007 Premium Bonds. There are limits on how many you can buy with some cards so I'll have to make several transfers but at least future ones may only take a few minutes.

Having said that, for some reason almost as inexplicable as the site navigation, my new Premium Bonds won't be eligible for any prizes until February 2014!! That's a bit disappointing to say the least and simply isn't the way to make customers lending you lots of money feel happy. If there was an alternative I would use it but, unless you know differently, the dour and unfathomable nsandi rules as OK as any.

I actually had more pleasure today unwrapping an old Corgi Toy Aston Martin I'd bought for £14. I get an immediate sense of satisfaction and achievement and a feeling that it might even be a better investment than cash in the bank too!