The chairman admits that the terms and conditions page on Scam’s website was not something he took seriously until an employee alerted him to the dangers of his laid-back approach.
”How did you go about writing the Scam website’s terms and conditions?” I asked the chairman of the implausibly-sized investment company Second Coming Asset Management as we met for a pint or two of Wannabuyarolex at The Idea Of Bridgey Leaving Schroders Is A Bit Like The Ravens Leaving The Tower Of London And Probably Foreshadows The End Of The World Or Something.
“My website’s what?” asked the chairman. “Terms and conditions,” I repeated. “You know – the bit nobody ever reads before clicking on ’I accept’ so they can move on to seeing the rest of the Scam site.” “Oh that,” the chairman nodded. “If I am honest, it is not something I have taken terribly seriously until quite recently.
”Mission statements, the occasional recipe, my grand- daughter’s science projects – as long as you formatted it to look right, it really did not matter”
“As you imply, there has not been a single recorded instance in human history of anybody ever offering fund group website terms and conditions anything more than the most cursory glance. As such, you may not be totally surprised to learn I have generally been reluctant to spend any money on expensive luxuries such as a lawyer to draft a special form of words.”
“So what did you do instead then?” I asked. “Cut-and-paste mainly,” the chairman replied. “What? Another fund group’s terms and conditions?” I said. “Good grief, no,” exclaimed the chairman. “Just imagine if you forgot to substitute your name for the other company’s – you’d look pretty silly and end up losing any sort of credibility.”
“Quite so,” I agreed. “So what did you cut-and-paste then?” “Anything really,” the chairman shrugged. “Mission statements, the occasional recipe, my granddaughter’s science projects, chunks of Niall Ferguson’s Ascent of Money or anything by Dan or indeed Gordon Brown – as long as you formatted it to look right, it really did not matter. (Scam continues below)
“One day our compliance officer woke up just long enough to question whether this really was a prudent move on our part and so I proved once and for all just how many people read T&Cs. A third of the way down the relevant page I introduced a paragraph heading ’Ferraris for all’.”
“Catchy title,” I observed. “I thought so,” the chairman nodded. “Anyway, the paragraph that followed saw me undertaking to buy a Ferrari for anybody who contacted Scam to say they had made it that far through the T&Cs. Although that version of the page was up for a year, the only Ferrari I have ever bought still resides in one of my garages.”
“I agree the chances of having to pay up were pretty remote,” I said. “But even so, I’m surprised you were so bullish as to risk having to stump up for a Ferrari.” “Oh it wasn’t that much of a risk,” said the chairman. “I would simply have paid our solicitors to find a way to weasel out of the deal – weaselling out being their speciality and very much a sensible use of Scam money.”
“And now?” I said. “And now what?” asked the chairman. “You said terms and conditions were not something you took terribly seriously,” I reminded him. “What changed?” “You mean apart from the FSA finding a backbone?” replied the chairman. “No, I think it was probably that little development that prompted my change of heart.
“Oddly enough, my skilful piece of procrastination in putting off drafting a real T&Cs page paid off financially as well. These things have become so standardised that not even a lawyer would dare charge the price of more than a few hours by a trainee to print off a precedent and type in ’Second Coming Asset Management’ in the appropriate gaps.”
“But if it really is as standard as that, surely a company could just cut-and-paste and then do the necessary edits,” I persisted. “I don’t understand why you keep coming back to that,” replied the chairman. “As I say, I just don’t think the reputational risk of somehow getting caught out would be worth it and nobody would be stupid enough to try.” “You’re probably right,” I shrugged. “And … hang on a moment … Scam has a compliance officer?”