Teenage Problems/19 years old, having work issues, do I need to worry?
I'm 19, a student in university, doing business systems, currently do part-time work in a travel agent in a major town in Hertfordshire (probably a step up from shop or bar work, but at least I've got a job!).
Anyway, I'm writing in about issues at work. I was accused of changing the exchange rates at the travel agent I work for (a well-known high street chain that sells package holidays), manipulating the display, the exchange rates were (and still are) February 2004's exchange rates. I was asked to see the boss about this, she asked me if I knew anything about it, I said no, told her honestly, she then got IT to check, luckily it all checked out (I was on leave the days the display was changed, and also I don't have access to the software, but was asked anyway as a matter of duty). The exchange rates were up from October until now, unbelievably, and no-one had bothered to take it into consideration, At first I thought it looked odd, seeing s dramatic drop in exchange rates on the display, but then just thought, oh, it's economic issues, probably.
Eventually, my co-worker Nichola, who's 40, admitted to doing it, she said she'd done it "to provide better value for customers", admitted to replacing the current data with old February 2004 rates.
This means that all the essential rates - GBP/USD, GBP/EUR, GBP/CAD, GBP/AUD were set as February 2004 ones and customers who were going off on holiday were essentially getting the wrong money, but no-one noticed until now.
Nichola's been suspended but then the boss was forced to revoke the suspension whilst higher management start investigating it (as I write this; my boss had no say in the matter), this isn't her first big thing she did at work, the last time she did something like this, she came out into the shop in a PVC/lurex bikini in a shade of turquoise, it put a family off doing a deal, they walked out in disgust and called her an old whore (this was in April last year, only a month into my job).
I enjoy my job and like my co-workers, apart from Nichola, who I thought I got on with, but now realize she has some problems.
A question for you; if you went into a travel agent and saw the rates had dramatically changed from one day to the next.
Equally, since I'm a business student, one other question, if this had gone on for longer would it have been a PR disaster for them, what would the effects have been? (Actually, it's a good thing I've asked you, this might be useful for an essay if I ever get a question on public relations).
I would welcome any advice you have, will follow up when I can.
Thank you for taking the time to write to me and I hope that I can help.
Firstly, let me apologise for the delay in getting back to. Usually I respond within three days but things have been busy at work and it has been hard to get some time to reply, so I apologise, I wasn't ignoring you.
To answer your question, how would I feel about whether or not I noticed a significant change in daily exchange rates if I was a customer, I am not sure to be honest. If there was a significant difference between the days and rates and it become noticeable, I might question why this difference was so great between the two rates when other suppliers all offer around about the same rate per currency. It may make me question whether or not I would buy currency from the store for fear that I would potentially get less value for money (even though I know your colleague stated she kept them altered so customers would get better value) due to the unpredictability of the rates and as a result, I may not go there for currency exchange.
I will give you an example: Say I was going on holiday in a couple of days and had left it last minute to order my currency. I notice that the rate in your store is significantly better than any competitors and seems to be consistently so, so I see a higher daily rate and decide to go in and get my money the following day. What I did not notice however, was that the rate advertised was incorrect and was corrected the day I went in without noticing. I hand over £100, collect my currency and leave. I don't think to check because I have too much on packing and planning for my holiday. I get abroad and check my receipt. I have less money than I thought and now I start panicking because I have budgeted to take more money that I have based upon what I predicted on what I saw in your store. My holiday then becomes about worrying about money and I feel jilted. I return home without buying anyone any presents because I did not have enough money. I am disappointed and unhappy and will probably not use your store again.
I know that when you purchase currency that the rates are confirmed when you hand your money over and it is on your receipt but when you are preparing for holiday and not really thinking about it, you may not notice what appears to be an insignificant change to your currency rate. This only becomes noticeable when you are handing over significant amounts of money where the difference appears greater so it is likely, most customers will not know until they check and in some cases, this may be too late.
Do I think that, as a customer, it would make a significant difference to me, probably not. However, I think the concern from the management is not so much about the impact on the company's reputation but rather the fact that there may be legal ramifications if someone has knowingly manipulated currency rates, for whatever reason. Anyone dealing with foreign exchange rates and currency are regulated for FOREX and are subject to regulation by the Financial Conduct Authority. FOREX ensures that the customers, the brokers (in this case your store) and those providing the currency (the foreign banks) are all treated in line with industry guidelines and so they know what to expect; the customer will get the exchange rate advertised, the broker gets the commission and the currency provider will gain some kind of interest on the money provided. If this does not happen, it is regarded as being unlawful and improper conduct. As a result, the company involved can be subject to legal intervention and could lose its licence to trade currency as it is deemed to have attempted to manipulate the markets. As a result of Nichola's actions, she has cost the company money (potentially in commission) and the broker money (in potential interest) and has given the customer an unfair expectation of the exchange rate (which could be seen as manipulating the market).
Prior to the recession, it was the banks that went unregulated and were able to trade freely with vast amounts of money and trade. This reckless investing, when it went wrong, forced competitors of the markets to sell their stocks and shares plummeting the World into recession. Although I am not suggesting that this is the case with your store, it helps to show the wider implications of little mistakes that if uncorrected, may result in business collapsing, financial liability and a tainted reputation.
In terms of it being a PR disaster, this would only happen if it was brought to national attention, which, if it is investigated by the Financial Conduct Authority or potentially trading standards could be the case, the company would have to publicly acknowledge the mistake, justify the action it has taken and admit liability that it potentially gave customers a higher rate than it should have, which in itself, publicly, could lead to competitors complaining to the Competition and Markets Authority for unfair practices.
As this is probably a one branch issue and will only be known to a select few that have noticed it, the impact is relatively limited and contained. If it was found to be a national issue then that would be a different matter and the company would face public scrutiny over why a mistake was allowed to go on for so long unnoticed.
I think that Nichola has had a lucky escape and what is likely to happen is that she is either sacked due to incompetence or, more likely, put on compulsory staff training to justify to anyone that may investigate appropriate action has been taken.
I hope that this information helps.