OP-Pohjola-Group Kangasniemi only serves customers in Finnish and Swedish

by , under All categories, Enrique

By Enrique Tessieri

Below is an incident that happened at the offices of insurance company OP-Pohola-Group in Kangasniemi, a small town located between Mikkeli and Jyväskylä. The letter, published on the www.kangasniemi.info website, is a complaint to the company for refusing to offer service to a man because he did not speak Finnish or Swedish.

Writes Lucien den Arend:  “Well… you can make your own decision. They don’t want to do business a family of five with many objects to insure, because, although the father speaks English, Dutch, German, French, Spanish and a little Russian, he speaks no Swedish or Finnish yet.”

Below is the letter sent to OP-Pohjola-Group by the couple:

 Dear Mr. Karhinen,

 We are writing you because we have not been able to get past your sub leaders (personel). It is about the fact that the members of our family of five are all Finnish except me. And that your representative in Kangasniemi let us leave her office after she told us that it is company policy not to speak English – only Finnish and Swedish. We had been invited to come and listen to OP Pohjola Group’s offer for insurance for our Kartano, island, five cars and art collection. My wife gave her information in Finnish and when it was my turn (I do not speak Finnish) the woman/girl, your representative, said (in Finnish to my wife) that she does speak English but refuses to because it is company policy to only speak Finnish and Swedish.

 So last week we had a very active discussion about this on the facebook group IESAF – or International English Speakers’ Association of Finland. In more than sixty posts we discussed this problem.

 How can it be that your company name is in English; and your website has English pages, but it is its policy not to converse with a customer who cannot speak Finnish or Swedish?

 And why do I get no answer to my question about this serous problem – posted on your site’s form last week Monday. And why does my wife not get a response to her question, in Finnish, posted one day later?

 Yours Sincerely,

Lucien den Arend and Marjo Heikkinen

*Thank you Sheri Mylene Chang for the heads up!

  1. Jaakko

    This is kind of interesting. I always thought that all banks are giving services in English and from my experience they have, but seems I was wrong. This is something they could change quite easily, because I believe that almost everybody in the bank has at least average knowledge of the language. English is after all the most common spoken (second) language amongst foreigners and Finns in Finland.

  2. Seppo

    When it is a matter of a private company, you would think the customer is always right and it is up to him to decide which language he prefers to use. The fact that the lady apparently knew English but had been told not to use it with customers makes this case really weird.

    Of course, the Finnish wife could have just translated what her husband said, but I understand that they were not that interested in the company’s services after the incident.

    • Enrique

      Seppo, this is a weird case but it is a good matter that we debate it. OP-Pohjola-Group could learn something from it.

  3. Mark

    I had the same problem. This is my bank and I had to get a mortgage from them. They were very pleasant, but did not speak English, which was a little surprising. All communications are in Finnish, and the website is in Finnish.

    Sampo provide all services in English, including full documentation and an English-language website.

    The simple point here is that if OP have the technical infrastructure for a Swedish version of their site, then implementing an English version would require a minimum investment. However, producing all their banking and insurance documentation in English would probably be expensive if they are starting from scratch. I cannot see that happening in the current climate.

  4. Allan

    Again, you are missing the point.

    The official languages in Finland are Finnish and Swedish. Laws are written in these two. Any translation is “unofficial”. The bank is merely covering their ass, because firstly, you wouldn’t sign a paper you could (theoretically) understand, and as the contracts are made in the official languages…

    Most banks require the people to know what they sign.

  5. Mark

    Allan

    If Sampo can do it, then OP can too.

    From what I understand, and I could be wrong, It’s got nothing to do with what is the ‘official’ language in Finland. Translations of legislation are ‘unofficial’, but not company contracts. You could write them in Swahili as long as both parties are happy with it. Am I right, JD?

  6. Allan

    I’ve encountered this only once helping a friend do a mortgage – it was the mortgage insurance bit that the recipient was required to know Finnish or Swedish. I think OP has English pages on its banking side and IIRC the netbank is available in English as well so its not the banking that gives the grief rather than Pohjola insurance. After all, the bank wants your money, but the insurance company doesn’t want to give you theirs.

  7. Mark

    Allan

    OP web banking is only in Finnish or swedish. I use it every month. Not sure about the insurance side of things, though our insurances are with them too. The insurance is interesting because there seems to be a disconnect between the banking side, which sets up insurance related to the mortgage, and the insurance side, which gives conflicting advice and also tries to catch your business. That certainly raised our eyebrows. I guess it’s down to performance targets for each department.

  8. Allan

    Well, I think it is because they’re despite the merger still working as two separate companies. I used to have OP long-long-long time ago netbanking was still new ( and they revamped it a few times since). It is though a bit silly not having an English one, as all you need is just another set of tables with the relevant texts. Oh well, the MOL website is another prime example of thumb-in-arse approach. English pages oh yeah but the search engine… naah. I guess that tries to imply the threshold level of getting a job. Then again you go to the equivalent Swedish pages and what language you can’t find in there…

  9. justicedemon

    Mark

    A contract is merely an exchange of promises. The language used does not matter provided that the parties know what they promised and what was promised to them. Written documents are one form of evidence that can be used to show what the parties knew when concluding their agreement, but all contracts are understood in their general context and most are never written down.

    Only in exceptional cases (such as real estate transactions) is there any legal requirement for written form, but even here there is no automatic obstacle to enforcing a contract that was concluded in a foreign language. Written contracts of insurance are often so abstrusely formulated that the average consumer is unlikely to understand them in detail anyway, regardless of the language used. However, they may not be manifestly unreasonable from the point of view of either party and consumer protection rules provide some safeguards for unwary individuals. To avoid enforcement a party would essentially have to argue that fraud had occurred, and this is a tall order indeed.

    My general view of this case is that OP-Pohjola Group is willingly diverting business to its competitors, and that bad management is its own punishment. However, I seriously doubt that they are entirely consistent in this policy. International interbank agreements tend to be drawn up in English and governed by English law.

  10. st

    In around 1997, I was also denied insurance because i didn’t understand Finnish and it was not acceptable for a friend to translate the document either. I don’t recall the company name now, but i think it was pohjola.

    • Enrique

      Hi st and welcome to Migrant Tales. Too bad about what you said. It is really a bad feeling when one gets excluded like that.

Leave a Reply