I’m a stickler for good service and can’t stand organisations who don’t deliver what they promise.
Being ripped off is even worse and will result in offenders being dumped. Train companies, utilities and firms like PayPal (one of the worst in my book) have borne the brunt of my complaints when I’ve known who to complain to.
On many occasions, I’ve been offered compensation as a sweetener, which I take and then leave. I’ve worked through the ‘big six’ energy companies and found them all to be a disappointment.
This approach has not applied to my bank, however, which brings me to my moment of confession: I’m a Barclays customer, and have been since I was 14.
I’m one of millions of Britons who remain loyal to our banks, even though their actions have shafted us, caused global meltdown and wrought huge damage on our economic prospects.
Reports state that the amount of money handed over to banks in this country is worth nearly £20,000 for every British man, woman and child. The libor rigging scandal and Natwest’s recent terrible IT problems which stopped people from accesing their own cash has intensified the feeling that nothing has changed since those bailouts of 2008. The high-profile sackings feel like only the start of what needs to happen to rebuild trust in our banks.
And yet we are more likely to dump our spouse than our banks. Why? In thinking about my experience, I’ve come up with three reasons and found that they don’t stand up to serious scrutiny.
Why we stick with what we know
#1 Nostaligia: The Barclays branch where I opened my first account is on the High Street in the town where my mum works. I knew the staff who worked there, having done a week’s work experience there when I was 15. Long after I left my parents’ house, well into working life, I could call the bank direct and arrange quick transactions over the phone.
And they sponsored the Football League before it became the Premiership (those were the days). Since then, I’ve opened an ISA, two children’s savings accounts and a separate account to pay the bills.
But this ‘local’ experience is long gone. My dealings with Barclays are limited to exchanges with a call centre or online. Nothing can be done without a password, 12 digit membership number or telephone banking code. It’s faceless, certainly not local and rarely helpful when you really need it to be. And their sponsorship of the Premiership no longer has the same appeal it once did. In fact, Barclays and Premiership football seem well suited, but not for the right reasons.
#2 Convenience: I’ve always felt that it’s easy to have my accounts in one place, where transfers can be made with a few clicks. Bills are paid automatically from one account and transfers land within a couple of minutes. Anything left at the end of the month goes into a savings account and an overdraft is in place if needed. Simple.
But this no longer compensates for my unhappiness at the way Barclays has used my money. Paying 0% on credit balances whilst lending it to others for 15%-20%, despite the fact that interest rates are at record lows, is no reward for my loyalty. And research suggests that staying loyal could cost hundreds of pounds.
Would I put up with this from British Gas? Why should we from those who look after our money?
#3 Apathy: The biggest reason for not switching is laziness, and that feeling that it was too much hassle to switch Direct Debits and standing orders without my financial affairs crashing down around me.
Banks don’t help here by trying to blind their customers with subterfuge about the process.
Anyone who’s worried about this need not be. Banks can automatically transfer standing orders and Direct Debits, making switching simple.
Last Friday, I went to the Co-operative Bank in Bristol. An hour later, I had the information needed to get things started and open my new accounts with them. The switch will take around three weeks. All I need to do is ask my employer to pay my salary into my new current account. If things go wrong, I have an interest free £1,000 overdraft for three months to cover any temporary shortfall. Everything can be done online and there is a branch near where we live which opens on a Saturday.
Some banks (but not the Co-op) will pay you £100 to switch, which is probably more than the interest paid over a year on a £10,000 deposit in a bog standard cash ISA.
Loyalty gets you nowhere
Why the hell do we put up with this?
The big banks would be in a very different place were it not for the bailouts they received from the public, but the scandals keep coming. They badly need to prove that they are listening to public opinion and demonstrate the important role they can play in supporting economic growth through targeted, responsible investments.
Housing and infrastructure projects have a role to play in creating jobs and supporting growth and blogger Jules Birch makes the case for a fund to boost housing provision. Sounds interesting. Not treating your customers with contempt would be a start for now.
I’ve come round to thinking that the only way the banks will listen is if we vote with our feet and take our money elsewhere. It’s not been difficult, and it feels rather good.
So don’t hang around people. Loyalty will get you nowhere: switch.