Opinion: Don’t complain – walk out!

The story of UK banks is the one that just keeps on giving.

While we may be shocked by the LIBOR scandal (even though – let’s face it – we don’t really understand whether we have lost out or benefitted by the bankers’ manipulations) and stand aghast at various episodes of mis-selling and worse, what really matters to you and me is the service provided, well, to you and me.

If I complain about a bank will anything actually happen? Is there actually anyone there to complain to? Or someone who actually gives a damn?

All of us grumble to each other but many actually make formal complaints to the banks themselves. They are obliged to publish the figures. The latest make startling reading, with massive increases among the Big Five, including those in public ownership.

Lloyds managed an impressive 860,000 (up 146% on last year), RBS 492,000 (up 128%) and Barclays 442,000 (up 76%). HSBC and Santander lagged a little in this table of shame.

I have no idea whether my own complaint about Barclays is included in the list. Given the way they handled it, I rather doubt it.

Basically I queried a couple of transactions, to be met by incomprehension and indifference, two false claims that they had tried to phone me, slapdash paperwork and the baffling suggestion that someone might have stolen my debit card in order to pay my phone bill. In the middle of all this they also refused to deal with me at all because they had wrongly recorded my personal security details: the bank even took the trouble to write and blame me for this particular error.

Meanwhile the man I pay to look after my affairs as a ‘premium account customer’ was blissfully unaware of any of the run around with his colleagues in the anti-fraud department. His only intervention was to ring me after all the shouting was over to try and sell me something. He told me this sort of thing happens (well, that’s okay then) and, no, he isn’t kept informed if I make a complaint.

Actually I don’t really care as I have done something I should have done years ago. I have changed banks. I have moved to a bank whose CEO does not help himself to an 8 figure salary, which has not been heavily fined by the regulators, which has not been accused of profiteering from hunger and whose share dealings are not being investigated by the Serious Fraud Office.

In answer to your questions: no, it wasn’t to another big Five bank and yes, it really isn’t hard. Politicians should stop saying discouragingly that changing banks should be made easier – it is already very easy.

Actually, if the 2.2 million people who made complaints over the last year just upped sticks, I suspect the banking sector would soon start to remember its customers again.

And that really would help the economy.

* Chris White is a Hertfordshire County Councillor and Deputy Leader (Policy) of the Liberal Democrat Group at the Local Government Association

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  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 3rd Sep '12 - 2:20pm

    Chris, this is great in principle, but the one point I’d make is that those who are suffering most from bank’s excesses are often not in a position to move. If you have an overdraft, for example, you’ll be paying stupid charges, but will find it tough to move, particularly if you have bad credit scoring.

    The most vulnerable customers are likely to be trapped and powerless.

  • Richard Dean 3rd Sep '12 - 2:54pm

    I think it is wrong for an article on LDV to malign particlar companies, since companies don’t really have the time to monitor every blog – and we’d accuse them of wasting our money if they did.

    As it happens, my Barclays bank treats me very well. They don’t make mistakes, respond quickly to all requests, are very helpful with my international banking transfers, and have never accused me of anything. This is good.

    An alternative, though perhaps less generous, explanation for their response is that I treat them politely, and so don’t make those human beings grumpy.

  • Interesting article. This advice, however, could equally apply to political parties!!

  • An alternative, though perhaps less generous, explanation for their response is that I treat them politely, and so don’t make those human beings grumpy
    Amen, thank you for saying exactly what I was thinking! I generally have a lot of respect for Chris but this post is plain nonsense. If I didn’t know better I would have assumed Chris has woken up on the wrong side of the bed or moved to Tunbridge Wells. None of the things he describes are anything to do with the policies, ownership or directors’ remuneration of any of the banks concerned but more to do with abilities (and moods) of the individuals he chanced to be dealing with (and perhaps also the attitude of the complainant!).

    For what it’s worth my experience of client service has been considerably better from NatWest than it has been from Cooperative Bank but I wouldn’t be dumb enough to ascribe that to the fact that the latter gives money to the Labour Party … 😉

  • For those working abroad moving a UK bank account to another UK Bank is no easy matter. In fact I believe it is impossible now as there is a new condition that states that anyone who moves abroad will have to close their UK account.

  • David Rogers 4th Sep '12 - 11:20am

    Well Chris – when I was leaving home to go to college many years ago, I didn’t follow my parents’ example of banking with Barclays. But that was for reasons associated with the era of campaigning against apartheid, and the bank’s then involvement in South Africa. For the same reason, my eldest daughter remembers (from her pushchair) an argument in the greengrocer’s about Outspan oranges…..
    As a student I opened an account with the Co-operative Bank, and my association with them continues to this day via my Liberal Democrat affinity credit card.
    For 20 years or so my current account (and indeed some others now) has been with first direct, about whom I have never had cause to complain. And yes, I do know that it’s part of HSBC!

  • Nonsense Dominic? Chris’s article is a cut-n-paste of my experience, almost exactly, and to be clear I am always, as Richard recommends, absolutely polite with them. I tried several times to get the online banking working, admitting ‘that it may be me’, but they tried it at the bank and it worked. I tried again at home with help over the phone from a guy with an Asian accent who didn’t have a script for what I was asking, passed me to his team leader who told me to go to the branch. (Oh yes, and they did go down the road of telling me I had got my secuirity information wrong too!). But yes, the people in the branches I used were lovely.
    As a protest about the scandals I decided to move banks.. in theory it is easy.. there is an inter-bank agreement to transfer direct-debit/standing-orders. My new bank asked Barclays for the information, Barclays said that I didn’t have any.. not willing to cooperate I call that.

  • Richard Dean 4th Sep '12 - 4:02pm

    I continue to believe that it is wrong to use LDV to complain about particular companies who have no economic way of monitoring blogs and so no way of defending themselves.

    As it happens, I also use Barclays internet banking servoce, and I find it superb. All it requires is a web browser and a userid and password which you get from Barclays. It’s a very useful system and very easy to set up. A person really has to be very clumsy indeed to have trouble using the system – it;s just the same as using virtually any other online interface, except for the extra security features.

  • Chris White 4th Sep '12 - 10:50pm

    Banks do of course have economic ways of monitoring blogs – from google alerts to wholesale public affairs departments which scan the networks. I once complained on twitter about BT and got a response suggesting that I contact a particular email address. I did and the problem was solved. Barclays is big enough to look after itself and has shown no interest in sorting there problems.

    Actually I don’t really complain about the individuals but about the systems. The man who supposed to be looking after me was hamstrung by a system which concealed from him the complaints of his client. The manager of the branch in Vauxhall, who revealed to me the extent of the bank’s error, was very kind. The poor training of the person who suggested that someone was criminally paying my bills was not his fault.

    The fault lies with the atrocious management who have systematically depersonalised the system in the pursuit of excessive profit. There is a direct correlation between the poor service I received and the mismanagement of the rest of the empire.

    Yes: I am not in debt and can move easily. If more of us moved then life might be more bearable for those who cannot so move so easily.

  • Chris White 4th Sep '12 - 10:52pm

    Incidentally, is it just me or do the rest of you see an ad for the Halifax in the middle of these postings?

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