My bank isn’t better than your bank

About a year ago, I wanted to set up a new bank account. I’m a simple wee soul so I didn’t need anything particularly complicated: a cash machine card, internet banking and crucially, no overdraft facility. If I’ve got one I use it, and I’m better off without it. Unfortunately non-overdraft, non-savings accounts are rarer than hens’ teeth, so the choice is very limited; however, as I lived really near an Alliance & Leicester branch I went for their basic cash account. And for a while, I was happy – until I actually needed to use their internet banking.

When I lived near the branch, I sensibly enough did my banking at the branch. Now, though, I’m a good half-hour away so using the web site is more sensible. So a few days ago I needed to make some one-off payments and filled out the appropriate information, only to be told that I had “reached the maximum number of payees for this account.” To add any more payees, I needed to call the internet helpdesk and delete some of the existing ones.

It turns out that A&L automatically saves the details of anyone you transfer money to, whether you want them to or not. And there are just eight slots, so when you’ve made eight transfers you can’t make any more. And that’s where the fun begins.

I called the helpdesk, which – as I mentioned earlier – told me that the success of the new internet banking service meant that the tech support lines were horribly busy. Undeterred, I waited until I was asked to enter my nine digit account number. Unfortunately, my account is an eleven-digit number, and the voice system told me I’d entered an invalid number. I tried a second time, and it hung up on me.

I tried again. This time I was transferred to the security department, who seemed pretty pissed off and who informed me that no, they couldn’t transfer me to a human. I needed to speak to my branch.

I called my branch, who – after about 10 minutes – told me that they couldn’t help. All they can do is let me take cash out or pay it in. Everything else needs to be done over the internet. There was a special, dedicated helpline for basic cash account holders, but that was closed a few months ago.

So I got clever. I called the helpdesk again, but this time waited for the option that said “If you are a multimillionaire who wants to take out a mortgage, 22 credit cards, six ISAs, a pension and a car loan, press 3.” I pressed 3 and got speaking to a very nice lady who offered to transfer me to the internet help people, bypassing the evil voice system. Which she did.

By this point I’ve spent three hours trying to speak to someone, but I finally get through to Roger on the internet helpdesk. He can’t help, because they can’t access basic cash accounts. I need to speak to the branch. I explain that the branch have already told me that I need to speak to him. Roger then goes on a (pleasant) rant, explaining that the bank really doesn’t want people to have cash accounts and as a result they’ve closed the telephone helpline and removed account holders like me from the support programme. But! There’s an answer!

I need to send a fax to head office in Bootle, explaining who I am, which specific payees need to be removed from the online banking, and enclosing a copy of my passport to prove my identity. I then need to wait 48 hours for them to action it.

Passport photocopied, letter written, fax sent. That was on Thursday and of course, sod-all’s happened. So I did the high-tech thing, got in the car, went to the branch, took out the cash, went to a different bank, paid in the cash, went home, and used *that* bank’s website to finally transfer the money, six days after I first attempted to make some very simple electronic transfers.

Isn’t online banking wonderful?

19 thoughts on “My bank isn’t better than your bank

  1. paul says:

    I’ve found A&L to be a bit of a pain to deal with in terms of getting stuff done in the local branch. I called in one day and said I needed to withdraw some cash from my savings account.

    “You can’t do that, you need to transfer the cash to your current account first” they said.

    “Fine, do that for me, then give me the cash,” I said.

    “We can’t do that, you have to make the transfer online or over the phone,” they replied.

    At least they then offered me a phone to use to make the transfer.

    I then had to wait 24 hours for the transfer to go through, and then — bizarrely — collect the cash from the post office because A&L didn’t have enough in the branch.

    The online side works fine for me (in Firefox, too) but it’s impossible to actually do anything in the high street branches. I don’t know why they don’t just close them and turn them into wine bars.

  2. Stephen says:

    HSBC are pretty good, I have to say. Of course you can’t call your branch, but I always manage to get through to a helpful someone, they’ve now upped my credit limit to something silly, and the Website works pretty well in all browsers, all platforms.

  3. Ms. Mac says:

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, louder this time- I loathe the banking industry.

    Billions of dollars profit every year and the customer service is always their lowest priority.

    I used to work for a bank and I’d never work for them or any other back again.

  4. Gary says:

    > customer service is always their lowest priority

    That applies to the entire financial services industry. And IKEA.

  5. Ben Keeling says:

    Actually, net profits for Alliance & Leicester (last year) were about £500 million, quite low for a bank!

    I bank with A&L (having banked with HSBC previously) and I’m very pleased with them – so far!

  6. Gary says:

    I think the way a bank treats you depends a lot on the type of account you have, and which bit of the firm you’re dealing with. I find branch staff tend to be great (irrespective of the bank), although some of ’em are a little too keen to turn every transaction into an opportunity to sell you something.

    Phone banking is usually fine too (again, irrespective of the bank) but when you start entering the world of helplines, customer services and other centralised things it often goes to pot. So for example I’m quite impressed by the Royal Bank of Scotland for everyday things, but their mortgage centre is an utter nightmare to deal with.

  7. Norman Lamont says:

    I’ve been a satisfied user of Nationwide for my current account for more years than I can remember. They were one of the first to bring in online banking and everything works a treat in my experience. And when it hasn’t they’ve been pretty helpful.

  8. Squander Two says:

    I used to work in direct debits for British Gas Services, which meant sorting out problems with banks. It is alarming that, in three years, I spoke to maybe five bank employees who knew how direct debits work. On the basis of that work, there are only two British banks that I wouldn’t be wary of fucking up regularly: First Direct and the Co-operative. However, I used to be with the Co-operative, and, while they may have been competent to all the British Gas customers I dealt with, they fucked my account up regularly. So I’m with First Direct, who, thus far, have been exceedingly good. Since they introduced bank statements by text message, I’ve not gone over my overdraft limit once. Arguably the best single banking service ever (after printing the actual money in the first place, that is).

    RBS were my first bank. I left in disgust when one of their staff told me a direct lie in order to fuck up my account and then charged me for it. Their phone service was excellent, but, unfortunately, there were some things that could only be done in the branch, and the staff in the branch were gits.

    A&L were the only company who continued to send mail to my ex-flatmate for years after he’d moved out, despite the fact that they were the ones who gave him the mortgage on his new place. I always considered that a bad sign.

    Marbles, who’s entire selling point is that they’re Web-based, have had a Mac-incompatible site for seven years now. Luckily, their phone service is good.

  9. Squander Two says:

    Oh, and Bank Of Scotland were dreadful at first, but shaped up as soon as I informed them that I was going to start charging them for any further time I had to spend sorting out their fuck-ups. This strategy may work on other banks, too. Worth a try.

  10. tm says:

    HSBC == First Direct, just a different bit. Hence the strangley similar logo…

    Which highlights part of the problem really – that most of these companies are so large that for every good person/team/department there is another bad one.

    Incidnetally I can’t say I’ve used a large variety of banks, but I am downright amazed to hear all of those comments about the branch staff ebign better than the call centres. Whilst my experience of those is by no means universally good, I must say that i have pretty much always found the face to face service of any branch in any bank I’ve ever visted to be awful. *The best* service I’ve ever had only involved the staff taking one look at my (at that point rather healthy) bank balance and then trying to sell me sodding loan. After I have stood in a queue for 20 mintues for the priviledge. My favorite cock up is the simple, but none the less impressive trick of refusing to give me my cheque book because I couldn’t prove who I was (having the actual bleeding guarantee card apparently not constituting enough proof for that particular days glass screened facist) then actually having made the cheque book disappear into thin air when I returned with a clergy man willing to swear to my identity.*

    * – OK, with my driving license really, but you get the drift…

  11. Gary says:

    > that most of these companies are so large that for every good person/team/department there is another bad one.

    Oh, absolutely.

    > I must say that i have pretty much always found the face to face service of any branch in any bank I’ve ever visted to be awful.

    I think it depends on the branch. I’ve had god-awful service from RBS in Glasgow, but great service from my local branch; on the other hand, before I moved up here we did our first mortgage through the same branch I use now and a catalogue of incompetence and eventually outright lies nearly cost us *thousands*. I suspect (but don’t know for sure) that the individual concerned got fired over it. It really was that bad.

    That said, when we moved most recently we kept our mortgage with the same bank (penalty fees made it silly to move) and while the mortgage center was a shower of bams who clearly couldn’t tell the difference between arse and elbow, the branch staff went above and beyond the call of duty to deliver arse-kickings (or perhaps elbow-kicings) and sort things out.

  12. Squander Two says:

    > HSBC == First Direct, just a different bit.

    Oh, I know. Interestingly, though, when HSBC took over every bank in the multiverse, First Direct was the only one allowed to keep its old name and brand identity. This is because of their amazingly high level of customer satisfaction: HSBC surmised that very few Midland customers were going to give a damn about a name-change or take-over, but First Direct customers were actually so loyal to their bank that they would care.

    Hilariously, First Direct sent out an apology letter a few days ago because they accidentally sent one batch of statements on HSBC-headed paper. The apology was so sincerely grovelling, like they’d accidentally burnt everyone’s money or soemthing.

    I think they shouldn’t have abbreviated their name. The Honk Kong And Shanghai Banking Corporation sounds so much more impressive. I’d love to be able to say that I bank with The Honk Kong And Shanghai Banking Corporation.

  13. tm says:

    >I think it depends on the branch.

    You’d have thought wouldn’t you? Except that every branch I’ve ever been to has been just about the same. Oh and for the record I’ve always been very polite and patient.

    Until the cock up level gets high enough obviosuly.

    >The Honk Kong And Shanghai Banking Corporation

    Yeah, but it’s bit of a mouthful isn’t it? Think how long this thread would be if every time someone had typed HSBC they’d written that? ;-)

    And I’m fairly certain that there is a signifcant minority of customers who might not have bothered about the midland name vanishing but *would* have bothered about suddenly finding themselves customers of a bank that sounds like it comes from china…

  14. Gary says:

    > Think how long this thread would be

    yeah, but if everybody reproduced the typo there’d be lots of references to “honk kong”, which for no good reason makes me giggle.

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