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2D: Bankers & banking

Bankers have barely been out of the news for the last couple of years, yet – as with so many long-running stories – there are relatively few good articles that give any perspective to the day-to-day happenings. For this 2D, I’ve found two articles that do just that.

The first article I’ve chosen is from the London Review of Books, was written by John Lanchester, and was published in July. “Are we having fun yet?” uses all sorts of arresting comparisons to contextualise the behaviour of banks, and also explains aspects of it that I had previously not really understood. Here’s one example of a breathtaking statistic:

Lloyds’ total provision for PPI has now hit £6.7 billion, getting on for the full cost of the London Olympics, just from that one bank.

I often find it hard to conceptualise the value of a few billion pounds; maybe things should be costed in “London Olympics” from now on, in the same way we measure things in “Nelson’s Columns”.

Lanchester briefly touches on the computer meltdown at RBS a couple of years ago that caused a lot of disruption to me, personally, as well as to many thousands of other customers. His discussion with one banker poses on of the major questions I had at the time, and which still mystifies me to some extent:

‘It’s a mystery why people weren’t angrier,’ one banker told me. ‘I mean, how much worse can it get than people not being able to get hold of their own money? I don’t think people realised just how big a deal it was.

I also confess that I enjoyed this particular aside:

I know that lots of people refuse to subscribe to Sky because of its connection to Rupert Murdoch, but News Corp owns only 39 per cent of BSkyB and the Murdoch family owns only 12 per cent of News Corp. That means that more than 95 per cent of Sky is owned by not-Murdoch, which as far as I’m concerned puts it in the clear. Murdoch’s 4.68 per cent of Sky is only a fraction more than Libya’s 3.27 per cent share of Pearson: I’ve never heard of anyone refusing to buy a Penguin book because of Colonel Gaddafi.)

The second article I’ve chosen is somewhat different: a Reuters blog by Felix Salmon (which, pleasingly, mentions the LRB article above). “Adventures with ‘free’ checking, transatlantic edition” talks about the “myth” of free banking in the United States. This is something I’ve read about so often in the UK media that I’ve become somewhat immune to the shock the articles often try to induce in me. Reading about the problem in the context of a slightly different banking system helps points like this to stick:

If you think your bank is being transparent about how it’s making money from you, or if you think that your banking is free, then you’re almost certainly mistaken.

I also thought that the personal story with which Salmon opens his post offers a nice counterbalance to the rather grander scale on which Lanchester talks in his article. I think these two articles work very well together.

2D posts appear on alternate Wednesdays. For 2D, I pick two interesting articles that look at an issue from two different – though not necessarily opposing – perspectives. I hope you enjoy them!

This 2,050th post was filed under: 2D, , , , , .

Photo-a-day 203: Ex-Rock

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This is Northern Rock’s flagship branch on Northumberland Street in Newcastle – as previously featured ad nauseam on 24hr news in 2007, when there was a run on the bank. It’s just finished its rebrand to Virgin Money – though it’s nice to see that they’ve left the distinctive clock in place.

This 1,734th post was filed under: Photo-a-day 2012, , , .

NatWest Customer Charter ad banned by ASA

I’ve written about NatWest’s awful customer charter before (here and here).

Those with an exceptional memory might remember Pledge 9, often repeated in their ads:

We pledge to stay open for business if we are the last bank in town and will consider a range of options to ensure a local banking service is available.

You might have interpreted this to mean that they’d keep a branch open if it was the only bank in town. That would clearly have been foolish, as NatWest have now clarified, in response to a complaint about the closure of the Farley branch:

The commitment was to continue providing “banking services” wherever they were the last bank in town … Customers in Farley could still receive a full banking service from the Pudsey branch, just over a mile and a half away.

Yep, hosting a branch in a different town (Pudsey) is considered by NatWest to be providing a “full banking service” in Farley.

The ASA wasn’t impressed by this wriggling, and has promptly banned the ad for being misleading and lacking substantiation.

NatWest’s charter is awful, unstretching claptrap, and yet they can’t even keep to that. I wonder if this debacle will make it into the next “independent review”? Given that the complaint was about an ad based on the charter, rather than the charter itself, I’m confident it will be ignored.

As I always say in these posts: Swtich to Smile. Switch to First Direct. Switch to The Co-op.

Switch to anyone who actually gives a damn about customer service, instead of waiting for change for a bank which clearly doesn’t know how to prioritise customer service, and whose solution to poor customer service appears to commit to more poor customer service.

The more you put up with it, the more these corporate idiots think its acceptable, and the more poor service propagates.

Swtich, switch, switch!

This 1,527th post was filed under: Headliner, , .

NatWest’s awful charter: Revisited

A little while ago, before I did all that App reviewing nonsense, I blogged about Natwest’s utterly unambitious Customer Charter.

You’ll probably have seen on TV ads and billboards nationwide that they’ve just published their first independent review of progress – it’s online here, and it’s well worth a read and a chuckle.

Let me share with you some of the highlights.

You’ll remember that one of the commitments I derided the most was “We will aim to serve the majority of our customers within five minutes in our branches.” They have two pages dedicated to this commitment in their follow-up report. The first is congratulatory, with big ticks heralding the arrival of more cash machines and a queue management system. Neither of those is the crucial outcome measure, though. That comes on the next page, with this pearl of wisdom:

We know … that there are times and places where customers have waited longer and we have much more to work on … We are testing a new tool to measure queues.

Their solution to improve waiting times is… to change the way waiting times are measured. Because, dear customer, this represents “Helpful Banking”. Presumably, you’ll stand in the queue for exactly the same length of time, but their report will look better. Fantastic.

Another promise was that they’d only piss off 10% of their customers: “9 out of 10 customers will rate us friendly and helpful.” How did they do?

8 out of 10 customers rated us friendly and helpful during 2010.

They failed. But, not to worry, they still include this congraulatory customer quote:

A 9 out of 10 customer satisfaction rate … does help to reassure me that they are serious about their commitment.

Not only would pissing off 10% of customers not go a long way to reassuring me that NatWest is serious about “Helpful Banking”, the fact is that they didn’t achieve it. So it doesn’t reassure anyone about anything!

Some quick-fire ones now.

Promise: “75% of our customers to be satisfied with the way their complaint has been handled.”

57% of our customers were satisfied with the way their complaint was handled.

Promise: “[We will provide] more than 22,000 days each year to community volunteering”

During 2010, [we] gave 7,547 days of volunteering to their local communities.

Promise: “We will answer 90% of calls in less than a minute.”

We answered 91.4% of calls made to our telephone banking centres in less than 3 a minute.

Hmm, that last one looks good. It looks like they’re meeting their target. And, in fact, they are.

I’ve included it because of the ludicrous way they define the target, which is curiously hidden from the main report.

Their published result makes it look like I can phone up, and my call will be answered by a real person within a minute. That’s actually not true, because there’s often an automated machine answer first. They have then gone on to exclude from the sample anyone who fails to get through the automated machine’s ‘screening’ of calls. If you can’t find out how to speak to an actual person, you’re excluded from the figures. If the machine won’t let you speak to a real person – perhaps because “lines are busy, please try later” – you’re excluded from the figures. Extraordinary.

I can only repeat my advice from last time: Switch.

Swtich to Smile. Switch to First Direct. Switch to The Co-op.

Switch to anyone who actually gives a damn about customer service, instead of waiting for change for a bank which clearly doesn’t know how to prioritise customer service, and whose solution to poor customer service appears to commit to more poor customer service.

Don’t put up with it. Switching is quick and painless. The more you put up bad service, the more these corporate idiots think its acceptable, and the more it propagates.

Please, for the good of us all: Switch!

This 1,435th post was filed under: Headliner, , , , , , .

Banks’ terrible customer service and NatWest’s awful charter

I’ve been meaning to write this for a while, because this particular issue has been on my wick for some considerable time. Now is the moment to get it off my chest!

NatWest’s marketing department has been running irritating TV ads for a long while now promoting it’s ‘Customer Charter’. I find these adverts intensely irritating, primarily because of the poor quality of the promises featured in the ‘Charter’.

It reflects a sad state of consumer affairs in the UK when a bank feels able to make a song and dance about these fourteen pathetic promises:

1. We will extend the opening hours in our busiest branches.

NatWest has committed to opening 600 of its branches on Saturdays. That’s about a third of their branches. Given that the bank wants us to give it our money, it isn’t exactly reaching for the sky in extending opening hours, is it? When the ‘Charter’ is fully implemented, the vast majority of its branches still won’t be open when the vast majority of consumers are most able to access them: weekends.

2. We will aim to serve the majority of our customers within five minutes in our branches.

That is, your custom means so little to NatWest that they expect you to queue for over five minutes to speak to them about half of the time. They expect you to queue to give them money. And we are supposed to be grateful for this apparent concession. How has service become so poor in this country, and how so especially in the banking sector? Tesco will open another till if I have to queue: NatWest will leave me hanging around.

3. We will provide you with friendly, helpful service whenever you deal with us.

The rubric for this item suggests that they want to piss off only 10% of customers. Again, not exactly aiming high, are we?

4. We will help you to make the right choices for you and your money, providing a clear product range with simply explained features and charges

That is, of course, provided that the ‘right choices’ happen to fit in with NatWest’s product range and profit margins. There is no commitment to providing independent financial advice, despite that being what’s hinted at by this promise. Not exactly reassuring.

5. We will provide a 24/7 telephone banking service.

The rubric for this one contains the now oft-quoted concealed racism of promising “UK call centres”. And is there actually any major bank that doesn’t provide this as part of their normal service? Surely not.

6. We will work with you to keep you safe when you bank online with us

Again, this seems an utterly bizarre promise. Keeping me safe when I bank online with NatWest is, in the most part, about NatWest having secure systems. I would liked to have taken that as read.

7. We will help you quickly if your debit card is lost or stolen and you need access to cash

Once again – wow. They have to make a special promise to enable me to access my cash if I happen to lose the card that provides the bank with the most convenient method of me accessing my own money? Again, I’d have very much liked to have taken that as read.

8. We will continue to be a responsible lender and are committed to finding new ways to help

The bank that lent a single woman on benefits £5000 for a nose-job will ‘continue’ to lend responsibly? Great!

9. We pledge to stay open for business if we are the last bank in town and will consider a range of options to ensure a local banking service is available

I’m supposed to be grateful that a bank is promising not to close if there isn’t another bank nearby? You mean I’m supposed to be grateful that NatWest guarantee to maintain a monopoly? And note that the first half of the sentence – suggesting that they’ll maintain the branch – is seemingly contradicted by the last half, suggesting that they will ‘consider a range of options’. Like a once-weekly service in the back of a van.

10. We will provide young people with financial education through our independently accredited MoneySense programme

11. We will actively support the local community in which we live and work

It’s difficult to complain too heavily about these commitments, except to say that they have very little to do with any promise to customers, and everything to do with demonstrating corporate responsibility… And that both programmes cost only the tiniest fraction of the profits of the organisation.

12. We will resolve customer complaints fairly, consistently, and promptly

Apparently, they only want 25% of complainants to be annoyed at the handling of their complaint. Note that the Bank has just been fined £2.8m by the FSA for poor handling of complaints. So how’s that promise going?

13. Twice a year we will publish the most common of complaints

Twice a year they’ll tell us what we complain about? But I already know what I moan about. Why tell me about it? Why not just fix it?

14. We will actively seek your thoughts and suggestions on how we can become more helpful

But, other thank listening, they’ll do nothing. There’s no commitment to following the suggestions, or responding to the thoughts. Thanks, NatWest.

So what do I suggest? Simple: switch.

Swtich to Smile. Switch to First Direct. Switch to The Co-op.

Switch to anyone who actually gives a damn about customer service, instead of waiting for change for a bank which clearly doesn’t know how to prioritise customer service, and whose solution to poor customer service appears to commit to more poor customer service.

Don’t put up with it. The more you put up with it, the more these corporate idiots think its acceptable, and the more poor service propagates.

Swtich, switch, swtich!

This 1,427th post was filed under: Headliner, , , , , .

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