Retail banking can and should be better

The Vickers’ report has been praised for highlighting the importance of competition between high street banks. The report suggests it should be easier to switch accounts, via a system which is “free of risk and cost to customers”. It also suggests the industry should be referred for a competition investigation in 2015. What the report does not pay as much attention to is the quality of service offered to retail banking clients. My latest experience with Lloyds TSB highlights the failings of the part-nationalised behemoth of the British high street.

My simple request of the teller today was to perform a BACS transfer to my solicitors. I was informed that whilst transfers via online banking take just three clicks, the service is not available in the branch and I should head back to my office and make the transfer online (of course, if I had £30 to spare, a CHAPS transfer was readily available in branch). “But I need a confirmation” I begged, exasperated by the implications of this revelation.  You see, not only is the CHAPS transfer available, it is the primary option offered to those unable to access online banking – such as the elderly, visually impaired, or those without the means to own or operate a computer.  In my eyes this amounts to simple profiteering from those in a vulnerable position.

I digress… “Make the transfer from your desk, and come back with a printout of your statement so it can be certified” was the answer. I refused to accept this, and was offered a seat at a customer service desk to log in from the branch. The connection from the antiquated PC was terrible; and IE 6!  No wonder everything takes forever.  Not only that, but for reasons unknown to the staff member assisting me, the transfer was referred to a verification team. The latest nugget of advice on my screen: “Check back in 72 hours”. I almost cried.

“Luckily”, I thought, “I’m in the branch – my new friend can help me!” Wishful thinking – the customer assistant attempted to dial the number on the screen, which failed because it was a textphone number, and had to refer to an internal directory to find an appropriate contact number.  And so it was that from within a branch of Lloyds TSB I sat making small talk with an impatient assistant whilst we were held in a telephone queue for over 15 minutes. The experience speaks for itself. Lloyds TSB, I’ve been loyal to you for over 10 years; I love your ads (“Eliza’s Aria” by Elena Kats-Chernin is fantastic) but our time together is up.

I’ve now moved over to Nationwide who have proven to be friendly, efficient and no-nonsense. The process of migrating my account was simple enough but has taken quite some time. Perhaps Vickers’ intention was simply to encourage people to consider moving. Until they do banks such as Lloyds TSB will continue to grow more complacent in their dominant position, resulting in nothing but a bad deal for the public.

The Vickers’ Report
“Eliza’s Aria” by Elena Kats-Chernin (scroll down, it’s at the bottom)

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