This September I'll get sweet revenge on my bank

Current accounts are expected to transform into a window shopper’s dream come true.

Come September and current accounts are expected to transform into a window shopper’s dream come true. Thanks to the Vickers report, customers will be able to switch current accounts, and thus banks, within seven days as opposed to the 30 arduous ones it generally takes.

For someone like me this comes as sweet revenge as I will never get back the endless hours that I have lost over the phone with bank customer care executives - that have made me feel like I am speaking in Hebrew (even though I have clearly been trying to explain an unfair fee or charge) – only to hear what starts and stops at "sorry we cannot help".

Yes September will be a game changer and there has been no dearth of surveys, reports, white papers and webinars saying exactly that. Perhaps the fast switch option will shake up the UK’s Big Five especially (Lloyds, RBS, Barclays, HSBC, Santander – in that order) that currently hold over 80 per cent of the current account market. It will also question the basic fabric of customer loyalty and reveal what customers really want and go for.

However, the question that has often struck me, is, will banks really make it that easy? Apparently so.

The Payments Council has gone a big step closer to that September deadline now by unveiling a trustmark and guarantee that will outline customers' rights. What’s more, all major providers have signed up for it, although not compulsory.

Some of the key points that The Payments Council has outlined are - the new provider will take care of switching regular payments going out such as direct debits, and salary payments coming in; for 13 months payments accidently sent to the old account will be automatically redirected to the new account; and if something goes wrong with the switch, any lost interest or charges that result will be refunded. Golden words!  

The fact that banks will take responsibility if something goes wrong and have agreed to help the customer, as well as each other, through the switching process is a huge relief.

According to a Moneysupermarket survey, a whopping 75 per cent of Britons have never switched their current account. Not necessarily because they’ve been happy with their banks.

Research undertaken in 2012 by Moneysupermarket exposed that 72 per cent respondents had been with their banks for over 10 years, and 32 per cent said the only reason they did not switch current accounts, despite wanting to, was the "hassle" involved with the process.

There have been temptations to switch banks – sure – the Santander 123 Current Account (3 per cent interest and cashback paid every month), the first direct 1st account (£100 cashback offer), the M&S Premium Current Account (£100 M&S gift card and 20 per cent off on shopping once a month for a year), and then the regular lures of such as potentially earning interest on the balances or a fee-free overdrafts. But the deterrent generally is the idea that banks will make the switching process an inefficient nightmare.

A friend of mine who has switched his current account a few times now (wont he be happy in September!) says he had to overlook the switching process himself instead of the banks facilitating the changes or making them smooth.

However, customers knowing that the onus is on the banks, come September, to do all the work, while they just pick a lender, a date, and instruct, is a big step forward in confidence building – especially for those who have been with their banks for years and gotten used to the problems that have cropped up along the way.

Survey results published in April 2013 by Which? revealed that a fifth of customers who made a complaint to their banks felt it was not resolved satisfactorily. There were as many as 323,000 complaints about current accounts reported to the Financial Conduct Authority only in the first half of 2012.

With 1.2 million people switching current accounts in 2012, a record numbers of people are expected to bid adieu to their banks in 2013.

As customers gear up to take the leap and make friends with new current accounts providers, the key hope The Payments Council’s guidelines have sparked is not just around current account design, innovation, offers, but actually banks getting along with each other, and helping customers switch with better coordination and ease.

Revenge, as they say, is best served with an easy and fast switch.

Photograph: Getty Images

Meghna Mukerjee is a reporter at Retail Banker International

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Erdogan’s purge was too big and too organised to be a mere reaction to the failed coup

There is a specific word for the melancholy of Istanbul. The city is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. 

Even at the worst of times Istanbul is a beautiful city, and the Bosphorus is a remarkable stretch of sea. Turks get very irritated if you call it a river. They are right. The Bosphorus has a life and energy that a river could never equal. Spend five minutes watching the Bosphorus and you can understand why Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s Nobel laureate for literature, became fixated by it as he grew up, tracking the movements of the ocean-going vessels, the warships and the freighters as they steamed between Asia and Europe.

I went to an Ottoman palace on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, waiting to interview the former prime minister Ahmet Davu­toglu. He was pushed out of office two months ago by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he appeared to be too wedded to the clauses in the Turkish constitution which say that the prime minister is the head of government and the president is a ceremonial head of state. Erdogan was happy with that when he was prime minister. But now he’s president, he wants to change the constitution. If Erdogan can win the vote in parliament he will, in effect, be rubber-stamping the reality he has created since he became president. In the days since the attempted coup, no one has had any doubt about who is the power in the land.

 

City of melancholy

The view from the Ottoman palace was magnificent. Beneath a luscious, pine-shaded garden an oil tanker plied its way towards the Black Sea. Small ferries dodged across the sea lanes. It was not, I hasten to add, Davutoglu’s private residence. It had just been borrowed, for the backdrop. But it reminded a Turkish friend of something she had heard once from the AKP, Erdogan’s ruling party: that they would not rest until they were living in the apartments with balconies and gardens overlooking the Bosphorus that had always been the preserve of the secular elite they wanted to replace.

Pamuk also writes about hüzün, the melancholy that afflicts the citizens of Istanbul. It comes, he says, from the city’s history and its decline, the foghorns on the Bosphorus, from tumbledown walls that have been ruins since the fall of the Byzantine empire, unemployed men in tea houses, covered women waiting for buses that never come, pelting rain and dark evenings: the city’s whole fabric and all the lives within it. “My starting point,” Pamuk wrote, “was the emotion that a child might feel while looking through a steamy window.”

Istanbul is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. In Pamuk’s work the citizens of Istanbul take a perverse pride in hüzün. No one in Istanbul, or elsewhere in Turkey, can draw comfort from what is happening now. Erdogan’s opponents wonder what kind of future they can have in his Turkey. I think I sensed it, too, in the triumphalist crowds of Erdogan supporters that have been gathering day after day since the coup was defeated.

 

Down with the generals

Erdogan’s opponents are not downcast because the coup failed; a big reason why it did was that it had no public support. Turks know way too much about the authoritarian ways of military rule to want it back. The melancholy is because Erdogan is using the coup to entrench himself even more deeply in power. The purge looks too far-reaching, too organised and too big to have been a quick reaction to the attempt on his power. Instead it seems to be a plan that was waiting to be used.

Turkey is a deeply unhappy country. It is hard to imagine now, but when the Arab uprisings happened in 2011 it seemed to be a model for the Middle East. It had elections and an economy that worked and grew. When I asked Davutoglu around that time whether there would be a new Ottoman sphere of influence for the 21st century, he smiled modestly, denied any such ambition and went on to explain that the 2011 uprisings were the true succession to the Ottoman empire. A century of European, and then American, domination was ending. It had been a false start in Middle Eastern history. Now it was back on track. The people of the region were deciding their futures, and perhaps Turkey would have a role, almost like a big brother.

Turkey’s position – straddling east and west, facing Europe and Asia – is the key to its history and its future. It could be, should be, a rock of stability in a desperately un­stable part of the world. But it isn’t, and that is a problem for all of us.

 

Contagion of war

The coup did not come out of a clear sky. Turkey was in deep crisis before the attempt was made. Part of the problem has come from Erdogan’s divisive policies. He has led the AKP to successive election victories since it first won in 2002. But the policies of his governments have not been inclusive. As long as his supporters are happy, the president seems unconcerned about the resentment and opposition he is generating on the other side of politics.

Perhaps that was inevitable. His mission, as a political Islamist, was to change the country, to end the power of secular elites, including the army, which had been dominant since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk created modern Turkey after the collapse of the Ottoman empire. And there is also the influence of chaos and war in the Middle East. Turkey has borders with Iraq and Syria, and is deeply involved in their wars. The borders do not stop the contagion of violence. Hundreds of people have died in the past year in bomb attacks in Turkish cities, some carried out by the jihadists of so-called Islamic State, and some sent by Kurdish separatists working under the PKK.

It is a horrible mix. Erdogan might be able to deal with it better if he had used the attempted coup to try to unite Turkey. All the parliamentary parties condemned it. But instead, he has turned the power of the state against his opponents. More rough times lie ahead.

Jeremy Bowen is the BBC’s Middle East editor. He tweets @bowenbbc

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue