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.