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

Photo: Getty
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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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