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

Bennett Raglin / Getty
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How gendered are this year’s most popular Christmas present toys?

Meet the groups fighting back against the gendering of children’s toys over the festive season.

You’re a young girl. You go into WH Smith’s to pick out a colouring book for Christmas. You could buy the Girls’ World Doodling and Colouring Book, a "gorgeous gift for any girl". In this, the pictures range "from flowers, fans, feathers, to birds, buttons and butterflies". Or Colouring for Girls: Pretty Pictures to Colour and Complete, where you can colour in "beautiful birds, seashells, cupcakes, pretty patterns and lots more". The counterpart Boys’ Colouring Book has a range beyond buttons and feathers: "Planes, trains and automobiles – plus the odd alien spacecraft".

In the run-up to Christmas, this kind of gendered marketing is rife, particularly finding its way into the predominantly pink colour scheme of girls’ toys.

Take Amazon’s page "2016 Toys for Girls": a pink icecream trolly set, a pink light-up tablet, pink building blocks, pink and purple friendship bracelets and so on.

There are several groups taking action against the "pinkification" of children’s toys. One of these is Let Toys Be Toys, a group that targets large supermarkets with the aim of reducing the gendered marketing used on children’s goods.

The Let Toys Be Toys blog focuses on specific examples of targeted gendering within shops, catalgoues and online. A particularly revealing example of how prevalent this has become in recent years is in two pictures published from the Argos catalogue, one from the Seventies, and one from nowadays. The eye-wateringly pink page from now makes the 1970s page look dour by comparison. The lack of change over four decades of what kind of products are marketed at girls is equally striking:

Despite the efforts of campaign groups such as Let Toys Be Toys, the prevalence of gendering within the highest-rated children's gifts for 2016 is staggering.

Look no further than the Ultimate Christmas Gifts Guide from Toys R Us. One of the most immediately obvious examples is the way in which the pink/blue colour schemes are used to market identical products. This is repeated again and again:

This identical drawing board is uniquely packaged to the binary colour codes that are so common within children's toys stores.

The same applies with this keyboard, where the young girl and boy are pictured almost identically, save for the coordination of their clothes to the colour of their toys.

The message is a hugely limiting one: one that allows little movement away from the binary of pink/blue. The effects of this are longstanding. A recent poll from YouGov shows that "only a third of parents approve of boys playing with Barbies". The data goes on to explain that "while most parents approve of girls playing with toys marketed to boys, a minority of adults approve of the opposite".

Images like this were the inspiration behind Let Toys Be Toys, back in 2012. The campaign began on Mumsnet, the forum for parents, on a section called "AIBU", which stands for "Am I Being Unreasonable?". One parent posted the question: "Am I being unreasonable to think that the gendered way that children’s toys are marketed has got completely out of hand?" The heated discussion that followed led to a sub-section with the founding memebers of Let Toys Be Toys.

This aside, Let Toys Be Toys has made signifcant progess since it began. It targets large stores, focusing on gendered signage both in store and online. In their four years, they have campaigned for signs like "girls' toys" and "boys' toys" to be removed from retailers such as Boots, Debenhams, Morrisons, Toys R Us and TK Maxx. It is the go-to hashtag on Twitter for examples of the often shocking gendering of children’s toys.

"This is ostensibly about toys, but what we’re really talking about is gender stereotypes that shape our children’s worlds in an apparently very unassuming way," says Jess Day, a Let Toys Be Toys campaigner. "It seems very innocent, but actually what we’re doing is giving children very clear instructions about how to be a man and how to be a woman."

These clear instructions work beyond colour coordination: where girls are sold the image of the pink "girly girl", for instance. This is evident in children’s fancy dress costumes. Early Learning Centre’s (ELC) children’s fancy dress range imposes very rigid gender roles. To give examples from the current christmas range:


Credit: ELC

Again, the predominant colour sceme is pink. The roles offered are mainly fairies and princessess: generally make-believe.

“I found it really interesting that there were almost no ads showing girls doing anything," comments Day. "Physically they were very passive. The only physical activity we saw girls doing was dancing. They weren't really moving around much."


Image: ELC

By contrast, young boys are offered the possibility of pretending to be a firefighter, a policeman or a doctor, among other practical, professional roles.

This year's Toys R Us Christmas advert follows on from this, with girls mainly dressed as princesses, and boys dressed as knights and kings. Much like the pink/blue colour scheme that we see all over children's shops, these fancy dress costumes create an unnatural binary. They send out a message that restricts any kind of subversion of these two supposedly polar opposites.

What's more, the subtext is one that is deeply rooted in expectations, building up a picture where careers such as that of a policeman and fireman come more naturally to boys, who have been socialised into these roles from childhood through fancy dress costumes of this type. Instead, girls are later forced to learn that most of us aren't going to become princessess, and none of us fairies – and so the slow process begins to unlearn these expectations.

There are certainly groups who try to counteract this. Manufacturers such as the toy brand IamElemental aims to break down the gendered distinctions between boys' toys and girls' toys, by creating female action figures.

“We always say that we are not anti-doll or anti-princess, but that if you give a girl a different toy, she will tell a different story," says Julie Kershaw, a member of the organisation. "As the mom of two boys, I always say that it’s just as important to put a strong healthy female action figure in a boy’s hand as it is a girl’s”.

Like the campaigners behind Let Toys Be Toys, IamElemental sees children’s toys as the starting point.

“We want kids – both girls and boys  – to internalise these messages early and often,” says Kershaw. “While there are certainly biological differences between girls and boys, gender-specific toys are not a biologically dictated truth. Toys are not “for girls” or “for boys”  – toys are for play; for exploration and creative expression.”

This attitude is ingrained in a child’s early years. Only through reconfiguring the gender sterotypes of the toys we buy for our children can we begin to break down their expectations of how to behave in age. We challenge you this Christmas to avoid these highly gendered products. Below are our three favourite Christmas presents for children this year, for girls AND boys, as approved by Let Toys Be Toys:

Mini Table Tennis (£7.99)


From: The Little Toy Box

Djeco Intro to Origami - Animals (£3.99)

From: Rachel's Toy Shop

Seedling Make Your Own Dino Softie! - Dino(sew)or Kit (£5)


From: Gifts For Little Ones