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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Forget planning for no deal. The government isn't really planning for Brexit at all

The British government is simply not in a position to handle life after the EU.

No deal is better than a bad deal? That phrase has essentially vanished from Theresa May’s lips since the loss of her parliamentary majority in June, but it lives on in the minds of her boosters in the commentariat and the most committed parts of the Brexit press. In fact, they have a new meme: criticising the civil service and ministers who backed a Remain vote for “not preparing” for a no deal Brexit.

Leaving without a deal would mean, among other things, dropping out of the Open Skies agreement which allows British aeroplanes to fly to the United States and European Union. It would lead very quickly to food shortages and also mean that radioactive isotopes, used among other things for cancer treatment, wouldn’t be able to cross into the UK anymore. “Planning for no deal” actually means “making a deal”.  (Where the Brexit elite may have a point is that the consequences of no deal are sufficiently disruptive on both sides that the British government shouldn’t  worry too much about the two-year time frame set out in Article 50, as both sides have too big an incentive to always agree to extra time. I don’t think this is likely for political reasons but there is a good economic case for it.)

For the most part, you can’t really plan for no deal. There are however some things the government could prepare for. They could, for instance, start hiring additional staff for customs checks and investing in a bigger IT system to be able to handle the increased volume of work that would need to take place at the British border. It would need to begin issuing compulsory purchases to build new customs posts at ports, particularly along the 300-mile stretch of the Irish border – where Northern Ireland, outside the European Union, would immediately have a hard border with the Republic of Ireland, which would remain inside the bloc. But as Newsnight’s Christopher Cook details, the government is doing none of these things.

Now, in a way, you might say that this is a good decision on the government’s part. Frankly, these measures would only be about as useful as doing your seatbelt up before driving off the Grand Canyon. Buying up land and properties along the Irish border has the potential to cause political headaches that neither the British nor Irish governments need. However, as Cook notes, much of the government’s negotiating strategy seems to be based around convincing the EU27 that the United Kingdom might actually walk away without a deal, so not making even these inadequate plans makes a mockery of their own strategy. 

But the frothing about preparing for “no deal” ignores a far bigger problem: the government isn’t really preparing for any deal, and certainly not the one envisaged in May’s Lancaster House speech, where she set out the terms of Britain’s Brexit negotiations, or in her letter to the EU27 triggering Article 50. Just to reiterate: the government’s proposal is that the United Kingdom will leave both the single market and the customs union. Its regulations will no longer be set or enforced by the European Court of Justice or related bodies.

That means that, when Britain leaves the EU, it will need, at a minimum: to beef up the number of staff, the quality of its computer systems and the amount of physical space given over to customs checks and other assorted border work. It will need to hire its own food and standards inspectors to travel the globe checking the quality of products exported to the United Kingdom. It will need to increase the size of its own regulatory bodies.

The Foreign Office is doing some good and important work on preparing Britain’s re-entry into the World Trade Organisation as a nation with its own set of tariffs. But across the government, the level of preparation is simply not where it should be.

And all that’s assuming that May gets exactly what she wants. It’s not that the government isn’t preparing for no deal, or isn’t preparing for a bad deal. It can’t even be said to be preparing for what it believes is a great deal. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.