Will the Lloyds TSB switch really be "seamless"?

Maybe not.

For the 4.6 million Lloyds TSB customers being forcibly switched to the new TSB Bank as of 9 September, the move will be a "seamless transition." So says Antonio Horta-Osorio, chief executive of Lloyds Banking Group in an interview with the BBC. According to Horta-Osorio, the only change customers will notice will be a change of name. There is a bit more to it than that.

Ahead of the European Commission imposed carve up of Lloyds TSB, the group has a network of almost 2,000 branches. Before long, customers of the new TSB Bank will have a network of only 631 branches compared to the new Lloyds network of around 1,300 outlets. Customers of the new TSB Bank wanting to use a re-branded Lloyds branch will be treated as customers of a rival bank and pay service charges accordingly.

Lloyds customers using a newly re-branded TSB branch or vice-versa – TSB customers using a Lloyds-branded branch – will also find that their deposits will take longer to reach their accounts. Lloyds and TSB will, after all, be totally separate banks. In all of this, it is hard to regard the customer as being on a winner but the banks will be on a "nice little earner" in the future if you dare to use the wrong brand of branch.

The European Commission and the UK government will however pat themselves on the back and proclaim that an additional bank means more choice for the consumer so must be a good idea. Pure poppycock but the exercise has provided a windfall for IT contractors and branding consultants, among others. For Lloyds, the cost of this exercise has been massive: somewhere between £1.3bn and £1.5bn and counting.

As for being "seamless"? Well customers of TSB – in addition to having a branch network that has shrunk by two-thirds – will need to use new bank cards and negotiate around a new website. The website is down for much of this weekend by the by but in fairness to the bank, this has been flagged up well in advance. Then there is the management of Lloyds and the new TSB. In fairness to them, the project has been a massive undertaking and the TSB launch is going ahead next week on schedule.

For that, the management of Lloyds TSB deserves considerable credit. But by one measure – the inability to handle and assess customer complaints – Lloyds TSB is in a league of its own. The statistics released yesterday by The Financial Services Ombudsman were a shocker and shame Lloyds TSB.

It came as no surprise to read that a whopping 43 per cent of all PPI complaints in the first half of the year related to Lloyds and its various subsidiary brands. Lloyds has form as regards PPI – it was the most successful in selling – or mis-selling PPI – and has been getting more practice than most in handling PPI complaints. One might be forgiven for thinking that they would have got the hang of it by now. Not a bit of it. In February, it was fined £4.3m for dragging its heels in delaying PPI compensation to 140,000 customers.

Fast forward a few months and we learn that Lloyds complaints handling process is so dire that the Ombudsman found against Lloyds TSB in 90 per cent of PPI cases; as regards its Bank of Scotland business unit, the figure was not much better at 87 per cent. By contrast, the Ombudsman found against HSBC in less than one case in two (45 per cent) while Royal Bank of Scotland did even better with only 34 per cent of Ombudsman complaints relating to PPI mis-selling going against the bank.

For the record, the figure at Nationwide Building Society was a mere 7 per cent. Customers of the new TSB may be forgiven for hoping that certain aspects of Lloyds TSB’s customer service ethos remains with the new Lloyds.

Lloyds TSB. Photograph: Getty Images

Douglas Blakey is the editor of Retail Banker International

Photo: Getty
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Who will win in Stoke-on-Trent?

Labour are the favourites, but they could fall victim to a shock in the Midlands constituency.  

The resignation of Tristram Hunt as MP for Stoke-on-Central has triggered a by-election in the safe Labour seat of Stoke on Trent Central. That had Westminster speculating about the possibility of a victory for Ukip, which only intensified once Paul Nuttall, the party’s leader, was installed as the candidate.

If Nuttall’s message that the Labour Party has lost touch with its small-town and post-industrial heartlands is going to pay dividends at the ballot box, there can hardly be a better set of circumstances than this: the sitting MP has quit to take up a well-paid job in London, and although  the overwhelming majority of Labour MPs voted to block Brexit, the well-advertised divisions in that party over the vote should help Ukip.

But Labour started with a solid lead – it is always more useful to talk about percentages, not raw vote totals – of 16 points in 2015, with the two parties of the right effectively tied in second and third place. Just 33 votes separated Ukip in second from the third-placed Conservatives.

There was a possible – but narrow – path to victory for Ukip that involved swallowing up the Conservative vote, while Labour shed votes in three directions: to the Liberal Democrats, to Ukip, and to abstention.

But as I wrote at the start of the contest, Ukip were, in my view, overwritten in their chances of winning the seat. We talk a lot about Labour’s problem appealing to “aspirational” voters in Westminster, but less covered, and equally important, is Ukip’s aspiration problem.

For some people, a vote for Ukip is effectively a declaration that you live in a dump. You can have an interesting debate about whether it was particularly sympathetic of Ken Clarke to brand that party’s voters as “elderly male people who have had disappointing lives”, but that view is not just confined to pro-European Conservatives. A great number of people, in Stoke and elsewhere, who are sympathetic to Ukip’s positions on immigration, international development and the European Union also think that voting Ukip is for losers.

That always made making inroads into the Conservative vote harder than it looks. At the risk of looking very, very foolish in six days time, I found it difficult to imagine why Tory voters in Hanley would take the risk of voting Ukip. As I wrote when Nuttall announced his candidacy, the Conservatives were, in my view, a bigger threat to Labour than Ukip.

Under Theresa May, almost every move the party has made has been designed around making inroads into the Ukip vote and that part of the Labour vote that is sympathetic to Ukip. If the polls are to be believed, she’s succeeding nationally, though even on current polling, the Conservatives wouldn’t have enough to take Stoke on Trent Central.

Now Theresa May has made a visit to the constituency. Well, seeing as the government has a comfortable majority in the House of Commons, it’s not as if the Prime Minister needs to find time to visit the seat, particularly when there is another, easier battle down the road in the shape of the West Midlands mayoral election.

But one thing is certain: the Conservatives wouldn’t be sending May down if they thought that they were going to do worse than they did in 2015.

Parties can be wrong of course. The Conservatives knew that they had found a vulnerable spot in the last election as far as a Labour deal with the SNP was concerned. They thought that vulnerable spot was worth 15 to 20 seats. They gained 27 from the Liberal Democrats and a further eight from Labour.  Labour knew they would underperform public expectations and thought they’d end up with around 260 to 280 seats. They ended up with 232.

Nevertheless, Theresa May wouldn’t be coming down to Stoke if CCHQ thought that four days later, her party was going to finish fourth. And if the Conservatives don’t collapse, anyone betting on Ukip is liable to lose their shirt. 

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