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

ELLIE FOREMAN-PECK FOR NEW STATESMAN
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Craig Oliver, Cameron's attack dog, finally bites

A new book reveals the spiteful after life of Downing Street's unlikely spin doctor.

It must be hard being a spin doctor: always in the shadows but always on-message. The murky control that the role requires might explain why David Cameron’s former director of communications Craig Oliver has rushed out his political memoirs so soon after his boss left Downing Street. Now that he has been freed from the shackles of power, Oliver has chosen to expose the bitterness that lingers among those on the losing side in the EU referendum.

The book, which is aptly titled Unleashing Demons, made headlines with its revelation that Cameron felt “badly let down” by Theresa May during the campaign, and that some in the Remain camp regarded the then home secretary as an “enemy agent”. It makes for gripping reading – yet seems uncharacteristically provocative in style for a man who eschewed the sweary spin doctor stereotype, instead advising Cameron to “be Zen” while Tory civil war raged during the Brexit campaign.

It may be not only politicians who find the book a tough read. Oliver’s visceral account of his side’s defeat on 24 June includes a description of how he staggered in a daze down Whitehall until he retched “harder than I have done in my life. Nothing comes up. I retch again – so hard, it feels as if I’ll turn inside out.”

It’s easy to see why losing hit Oliver – who was knighted in Cameron’s resignation honours list – so hard. Arguably, this was the first time the 47-year-old father-of-three had ever failed at anything. The son of a former police chief constable, he grew up in Scotland, went to a state school and studied English at St Andrews University. He then became a broadcast journalist, holding senior posts at the BBC, ITV and Channel 4.

When the former News of the World editor Andy Coulson resigned as No 10’s communications director in January 2011 because of unceasing references in the press to his alleged involvement in the phone-hacking scandal, Oliver was not the obvious replacement. But he was seen as a scandal-free BBC pen-pusher who exuded calm authority, and that won him the job. The Cameron administration, tainted by its association with the Murdoch media empire, needed somebody uncontroversial who could blend into the background.

It wasn’t just Oliver’s relative blandness that recommended him. At the BBC, he had made his name revamping the corporation’s flagship News at Ten by identifying the news angles that would resonate with Middle England. The Conservatives then put this skill to very good use during their 2015 election campaign. His broadcast expertise also qualified him to sharpen up the then prime minister’s image.

Oliver’s own sense of style, however, was widely ridiculed when he showed up for his first week at Downing Street looking every inch the metropolitan media male with a trendy man bag and expensive Beats by Dre headphones, iPad in hand.

His apparent lack of political affiliation caused a stir at Westminster. Political hacks were perplexed by his anti-spin attitude. His style was the antithesis of the attack-dog mode popularised by Alastair Campbell and Damian McBride in the New Labour years. As Robert Peston told the Daily Mail: “Despite working closely with Oliver for three years, I had no clue about his politics or that he was interested in politics.” Five years on, critics still cast aspersions and question his commitment to the Conservative cause.

Oliver survived despite early wobbles. The most sinister of these was the allegation that in 2012 he tried to prevent the Daily Telegraph publishing a story about expenses claimed by the then culture secretary, Maria Miller, using her links to the Leveson inquiry as leverage – an accusation that Downing Street denied. Nevertheless, he became indispensable to Cameron, one of a handful of trusted advisers always at the prime minister’s side.

Newspapers grumbled about Oliver’s preference for broadcast and social media over print. “He’s made it clear he [Oliver] doesn’t give a s*** about us, so I don’t really give a s*** about him,” a veteran correspondent from a national newspaper told Politico.

Yet that approach was why he was hired. There was the occasional gaffe, including the clumsy shot of a stern-looking Cameron, apparently on the phone to President Obama discussing Putin’s incursion into Ukraine, which was widely mocked on Twitter. But overall, reducing Downing Street’s dependence on print media worked: Scotland voted against independence in 2014 and the Tories won a majority in the 2015 general election.

Then came Brexit, a blow to the whole Cameroon inner circle. In his rush to set the record straight and defend Cameron’s legacy – as well as his own – Oliver has finally broken free of the toned-down, straight-guy persona he perfected in power. His memoir is spiteful and melodramatic, like something straight from the mouth of Malcolm Tucker in The Thick of It. Perhaps, with this vengeful encore to his mild political career, the unlikely spin doctor has finally fulfilled his potential. 

This article first appeared in the 29 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, May’s new Tories