Fair play guys: account switching seems to have worked

Let's not get too comfortable though, writes Douglas Blakey.

After all the hype and the ads and the PR activity relating to account switching, fairs fair: the banks have got off to a decent start. The system works. Complaints about the seven day deadline not being met are few and far between.

More than 35,000 UK customers have started to switch their bank account in the past three weeks. Add to the mix positive stats from the comparison website Moneysupermarket.com – it has reported a 45 percent increase in the number of visitors to its site looking to switch their current account.

Among the winners: Nationwide reports a near 80 percent rise this month in new customers switching to the UK’s largest mutual. HSBC subsidiary First Direct says calls from potential switchers have doubled.

Metro Bank has also issued upbeat news about having to double the number of staff handling account switchers. Let us not however get carried away. Last year, 1.2 million current account customers or around 2.6 percent of the total 46 million accounts were switched.

So call it about 23,000 customers per week. For the full month since seven day account switching went live, it might be fair to estimate that account switchers have doubled year-on-year.

If sustained over the longer term that would mean that around 5 or 6 percent of current account customers will switch. A significant increase and one that makes the exercise worthwhile, albeit at a total industry wide cost of £750 million in IT expenses.

But way off some of the wilder and unrealistic predictions from the more excitable commentators that up to a quarter of us might switch our main bank account. Such guestimates were never realistic and are unlikely to come close to being realised.

Meantime, spare a thought for the beleagured souls at the UK arm of National Australia Bank: that is Clydesdale Bank and Yorkshire Bank to you and me. Clydesdale Bank somehow contrived to mess up mortgage calculations for 42,500 customers.

It was bad enough that it got its sums wrong a first time and copped a £9 million fine from the regulator for a blatant failure to treat its customers fairly. It has now somehow achieved a double whammy of appalling PR by paying out compensation twice to some of its customers. Not perhaps the best week to be a member of the account switching team at Clydesdale.

Photograph: Getty Images

Douglas Blakey is the editor of Retail Banker International

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How Theresa May laid a trap for herself on the immigration target

When Home Secretary, she insisted on keeping foreign students in the figures – causing a headache for herself today.

When Home Secretary, Theresa May insisted that foreign students should continue to be counted in the overall immigration figures. Some cabinet colleagues, including then Business Secretary Vince Cable and Chancellor George Osborne wanted to reverse this. It was economically illiterate. Current ministers, like the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, also want foreign students exempted from the total.

David Cameron’s government aimed to cut immigration figures – including overseas students in that aim meant trying to limit one of the UK’s crucial financial resources. They are worth £25bn to the UK economy, and their fees make up 14 per cent of total university income. And the impact is not just financial – welcoming foreign students is diplomatically and culturally key to Britain’s reputation and its relationship with the rest of the world too. Even more important now Brexit is on its way.

But they stayed in the figures – a situation that, along with counterproductive visa restrictions also introduced by May’s old department, put a lot of foreign students off studying here. For example, there has been a 44 per cent decrease in the number of Indian students coming to Britain to study in the last five years.

Now May’s stubbornness on the migration figures appears to have caught up with her. The Times has revealed that the Prime Minister is ready to “soften her longstanding opposition to taking foreign students out of immigration totals”. It reports that she will offer to change the way the numbers are calculated.

Why the u-turn? No 10 says the concession is to ensure the Higher and Research Bill, key university legislation, can pass due to a Lords amendment urging the government not to count students as “long-term migrants” for “public policy purposes”.

But it will also be a factor in May’s manifesto pledge (and continuation of Cameron’s promise) to cut immigration to the “tens of thousands”. Until today, ministers had been unclear about whether this would be in the manifesto.

Now her u-turn on student figures is being seized upon by opposition parties as “massaging” the migration figures to meet her target. An accusation for which May only has herself, and her steadfast politicising of immigration, to blame.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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