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

Felipe Araujo
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Hull revisited: What happens when a Brexit stronghold becomes City of Culture?

We report from Hull, to find out if you can replace the kind of nostalgia that led to a Leave vote with cultural investment.

At 75 metres long, the offshore wind turbine blade erected across Queen Victoria Square, in the heart of Hull, is a sculpture intended to mark a new chapter in the city’s history. For the next 12 months, Hull, a city of more than a quarter of a million people in the northeast of England, will be the UK’s City of Culture.

The 28-tonne blade hails from the local Siemens plant. The German technology company employs around 1,000 people in the area, making it Hull’s biggest single employer.

Seen up close in this context – laid dormant in the middle of a town square instead of spinning up in the air generating energy – the structure is meant to remind passersby of a giant sea creature. It is also, I’m told, an allusion to Hull’s rich maritime history.


All photos: Felipe Araujo

Nostalgia is a big thing in this part of the country. At one point, Hull was the UK’s third largest port but technology and privatisation drastically changed that. The battle over cod fishing with Iceland in the waters of the North Sea 40 years ago has also dealt a major blow to a region with a long and proud trawling tradition.

People here still talk about a bygone era when the fishing industry provided jobs for everyone and there was enough money to go around.

Fast forward to 2017, and the country’s new capital of culture is the same city that voted 67 per cent in favour of leaving the EU last June. Its new-found prestige, it seems, is not enough to erase years of neglect by a political class “too busy for commoners like us”, as one resident puts it.

“More than a message to Brussels, it [the Brexit vote] was a message to Westminster,” Paul Leeson-Taylor, a filmmaker born and bred in Hull, tells me. “For the first time in a long time people in Hull felt like they had the chance to change something, and they took it.”

But while speaking to people on the high street and hanging out with locals at the Community Boxing Club in Orchard Park, one of the city’s most deprived areas, there is one word that consistently popped up in conversation – more than any specific policy from Westminster or the much-hated rules “dictated” by Brussels. Foreigners.

According to official figures, Hull’s population is 89.1 per cent white British. Still, immigration is big on people’s minds here.

During my two-day stay in the city, I find myself being the only black person in most places I visit – I’m certainly the only black guy at the boxing club. So when someone begins a sentence with “I’m not racist but…”, I know a tirade on immigrants is about to ensue.

“There are just too many of them,” Nick Beach, an estate agent whose Polish clientele is a big part of his business, tells me as he is about to teach a boxing class to local children. Beach was born in Shepherd’s Bush, in West London, but has been living in Hull for the last 20 years.

“When I go down there these days and go into Westfield shopping centre, it is very rare you get an English person serving you now,” he says. “I just find it disappointing that you go into your capital city and you are a minority there.”

These are the much-discussed “left behind”, a white working-class community that has gained particular prominence in a time of Brexit and Donald Trump. Under economic pressure and facing social change, they want to have their say in running a country they claim to no longer recognise.

For Professor Simon Lee, a senior politics lecturer at the University of Hull, immigration is only a superficial layer when it comes to explaining the resentment I witness here. For him, the loss of the empire 70 years ago is still something that as a country Britain hasn’t come to terms with.

“The reason for us to be together as a United Kingdom has gone, so what is the project?”

As destiny would have it, a foreign company will now play a major role on Hull’s economic future, at least in the short term. In the wake of the Brexit vote, there were widespread fears Siemens would pull out of the region and take its factory elsewhere. With the massive blade looming large in the background, Jason Speedy, director of the blade factory in Hull, assures me that isn’t the case.

“The Brexit decision has made no difference. We have made our investment decision, so Siemens, together with the Association of British Ports, has put in £310m. It’s all full steam ahead.”

As Hull becomes the country’s cultural hub for the next few months, the hope is that its residents stop looking back and start looking forward.

For Professor Lee, though, until there is a complete change in the power structures that run the country, the north-south divide will remain – with or without the EU. “The way you kill nostalgia is to have something new,” he said. “The reason why people here are nostalgic is because there is nothing to replace it with.”

Felipe Araujo is a freelance journalist based in London. He writes about race, culture and sports. He covered the Rio Olympics and Paralympics on the ground for the New Statesman. He tweets @felipethejourno.