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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Labour's establishment suspects a Momentum conspiracy - they're right

Bernie Sanders-style organisers are determined to rewire the party's machine.  

If you wanted to understand the basic dynamics of this year’s Labour leadership contest, Brighton and Hove District Labour Party is a good microcosm. On Saturday 9 July, a day before Angela Eagle was to announce her leadership bid, hundreds of members flooded into its AGM. Despite the room having a capacity of over 250, the meeting had to be held in three batches, with members forming an orderly queue. The result of the massive turnout was clear in political terms – pro-Corbyn candidates won every position on the local executive committee. 

Many in the room hailed the turnout and the result. But others claimed that some in the crowd had engaged in abuse and harassment.The national party decided that, rather than first investigate individuals, it would suspend Brighton and Hove. Add this to the national ban on local meetings and events during the leadership election, and it is easy to see why Labour seems to have an uneasy relationship with mass politics. To put it a less neutral way, the party machine is in a state of open warfare against Corbyn and his supporters.

Brighton and Hove illustrates how local activists have continued to organise – in an even more innovative and effective way than before. On Thursday 21 July, the week following the CLP’s suspension, the local Momentum group organised a mass meeting. More than 200 people showed up, with the mood defiant and pumped up.  Rather than listen to speeches, the room then became a road test for a new "campaign meetup", a more modestly titled version of the "barnstorms" used by the Bernie Sanders campaign. Activists broke up into small groups to discuss the strategy of the campaign and then even smaller groups to organise action on a very local level. By the end of the night, 20 phonebanking sessions had been planned at a branch level over the following week. 

In the past, organising inside the Labour Party was seen as a slightly cloak and dagger affair. When the Labour Party bureaucracy expelled leftwing activists in past decades, many on went further underground, organising in semi-secrecy. Now, Momentum is doing the exact opposite. 

The emphasis of the Corbyn campaign is on making its strategy, volunteer hubs and events listings as open and accessible as possible. Interactive maps will allow local activists to advertise hundreds of events, and then contact people in their area. When they gather to phonebank in they will be using a custom-built web app which will enable tens of thousands of callers to ring hundreds of thousands of numbers, from wherever they are.

As Momentum has learned to its cost, there is a trade-off between a campaign’s openness and its ability to stage manage events. But in the new politics of the Labour party, in which both the numbers of interested people and the capacity to connect with them directly are increasing exponentially, there is simply no contest. In order to win the next general election, Labour will have to master these tactics on a much bigger scale. The leadership election is the road test. 

Even many moderates seem to accept that the days of simply triangulating towards the centre and getting cozy with the Murdoch press are over. Labour needs to reach people and communities directly with an ambitious digital strategy and an army of self-organising activists. It is this kind of mass politics that delivered a "no" vote in Greece’s referendum on the terms of the Eurozone bailout last summer – defying pretty much the whole of the media, business and political establishment. 

The problem for Corbyn's challenger, Owen Smith, is that many of his backers have an open problem with this type of mass politics. Rather than investigate allegations of abuse, they have supported the suspension of CLPs. Rather than seeing the heightened emotions that come with mass mobilisations as side-effects which needs to be controlled, they have sought to joins unconnected acts of harassment, in order to smear Jeremy Corbyn. The MP Ben Bradshaw has even seemed to accuse Momentum of organising a conspiracy to physically attack Labour MPs.

The real conspiracy is much bigger than that. Hundreds of thousands of people are arriving, enthusiastic and determined, into the Labour party. These people, and their ability to convince the communities of which they are a part, threaten Britain’s political equilibrium, both the Conservatives and the Labour establishment. When the greatest hope for Labour becomes your greatest nightmare, you have good call to feel alarmed.