New Media: Smile? The Co-op's online bank is enough to make you weep

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The Independent Culture
I'VE BEEN hearing horror stories about Smile, the Co-op's attempt to beat Egg at the Internet banking game, since it launched about a month or so ago. So last week I decided to try and open up an account with Smile and see whether any of these stories were true. Unfortunately, they were.

On Monday, I spent about half an hour registering for the service; a procedure the site says will only take five minutes, with a decision in minutes. I waited - and waited. A day later I got two messages from a Smile operator telling me I had two messages in my Smile secure message box, which I had to collect from the smile.co.uk website.

A decision at last, I thought, wondering whether I'd been the only person in the UK to get accepted by Smile - I know of about 50 salaried people (some who have lived in the same mortgaged house for over four years) who have so far been refused a Smile account.

Unfortunately, my messages merely thanked me for my application and apologised for the delay in processing it, blaming its credit reference agency for being temporarily unavailable (ie. crashing).

On Thursday, I received another message, again pointing me to the Java- heavy website, to spend another five minutes downloading my message, which, wait for it... was a rejection. Surprise, surprise. Apparently, I'd failed to meet Smile's "credit scoring criteria". Bizarre, really, given the tons of credit I've been offered recently from Dixons, Egg and Citibank to name but a few, and only 12 months ago took out my first mortgage. I'd love to know which credit-rating company Smile uses. Anyone know? And why force people to go back to the site for this decision when an e-mail is secure enough?

The rest of the message said that if I disagreed with the decision, I should write to an address in Skelmersdale and enclose "relevant financial details". Er, no way. I'm already thinking Smile is a tin-pot organisation, and now it wants my bank statements and wage slips, only to reject me again because of what? I'm not smiley enough? I know I frown too much, but it can't be that.

I did my research: I fit the demographic, my credit record is good and I even interviewed the marketing director when it launched, so what is Smile's credit scoring criteria? "Sorry, we can't disclose that information," was the answer when I called up. Get your act together, Smile; Egg is beating you hands down, and now Northern Rock is planning to launch its own Internet bank.

My Egg application took just over a week to process and so far I'm happy with the service - the latest government-vetted initiative to count digital signatures as being like paper signatures should mean accounts can be set up in less than a day.

I now worry what Smile is going to do with the personal details that I have provided. I suspect they will go into its database and I'll be targeted with irrelevant Co-op marketing material. I'd be very interested to hear if other people have experienced difficulties with Smile or, shock horror, if anyone has actually been accepted as a customer.

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