Consuming Issues: Looking for bad service? Visit a high street bank

Unlike our homes and cars, most people never change bank. Two years ago the Office of Fair Trading found 64 per cent of consumers had always had the same current account. As a result most of us are stuck with mediocre rates and rotten service.

Which?, the consumer group, surveyed 43,425 people about their experience of 31 leading banks and building societies. It rated each financial provider for current accounts, savings, mortgages and credit cards, and produced an overall satisfaction score, above, which shows which banks are doing a good job, which aren't, and where we should be investing our money and trust.

There are several trends. First, the top performers are small, new financial institutions rather than the old high street names – even if some of them are owned by traditional banks.

These are the top three providers First Direct, HSBC's internet offshoot founded in 1989; the One Account launched by RBS and Virgin Direct in 1997; and the Co-op's internet bank Smile, founded in 1999.

Other new-ish businesses near the top of the list, which have won business and plaudits by concentrating on good customer service, are Cahoot, Egg, Tesco and Saga.

Four of the top 10 (five if you count Smile, from the Co-op) are building societies. While still financial entities, these mutual firms have a social purpose and value ordinary customers.

At the bottom are the big old banks, most of them listed on the London stock exchange (with their founding year in brackets): Bank of Scotland (1695), Halifax (1853), Abbey/Santander (1849), Royal Bank of Scotland (1727), NatWest (1833), Lloyds (1765), Barclays (1690).

About 90 per cent of the UK's 54 million active current accounts are with these traditional banks. Only one large old banking group came in the top half, and that was HSBC at 15th. Remarking on the survey's findings, Peter Vicary-Smith, chief executive of Which?, said: "Time and again, the big high street banks are found to be lacking when it comes to good customer service."

High street banks primarily make their money by using hard-sell tactics to punt poor-value financial products to their largely immobile customers, safe in the knowledge most will not leave. Interestingly, and you may wonder whether this is a coincidence, the worst institutions are the banks which verged on collapse during the financial crisis. True they didn't teeter on the brink because they treated ordinary customers shabbily. Rather, they bet spectacularly on the casino of international finance because they weren't interested in the humdrum business of running current accounts or providing small loans.

Some £65bn of our money has been pumped into two of these groups and the taxpayer owns 83 per cent of RBS, which includes NatWest, and 41 per cent of Lloyds, comprising Lloyds, Bank of Scotland, Cheltenham & Gloucester, Halifax and Intelligent Finance.

Despite this, ministers don't seem to be very concerned about the poor record of these publicly controlled assets. Asked why they continue to treat the public so badly, the Treasury replied it managed our shareholdings "on an arm's length basis" and directed inquiries towards the banks.

But it added: "The Government is committed to greater transparency of complaints handling where this will help consumers... From the end of August, firms will have to publish complaints data every six months, allowing people to see how many complaints particular firms receive and how they handle them."

In my view it will be many years before Bank of Scotland, Halifax, Northern Rock and RBS score well in a customer satisfaction survey. In the meantime, if you are unsatisfied with your bank, there is something you can do.

Under industry rules switching is easy and all direct debits are transferred painlessly. In my personal experience staff at the top-scoring banks are impeccably polite and helpful: you may be surprised at the difference. If you don't like your old bank, move to a new one.

Independent Partners; Do you need financial advice on your investments, pension or insurance? Book a free consultation with an independent Financial Adviser at

newsAnother week, another dress controversy on the internet
Life and Style
Scientist have developed a test which predicts whether you'll live for another ten years
Dave Mackay lifts the FA Cup in 1967 having skippered Spurs to victory
Life and Style
Marie had fake ID, in the name of Johanna Koch, after she evaded capture by the Nazis in wartime Berlin
historyOne woman's secret life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Ashdown Group: Junior Application Support Analyst - Fluent German Speaker

    £25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

    £15000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Advisor is r...

    Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

    £22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

    SThree: HR Benefits Manager

    £40000 - £50000 per annum + pro rata: SThree: SThree Group have been well esta...

    Day In a Page

    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
    Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

    Poldark star Heida Reed

    'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn