Sean O'Grady: "I'm irrationally loyal to my bank. But that doesn't mean I'm wrong"


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The Independent Online

Most of us are creatures of habit. Consider, reading this as you are, newspapers and websites. Certainly, in the case of the former, readers are astonishingly loyal to a given title, and indeed their social and political outlook can be defined by the paper they read. They rarely switch.

Websites, I'd concede, have less of a hold, but users still have their habits as to where they go for news, entertainment or shopping.

Talking of which, despite the rise of discounters such as Lidl and Aldi, supermarket visits are also dictated by feeling at home there.

We are also famously devoted to particular brands of cigarette, car, beer, even cola and petrol – often where marketing drives perceived differences in quality or value, where there may, of course, be none.

So, as the competition authorities announce another inquiry into the banks, I should not perhaps feel particularly foolish that I have been with the same bank for 28 years.

I know that my NatWest account is probably not the best deal I could get. When I look at the monthly charges for my "Black" account (its latest rebranding), I wonder what I receive for the money.

I've never got round to using the perk of the card that lets me into the business lounge facility at airports, but then again it doesn't count for a partner, so it's not as good as it looks. The same goes for the concierge service and most of the other discounts.

I do use the Green Flag free cover, which allowed me to skip my AA membership. The overdraft is handy too.

So although I might well find cheaper banking elsewhere, it would not be so much cheaper that it would overcome my inertia. And, like switching broadband or energy supplier, I also know that rates and conditions jump around – so much so that you might be worse off in a year or two with a new bank.

Even the most avid switcher can get caught out or miscalculate, and so just sticking with one supplier may allow a consumer to ride out random variations in the competitiveness of different suppliers. Additionally, one should always factor in the opportunity cost of switching bank accounts; in other words, most of us have better things to do with our time.

I'd also say that my loyalty to NatWest hasn't stopped me having savings and a mortgage with other institutions. I don't feel imprisoned by my bank.

I last met someone from the bank seven years ago and don't use telephone banking, so my personal relationship with the bank isn't really there. I don't mind much about that as things usually run smoothly.

More important, when I was unemployed some years ago, the bank supported me – and had more faith in me than I had. That, I think, is really why I've never switched. Irrational, but right.

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