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Spend & Save

Simon Read: Are banks getting to grips with our complaints? It doesn't seem so


Britain's banks have had a tough time of it in recent years being blamed for the credit crunch and the subsequent double-dip recession as well as facing a hurricane of complaints from fed-up customers.

In truth they deserve much of the opprobrium aimed their way, particuarly for the appalling payment protection insurance mis-selling scandal, when over a period of some years they flogged useless cover to millions of people.

It's right that the banks are now being forced to compensate folk they took cash from during the mis-selling period. And with the bill set to top £10bn, one can't help but agree with the view of Which? boss Peter Vicary-Smith that "PPI is now the biggest scandal of all time."

But in recent weeks banks have been making plenty of noise about putting customer service at the forefront of their business.

At the beginning of this month, I reported that the banks had told me that "the culture of customer service is being reintroduced across all levels of the banks".

António Horta-Osório, boss of the giant Lloyds Banking Group, admitted this month that banks had become "complacent, non-customer focused and inefficient". He vowed to reduce customer complaints.

Meanwhile, at his old bank Santander, chief executive Ana Botí* (pictured below) has stated: "My goal is to make every single customer happy with the bank."

Two weeks ago we published readers reports of recent experiences with the high-street banks. Almost every story told of woeful service.

So I was waiting with some interest to see the results of the latest official figures relating to banking complaints that are published every six months by the Financial Services Authority.

They arrived on Thursday and confirmed what readers had intimated, that customer service at banks is getting worse. In fact complaints about banking in the first six months of this year climbed 5 per cent to 828,040.

That means for every working day, some 6,215 people complained about the service they got from banks. That's 777 every hour or 13 people complaining about their bank every minute. And that excludes the 2.25 million complaints about PPI received by banks during the same six-month period.

The City Watchdog said complaints about current accounts actually fell 13 per cent, so what was getting people's goats about their banks earlier this year?

Analysis of the FSA's detailed figures reveals that some 43 per cent – 360,000 – of the banking complaints received were about terms and charges. Presumably many people felt misled by the not-always-very-clear charges that banks hit their customers with.

But the figures that I find most shocking – given the previously mentioned assurances given by prominent bankers – are those that relate to complaints about customers service. Some 39 per cent – 325,000 – of the banking complaints recorded between January and June were about service.

Treating customers fairly is fundamental to banks regaining our trust. While there will always be complaints about charges and fees – especially from customers who can't really understand the complicated terms and conditions – banks should be able to demonstrate improved customer service.

In addition, just looking at banking complaints, Ms Botí*'s Santander has regained its position as Britain's most-complained about bank, a dreadful accolade it looked to have passed onto Barclays.

The bank says new fraud measures introduced in January produced an increased number of complaints. Let's hope that it was just a blip, otherwise Ana may end up with not one single customer that is happy with the bank.