Simon Read: Can banks regain our trust by improving their woeful service?


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The Independent Online

Trust is an issue I have often discussed in this column, as it underpins our relationship with all the companies we have a financial arrangement with, whether they're banks, energy firms or retailers.

The fact is that if we're going to hand over our hard-earned cash to any business, we expect that it will treat us fairly and offer decent products or services. But sadly in recent years we've been let down by what were previously trusted names, especially when it comes to banks.

The concept of trust came to be completely ignored by many of them, not least those high street names that flogged millions of useless payment protection insurance (PPI) policies to unsuspecting customers.

It seems the notion of building up trust among customers was casually cast aside and replaced by profit as the motivation by many financial businesses. That unseemly chase for profit saw many former respected institutions collapse.

Meanwhile the remainder of the well-known banking names have been effectively reduced to the status of public whipping boys, blamed for many of the financial ills that continue to plague us.

So it's no surprise that people think the likes of John Lewis could offer a more trustworthy banking service. In fact, according to research published this week by uSwitch, three-quarters of us would trust the retailer to take care of our banking.

By comparison only around a third of us think the traditional high street banks offer decent customer service. That's hardly surprising given the high levels of complaints they've received over the past couple of years, not just for mis-sold PPI.

But banks tell me they're beginning to turn things around and the latest complaints data – due to be published later this month – will show a marked improvement.

I'm told the long process of rebuilding trust has begun at branch level and the culture of customer service is being reintroduced across all levels of the banks.

We'll have to wait to see if there's any truth in that. In the meantime I'd like to hear from you about your experiences with bank customer service in recent months.

Has it really improved? Has your bank acted quickly and capably when you've made a complaint? Is there any real evidence that the high street institutions have learned from the past mistakes? In short, are they likely to regain our trust again?

Trust is also an important issue in personal relationships so it's slightly troubling to read in another survey published this week that many people hide the true situation about their finances from their partners.

According to the Co-operative Bank, people are hiding £41bn worth of debt from their partners. At the other end of the scale, the bank estimates that some £22.8bn worth of savings is hidden from partners.

The latter can actually make sense for some folk. While committed couples should be open and honest with each other, especially when they're dealing with money issues, keeping secret savings stashed away can be a good idea for those unsure about the future of their relationship.

In simple terms a couple of grand can be useful "escape money", giving you the financial means to walk away in an instant from a relationship that isn't working, by using the cash as a deposit on a flat, for instance.

Long-term, of course, keeping secrets from a partner is only likely to lead to problems. When it comes to debt, it can be understandable for someone to be too embarrassed about their financial woes to discuss them with a partner.

But – as money management experts will tell you – the first step in dealing with debt is being honest about it with those close to you. Admitting the problem can help you begin to make steps to deal with it.

And telling those closest to you is likely to yield support, rather than censure – or at least it should do in a strong relationship. Which brings us right back to the trust issue.

If you can't trust your partner to talk honestly about money, then you really may not have much of a basis of a trusting relationship. There's nothing wrong with having separate accounts: indeed, a fifth of couples keep their financial affairs completely separate, according to the Co-op.

But you should be able to make joint decisions about important matters that affect your financial future together. In short, trust each other.

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