Some figures to chew on. Almost 100,000 people complained about their bank in the second half of last year. That's the equivalent of 534 complaints a day. However, there are 140 million bank accounts open in the UK with billions of transactions going through every year. In other words, according to the British Banker's Association, the number of complaints is small beer.
I can't say I agree with that interpretation. Sure, there are always going to be mistakes or errors – we all make them. But the level of complaints that are made about banks to the Financial Ombudsman is far beyond what you'd expect for organisations of their size.
But far more alarming is the number of complaints turned down by the banks that are subsequently upheld by the Ombudsman. The figure is more than half – 53 per cent, in fact – which suggests that some banks are still trying it on.
It seems likely they turn down complaints in the anticipation that some people won't take things further. So it's good, in one sense, that the number of cases taken to the Ombudsman climbed by 15 per cent in the second half of 2010 compared to the first.
The massive Lloyds Banking Group was responsible for more than a fifth of all complaints during the period. Lloyds generated the most complaints with 12,234. The part-nationalised banking group's Bank of Scotland subsidiary had another 6,743, while the bank's Black Horse finance company generated 2,138 complaints in the six-month period.
Royal Bank of Scotland/Nat West had more than 7,000 complaints, while 6,500 Barclays' customers complained.
The figures are not all shocking. Only 27 per cent of the 8,238 complaints against HSBC were upheld, while 25 per cent of complaints against Nationwide were upheld. Those figures suggest these two financial firms are better at dealing with complaints than their rivals.
But compare the figures with ethical bank Triodos. It generated just 41 complaints over the whole of the year. Of course it's a much smaller bank, but its success at attracting new customers – the number of account holders almost trebled to 250,000 in five years – suggests it's doing something right. Here's what Triodos boss Charles Middleton had to say this week. "Customers are entitled to expect more from their banks. I urge dissatisfied customers to take action, approach their banks and demand not just a basic level of service, but more than this, including transparency on how they use savers' deposits, so that the public can vote with its feet on issues that matter to them."
It's hard to argue with that viewpoint so I join with Middleton in urging you to vote with your feet and take your banking custom away from those that have consistently failed in their customer service.
Clydesdale should pay for blunder
one bank that seems to be failing its customers quite dramatically is the Clydesdale. Last July it admitted it had wrongly calculated interest rates for some of its variable and tracker mortgage holders, meaning minimum repayments were set at too low a level for 18,000 customers.
The bank apologised but still sought to recoup the resulting shortfalls by increasing payments. Reports suggest that this might have added more than £100 to some customers' monthly bills. Clydesdale Bank continued to take these retrospective payments despite clear indications from the Financial Ombudsman that consumers shouldn't be held responsible.
Well, enough is enough. Yesterday Consumer Focus demanded that Clydesdale stopped asking customers to meet the costs of its mistakes. Complaints from Clydesdale customers about mortgages increased by more than 600 per cent in the second half of last year.
"Clydesdale Bank must now do the right thing for anyone who has been asked to make up shortfalls caused through no fault of their own," says Mike O'Connor, of Consumer Focus. "Clydesdale should not expect its customers to pick up the tab for its mistakes." He shouldn't need to shame Clydesdale into playing fair, but let's hope his words work.