Trust the banks? Not likely, say readers

Another mis-selling scandal this week comes as no surprise, says Simon Read

Lloyds Banking Group was named and shamed this week as being guilty of "serious failings" in the way it paid commission to its sales staff. The partly state-owned bank has been referred to the City watchdog's enforcement division, which could mean a fine and, possibly, compensation payouts to customers affected by mis-selling.

But the news will have come as little surprise to Independent readers, fed up with years of poor service and overpriced products from all our high street banks. At least, that's the view of those who wrote in to the paper this week in answer to the question "Can we trust the banks?" against a background of claims from the financial institutions that they have improved things in recent months.

The answer is a resounding no, reflecting new research published today by Triodos Bank. The boss of the new City watchdog used his first major speech in the City on Wednesday to lay into the commission culture prevalent at Britain's banks.

Martin Wheatley, managing director of the Financial Services Authority and soon to become chief executive of its replacement the Financial Conduct Authority, told his City audience that: "We intend to change the culture of viewing consumers as simply sales targets and I am going to be personally involved in getting it right."

Mr Wheatley reported the results of a review of incentive schemes run by 22 banks, building societies, insurers and investment firms, which led to the enforcement action against Lloyds Banking Group.

Meanwhile, other banks have been told to check past sales to see if mis-selling has happened and if they need to pay compensation.

Examples of poor practice mentioned in the report include a "first past the post" system where the first sales staff to reach a target could earn a "super bonus" of £10,000. At another bank, basic salaries could move by more than £10,000 per year, depending on how much staff sold.

One bank handed sales staff a 100 per cent bonus for the sale of loans and PPI, but only paid it to those who had sold PPI to at least half their customers. The PPI scandal has so far cost Britain's high street banks £10bn in compensation payments to disadvantaged consumers.

His intervention couldn't be more timely, according to Independent readers. Your emails and letters tell tales of woe and ineptitude.

My bank lost my money

A former Standard Life bank customer got in touch to report massive problems when his accounts were taken over by Barclays earlier this year (the bank has taken over all the accounts of the former Standard Life bank).

Barclays told Mike Nower it had no record of his or his wife's accounts despite Standard Life telling him it transferred the cash on 8 May this year. Despite a series of letters he got no response and ended up last week taking the case to the Financial Ombudsman.

He finally got a response from Barclays on Wednesday when the bank called to tell him they'd tracked down his money. "Unbelievably, they were holding an address for me on their system that I moved from 14 years ago!" Mike reports. "This is despite the fact that the correct address was held by Standard Life Bank before the takeover."

It looks like the story will end up with a happy ending, although the £50 Mike has accepted as a goodwill payment hardly seems to be enough compensation for the four months of worry and being unable to get at his cash that the bank put him through.

"Judging by my experience with Barclays, I cannot agree that the banks' service has improved over recent months," he says, with a slight touch of understatement.

My debit card was useless

Brian Roffe is another loyal customer of a bank. In his case it's the Yorkshire, where he and his wife have had accounts for 30 years. But recent experiences of poor service have made him switch accounts to the rival Co-operative.

The problems began when he tried to buy some euros in July at a local Post Office. "To my surprise my Maestro debit card was rejected and when staff called their head office, they were told that Post Offices no longer accepted the cards."

On holiday he tried to pay a bill on a cruise ship with the card, only to have it rejected again. "Had I not had a credit card with me, I would have had a big problem," he says.

On return from holiday he rang the Yorkshire in a panic. But the reason why the card had been constantly rejected was simple. Maestro cards were being phased out.

"Why didn't the bank tell us about this, or do anything about it," Brian says. The bank then proved unhelpful when he tried to arrange to have a new debit card, which was enough for Brian. He set about switching accounts. "When the transfer to the Co-op was taking place, I would have expected the Yorkshire to be curious about why a customer of 30 years was leaving. But there was not a peep, which tells us exactly what they thought of us!"

Branch staff are unhelpful

Edward Nolan has been with Lloyds Bank for 43 years but says he has had enough and is now hoping to move to a more customer-orientated organisation.

"I find almost universally that the staff at my local branch consider me to be an interruption of their work and frequently interrogate me about my requirements," he says.

"For instance I wanted to open a simple deposit account recently, but a series of unnecessary hurdles was put in my way and sustained pressure was applied to open an ISA instead."

He says staff, from counter clerks to management, are hostile and unhelpful, focusing on their own interests at the expense of their customers.

"The bank has not regained any trust or learnt any lessons from the recent past," Edward says. "Indeed, the situation today, in my view, is considerably worse than last year."

Know your bank

Robert Johnson says that if banks are changing, they are changing to more of the same. As an example he has just been informed by his bank that it is introducing yet another tier to its overdraft charges, designed to catch people out by making them pay more charges.

"It isn't necessary to trust your bank," he says, "But it is essential to know what it is up to. By doing my homework, I have never had to pay a bank charge in my life that I had not agreed to."

His advice? "Check you are getting the best possible interest on your money and move to a different account to get a better rate. Move again and again to keep on top of the deals. No matter how small your deposit, it all adds up."

He also stresses the importance of examining the small print "and, more importantly, make sure you know what it means", says Robert.

Finally, a happy customer!

After years of frustration and unhappiness with several of the high street banks Colin Hague has now become a convert to the attractions of branch-free internet banking.

"It took some considerable time to be persuaded by our family to move to internet banking but now my wife and I are converts," he says.

They've moved to FirstDirect, the online and phone bank subsidiary of HSBC. "Although it's owned by that bank, the service is much more prompt, courteous and efficient," says Colin. "We feel no need to move back to traditional banking."

Just one in four people say they trust their bank

New research reveals just how far our opinion of our high street banks has fallen. It shows that only around a quarter of people now believes that their bank has their best interests at heart.

The research, conducted by ethical bank Triodos at the end of July, showed that more a third of people no longer trust their bank while a further third are not sure whether they can trust their bank.

Of those who said they don't trust their bank, more than half said that the executive pay and bonus scandals had showed that bankers are too far out of line with the real world.

Three out of 10 said their bank has become too focused on short-term profits while one in five blamed their loss of trust on poor customer service.

That is key as the research suggested banks can start to regain our trust by offering good customer service. Almost two thirds of those asked in the survey cited that, while almost half called for UK call centres.

Banks can also improve our feelings about them by being more transparent about pay and bonuses and making the terms and conditions on their products clearer and easier to understand. Some 49 per cent of people asked for the former while 44 per cent demanded the latter.

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