Your Money: Abbey kicks habit but what's new?

The bank needs to offer innovative products with exciting rates, rather than just a glitzy new image
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The Independent Online

By now you will probably have seen the TV and newspaper adverts; indeed, there is one on page 11 in this section. Abbey National has decided to become plain old "Abbey" and "turn banking on its head".

This rebranding exercise - in which the famous umbrella is being ditched, along with the catchphrase "Because life's complicated enough" - has been carried out at a cost of £11m. But what are shareholders and customers actually getting - apart from a new logo?

The answer seems to be not a lot. Simplicity is the new black, with Abbey claiming that the complex financial jargon so beloved of banks will disappear. Letters to customers will be straight-talking from now on and not full of incomprehensible phrases. This is an admirable move, as it will make banking easier. If only others would follow.

Confusing savings and current accounts will also be replaced with simpler products, and Abbey is promising to transform customer service. Again, these are welcome developments.

Branches will be refurbished, so you'll be in comfortable surroundings when paying money into your lovely new account.

Well, that's great. But if all they get is a lick of gloss on tired, shabby old products, customers will soon cotton on. It's the content that counts, not the frosted glass on the front window of your local branch. And where in Abbey's announce- ment is the real innovation?

Details are still sketchy but what is already clear is that customers won't have more choice. In order to simplify things, Abbey plans to slim down its numerous savings accounts, mini cash ISAs, savings bonds, current accounts and mortgages to just three savings accounts and three different mortgages.

Reducing your product range is fine if you ditch old-fashioned savings products that aren't open to new customers and pay pitiful rates of interest. But the second-biggest mortgage lender should surely be offering more choice, not less, if it is hoping to keep up with the market leader. I doubt Halifax bosses are quaking in their boots after this announcement.

Fewer products might make it easier to choose one but it doesn't guarantee getting the best deal: it usually means the opposite.

Abbey's problem is that it really needs more customers to take up its products. There is a very serious reason behind the revamp: the bank reported a £1bn loss last year on the back of some poor decisions.

If it doesn't turn things around, offering some innovative products with exciting rates, rather than just a glitzy new image, it will only find itself in further trouble.

m.bien@independent.co.uk

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