Lloyds emerges worst in survey

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LLOYDS emerged yesterday as the bank with the poorest relations with small businesses, in a survey that also compared all the English banks unfavourably with their Scottish counterparts.

The survey of 6,000 small businesses, claimed to be the largest undertaken in the UK, was carried out by economists at Nottingham University on behalf of the Forum of Private Business.

In a series of questions about how businessmen related to their banks, Lloyds consistently scored well below Barclays and National Westminster, and in many categories it was also below Midland.

Lloyds' customers found their managers less helpful in a crisis and less interested in their businesses. They lacked confidence in their managers, whom they rated lower than did customers of other banks for their understanding of what businesses needed.

Lloyds' customers were also less likely to discuss borrowings in advance, felt less able to rely on their managers for emergency funds and tended more than customers of other banks to believe they were offered only standardised products.

Lloyds said it would study the report to see if lessons could be learnt, but it believed the most crucial issue was fostering first- rate communications with businesses, which was made a priority again this year.

There had been 'significant progress' since the data for the survey was compiled 10 months ago, a spokesman added.

Among the theories for the superior performance of the Scots were the relatively small size of customer firms and a denser branch network. Conservative banking attitudes in the past may have led to fewer problem cases now, and Scottish banks have had more experience of dealing with recession over the years. There may also be a time lag, because this recession hit Scotland late.

The survey dismissed as a myth the claim that banks fail to pass on base-rate cuts to small businesses, and it found no evidence of a bank cartel, because the differences among the banks had increased since the last survey.

The Forum warned that the poor relationship between banks and small firms was putting the brakes on economic recovery.