/ Money

What’s the best way to contact your bank?

Woman using cheque book in bank

Banks are increasingly turning to technology as the way to meet our banking needs – and it seems most of you are happy with this. How do you prefer to contact your bank?

You told us about your experiences of getting in touch with your bank and we investigated how convenient it was to access them when you need to.

We found that while some banks had been shutting their branches, others had been expending their network and investing heavily in improving their technology.

RBS, for example, has committed £700m to refurbishing its 600 branches, as well as its IT and new technology capabilities over the next three years. And HSBC has also invested £500m in updating its existing branches, including the introduction of iPads for online banking.

Banks have also been improving their payment technologies, with five banks partnering with Zapp to offer a new ‘one-touch’ mobile payment service to 18 million bank customers across the UK.

In branch or online

While most people still prefer to bank in branch, 89% of the Which? members we surveyed have access to online banking and 76% use telephone banking.

This reflected our Which? Convo poll, where 67% of you said you prefer to do your banking online, 51% like to do their banking in branch and 18% like to use telephone banking.

Lee Beaumont uses a mixture of services to do his banking:

‘Most of my banking I can do online. I never use telephone banking. If I want to ask them something I will direct message them on Twitter and get them to call me. Or if it’s about my account I will send them an email via my online banking.’

Testing the banks

To test whether banks’ new technologies are really meeting customer needs, we asked the 14 biggest high street banks and building societies which banking methods they offered.

Then we tested the six biggest banks to see how convenient it was to contact them using the six main access methods (in branch, by phone, live web chat, email, letter and social media).

To gauge their quality of service, we timed how long it took to answer two simple questions we had about current and savings accounts.

We found that contacting the banks by phone usually took longer than going into a branch to get our questions answered properly, while live web chat elicited more comprehensive answers to our questions.

Email and letter were the least effective methods of contact, with the longest response time, while we found that social media was of limited use.

But perhaps, as Which? Convo commenter Wincy says, it’s ‘horses for courses’. We all have our preferences on how we like to contact our bank – what’s your preferred way?


If you want to get any sense at all out of anyone you have to go in a branch and sort it out.

On the phone you inevitably end up in a loop being unable to talk to anyone who can do anything without reference to someone grown-up who then fails to call you back; e-mail or ink means you may or may not get timely reply and the reply you get may or may not be to a different question from the one you asked. Only use social media if you have no other interest in life.

I would prefer to contact my bank by secure instant messaging (hosted on its web site), or failing that, secure messaging (again hosted on its web site). Both services should optionally allow the contents of all communications to be e-mailed to the customer.

On the subject of contacting one’s bank, I have experienced problems contacting Santander. If I am outside the UK and try to contact Santander’s credit card department on +44 151 264 8725, Santander’s voicemail answers the call and says “Thanks for calling. The number you’ve called is for customers calling from outside the United Kingdom. Please redial 0845 602 1582. Thanks for calling“. Given that 0845 numbers are surcharged numbers that cannot usually be dialled from outside the UK, even if dialled as +44 845 602 1582 (which is why Santander has to prove a geographic alternative number), this means that the customer will not be able to get through, for example to report a lost or stolen card. In any case, it is unreasonable for Santander to block UK callers from dialling its 0151 number. BIS were negligent for excluding financial services from Regulation 41 of the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Payments) Regulations 2013.

NFH – I like secure messaging through the website. However, I want to keep a copy of my message – some save this in your account, others don’t.

I still agree with my comments I made last time (even tho 99% of you never agree with me & thumb me down anyway lol).

Just this last week my bank (The Nationwide) has doubled it’s Twitter team, plus they now use Twitter 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

I spoke to Thomas from the Natiowide and he admitted under 25’s are turning to social media as there first point of call now. Forget making a special trip into town, forget having to call a 08 number, trying to remember your telephone banking pin. Forget sending a letter with Royal Mail. Twitter really is the way forward for the younger guys in the world.

I wonder why emailing is not the best way of communicating electronically?

Fair enough except that Nationwide is not a bank.

Oh, hang on. They call their online banking system the Nationwide Internet Bank. But Nationwide is a building society. Confusing.

It depends on your bank, doesn’t it? I get a quick response when phoning Nationwide – either from head office or from my branch. They are also extremely helpful when I visit the brach – only 10 minutes away.
But Barclays seems to be in India and my little experience of phoning them was 50 minutes without an answer.
I think a future campaign by Which? could be to give a maximum time to respond to an email by businesses and public bodies. Many public bodies quote 14-28 days to respond. When I worked I aimed to acknowledge an email the same day and give a reply within 1 or 2 days – if not with a complete answer, at least keeping the client informed. Why are public bodies so inefficient?

Phil says:
20 March 2014

I bank with Cahoot. Whilst abroad, I put my PIN number in incorrectly twice. My card was blocked on the Saturday night. Sunday morning I phoned the number in the back. Admin is only open midweek office hours! I could so nothing until Monday. Absolutely disgraceful.

When it comes to banking I want to talk to a real person who can converse properly in the English language and it would be hard to beat First Direct.

I can phone them 24/7 and they normally answer within a few rings. On the very rare occasion they are busy, you get a message telling you they are busy and please try later. They even have a landline number you can ring instead of paying high mobile phone charges.

There is always a polite, friendly voice on the other end of the phone and if they don’t know the answer to your question they will find out for you instead of giving you a load of garbage.

I would not want to use social networks or instant messaging to contact them although I do log into my account from my pc.

Ben says:
21 March 2014

I find it ‘sad’ that banks lower themselves to use social networking sites (Twitter) to communicate. I avoid them like the plague.