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Would you split up with your bank over ethics?

Switching your bank account to a more ethical provider may seem appealing, but will the service be as consistent as your current provider? Are you tempted to move to a more ethical bank?

I’ve banked online with First Direct for years and have found its customer service to be impeccable. But if I want to pay in a cheque or cash, I have to go into an HSBC branch. And there’s the problem.

Just as I’ve never had a bad experience with First Direct, I’ve never had a good one with HSBC, whose staff have, in my experience, ranged from indifferent to rude. My positive view of First Direct has been soured by its parent company.

And my negative feeling has been further compounded by the recent run of news about the global failings of the HSBC group, including a $1bn fine for money laundering offences in the US. My disappointment at the group’s ethical policy has given me the final push to do the previously unthinkable and ditch First Direct in favour of The Co-operative Bank.

A question of ethics

The picture so far has been mixed. I’ve called into my local Britannia branch (now part of The Co-op group) twice to open the account – the first time I was struck by the indifferent customer service and took to Twitter to voice my frustrations. I received excellent service on my next visit.

My fear is that when The Co-op takes over hundreds of Lloyds TSB branches in the coming year or so, the customer service in the new branches won’t match up with the bank’s current reputation. The Co-op has an impressive 86% customer score among Which? members, compared with 58% for Lloyds TSB.

If The Co-op wants to keep me, it must drive up service standards in its new branches, rather than be dragged down by them. So far, the jury’s out.

Comments
Member

Ditching First Direct is rather like cutting off your nose to spit your face. So will you be leaving the UK next , as this country has been in some pretty questionable wars recently, and I suppose you’ll be boycotting the BEEB over, well we know all know why.

First Direct maybe a wholeowned subsiduary of HSBC but I don;’t think you should be blaming FD with the faults of its parent company.

You’ll be wanting to jail kids of criminals next.

One customer ditching will make no difference to a bank, they have millions. And as you’re a principal money researcher I suspect you don’t pay many banking fees and therefore, the bank will probably be glad you’ve ditched them as they’re not making as much money from you as other customers.

Initiating a shareholder revolt at HSBCs next AGM and getting the current board voted out would be a much better idea and focus the minds of the next lot of likely jailbirds who take up the gauntlet of fleecing their customers.

Member

I don’t see why you suggest that making an ethical consumer choice will lead to a slippery slope of other unrelated actions. To me, it’s simple: there are more ethical alternatives out there (in this country), so we should support them so that they do better, which may allow the banking sector itself to change for the better.

In any case, Martyn is not alone in switching. Over 500,000 people have made similar switches since the start of the year and together they are part of a growing movement of which the banks will have to start taking notice (see http://www.moveyourmoney.org.uk). No action is isolated, in any case, especially when you blog about it!

Member

Hi William.

Isn’t it better to take steps in the right direction, rather than giving up due to the lack of a perfect alternative? Pressure on a bank’s bottom line would encourage more of them to change their business models, but it’ll take many more of us switching to produce that pressure.

I don’t think you can separate a company from its parent company, or vice versa. It’s not the same as a parent and child – in the case of a business, the ownership and management structure are effectively the same across the group. Damage to the reputation of one part of the business impacts on the whole corporate entity.

I do agree with you that shareholder activism is a potentially powerful tool to effect change – it’s been increasingly used to attract publicity in the past year and could be used much more widely, particularly if pension funds and other institutional investors got on board.

Member

I’ve been with HSBC for years and when times are tough, they suck, but that was a long time ago and I haven’t had any problems with them since.

Ethically choosing a bank is a bit of a paradox though isn’t it?

I guess a mutual is the only “ethical” option but you don’t get as much of a return. Ooh decisions!

Member

I split up with the RBS over ethics earlier on in the year and took up with Nationwide. I would have moved to the Coop Bank had they had more branches in Scotland, but to date they have only one, in Glasgow, and I stay in Edinburgh. What I didn’t know at the time I switched was that the Coop Bank and Britannia had merged, and that there is actually one Britannia branch in Edinburgh. Zowee… (The RBS is everywhere!) Plus, I can’t say I know anything about the kind of service Britannia (or indeed the Coop) provide.

I switched to Nationwide because they are a building society, have a good reputation generally, and because my husband banks with them. I have accompanied him several times to the Edinburgh branches at St Johns Road and George Street (he doesn’t do distance banking) and the service he has received (and I since switching) has been exemplary each time.

I’m also happy to report that switching went without a glitch apart from one monthly direct debit to Amnesty International that didn’t transfer properly. Easily remedied, but if you switch, go through your statements with a fine tooth comb for a while until you are satisfied everything is OK.

Member

I’d very much like to see a major expansion of the mutual sector, including building societies and credit unions. That’s the main reason I switched my (modest!) savings over to the local credit union in Camden – their admin isn’t quite 21st century, but at least I know my money is doing a bit of good and that it’s not-for-profit.

Good luck with Nationwide – they’re a Which? Recommended Provider for banking, so should be a good choice. http://www.which.co.uk/money/bank-accounts/reviews-ns/bank-accounts/which-recommended-providers/

Member

For me the boot is on the other foot. I’ve used Smile since it started 13 years ago and the Nationwide for decades. If I had a fall out I might move to another mutual but hell would have to freeze over before I moved to a City corporate.

Member
Mikhail says:
5 November 2012

It is ‘Citi’ not ‘City’.

Member
Charles Warlow says:
15 November 2012

I moved to SMILE and the Coop as a result of RBS behaviour (bad) and have never looked back even though I live in Edinburgh. You don’t need branches, the post office take cheques for sending on to the bank, the customer service on the phone is brilliant, and you feel so much better for not being with RBS.