/ Money

Give us portable bank account numbers

Illustration of two hands passing a bank card

Why can’t we take our bank account number with us when we switch banks? It would make life a whole lot simpler, and it would encourage more of us to switch to a better account.

When you switch your telephone from one provider to the next you can take your number with you.

This makes life easier as you don’t have to tell everyone you know your new number.

Yet when you switch your bank account you get a new account number. Wouldn’t it make life easier if you could just keep your old one?

Switching is such a chore

I’ve written on this site before about my inability to change my current account provider. As for an update on that saga… let’s say it’s a work in progress.

However, one of the things holding me back is the potential for mistakes to be made. Direct debits going astray as my account is switched, important-looking letters covered in red ink dropping through my letterbox… these fear could be eradicated if you could transfer your account number with you.

This idea appears to be gaining some traction in recent years and it’s something we’ve campaigned for here at Which?. Now other people appear to be jumping onto our portable bandwagon.

Conservative MP, and member of the influential Treasury Select Committee, Andrea Leadsom recently called for the introduction of a portable account number. The Independent Commission on Banking, chaired by Sir John Vickers, referred to the idea in its interim report and recommended that it should be ‘reconsidered’.

Is the system too costly?

There are arguments against creating a portable account number. When we have mentioned this issue to the industry they’ve always cited the cost as prohibitive. This may be so, but we are yet to see an independent assessment into the costs of introducing a portable account number.

Similarly, we don’t know the costs that the current system imposes on consumers. It could be that there is an overall benefit in changing the system.

Do you think that introducing portable account numbers would be an expensive folly? Or would the opportunity to take your bank account number, switch it over to a new bank, and then carry on banking make people more likely to switch accounts?


Sounds a good idea initially but the logistics are horrendous.
A central organisation would have to be set-up to manage the portable account number and then match it up with the real bank account every time a transaction occurs.
Remember that at present accounts are identified by 2 numbers a sort code which identifies the bank and an account number .
Yes such a system would make changing banks easier and the same could be said about Credit card numbers.
Has any other country done this ? Probably not and for a good reason – cost !

I believe that we should have portable bank account numbers, in fact I would go further and say, that we should have Direct Access Numbering, so that if I move banks, I can swap Direct Debits and Standing Orders without relying on a useless bank.

LiLo says:
7 May 2011

it is costly as this would require creating new infrastructure, but it’s possible. i think a bigger issue for banks is who will cover the cost. eg if a customer is switching from Bank A to Bank B, then why would Bank A fund making the account transfer easier? mind you, banks in this country are not very customer oriented, it’s all about profit making. now, we could try and look at banks worldwide (surely it’s possible in some countries with a more customer friendly bank sector?) or at the mobile industry example, and replicate the learnings. anything to make this industry a tad more customer oriented. another big factor may be that banks are happy with high switching barriers they have created (eg ‘omg if i close account, all this mess with transferring DD, etc.’). this can be resolved through legislative pressure. i think government will need to step in and protect consumers’ interests. by the way, i would like to not only keep my account number but also my card numbers.

Dave says:
17 May 2011

The costs of introducing bank account number portability would impact further than on the banks. If everyone had a unique current account number it would need to be longer than the current 8 digits (there are afterall somewhere in the region of 90 million current accounts in the UK).
So every organisation that makes direct payments into current accounts would need to change their systems to accomodate a longer account number. This would include national and local government.

chris says:
26 May 2011

what a fatuous idea. You couldn’t just take your existing number because that may already exist with another bank for another person. So you would have to take the sort code as well. The sort code does of course identify the bank not only in the UK but also internationally. Unless the proposal is to give everybody new and longer numbers now which would be fairly disruptive and expensive, reprogramming everything to accept longer numbers, new cheque books, plastic cards, amending direct debit details etc. Who do you think would pay for all this?! And don’t forget if you make a payment to someone’s bank account and it goes astray because you put the wrong details in you stand the loss, not the bank. This proposal opens the door for that to happen more often as well. Why don’t you concentrate on running your faintly patronising service for “consumers” and let other industries run theirs..

Daniel.Y says:
6 June 2011

In favour of the ‘portable b/a numbers’. Yes it may seem costly and complex to set up a new infrastructure, but doing so would benefit the consumer, and if the consumers happy then the provider should be happy too. Besides Banks make such a HUGE profit from thier services, and when bankers where taking BIG bonuses it only benefited people within the industry, so why not now put money into a new way foward to make the consumers life more easier. After all we (the consumers) are the ones who are keeping the banks open for business.

P.s Mr.McBride, Yes, the impact of the b/a numbers being portable would instantly improve the way banks operate.

Stach Odrowaz says:
6 June 2011

On the subject of changing banks, there used to be better banks and worse banks.Nowdays they all seem to follow the same pattern and there is little to choose between them. Banks used to be customer oriented with each branch manager having authority to administer his clients, now branch managers have no authority and work is done in centres which are remote from clients and thus provide a dubious service.