/ Money

Have we really drawn a line under long bank queues?

Graphic of bank queue

Our latest bank research reveals surprisingly short queues in branches – does this match the experience at your branch, or do you beg to differ? Is it time to re-assess the stereotypical image of branch banking?

An average waiting time of just two and a half minutes and a longest wait of just under 12 minutes? I’d be lying if I said that we weren’t surprised by the findings of our latest research into bank branches.

My own recent experience of queuing in banks had led me to believe that we would find plenty of queues snaking out of the door and round the block, but perhaps this is, in fact, the exception rather than the rule.

Which leads me to wonder why we found such short queues? Is it really that the banks have bucked their ideas up and improved their in-branch service? Or is it that so many of us now bank online that the number of customers using branches has dipped to such a level that the staff are finally able to cope?

Whatever the reason, if it’s the thought of long queues that are putting you off visiting your branch, it may be time to think again.

Re-thinking the bank branch

Most of us need to use a bank branch at some point – whether it’s for something simple like paying in a cheque or for slightly more complex reasons like opening a new account.

It seems to me that for banks and building societies who want to attract and keep new customers, ensuring a happy and convenient experience when they do need to see someone face-to-face is key to maintaining this relationship.

New entrants to the banking arena, such as Metrobank, have latched onto this idea of good in-branch service as a key marketing tool, and NatWest/RBS has branch banking at the heart of several of the commitments within its Customer Charter. (That said, NatWest had the longest average waiting time in our research, so perhaps the bank is falling short on some of its commitments.)

More than just a queue

A good branch isn’t just about short queues though – we found quite big differences in terms of the services available within branches as well.

Some banks, such as Halifax, were pretty good at providing automated paying-in and cash machines in their branches, but if you’re hoping to skip the queue for the cashier in a Post Office, you’ll probably be out of luck as very few had automated machines in their branches.

A good bank branch will have plenty of information easily available too – about the interest rates on its saving accounts, for example. Once again, we found some banks were much better than others at making this sort of information easily available to their customers.

So what’s your bank branch like? Does the thought of long queues put you off using it, or are you a regular visitor and entirely happy with the service you get?

pickle says:
25 April 2011

I’m happy with my bbank – rarely have to wait more than a couple of minutes – although it can get crowded on a monday morning (I avoid visiting then)

evie says:
29 April 2011

Many banking services are now automated, so in some cases the queues have simply moved from the counter to the cash machine. The other difficulty can be actually finding a bank with a counter- or at least a human being who is able to deal with an enquiry or take a deposit. So many branches, particulary HSBC, are now lobby only service with machines

Mikhail says:
7 May 2011

I can’t see much point in having so many braches, I live in Brighton we have 3 Santanders less than 500m from each other 2 Lloyds, 2 Halifax and what’s for? If banks have so much money to open new braches so close from each other, why not to increase the interest rate or help local communities instead?

I used to work in a large building society on the counters. Queues did build up, especially in the last half hour before closing on a Saturday lunchtime. They reached from the counters, through the banking hall and out in front of Woolies! Also they became long if we were shut for an extra day – such as for a bank holiday. People seemed afraid to use the cashpoints to pay in cash or cheques. I went out of my way to pull people out of the queue and help them use the machines, saving them time and shortening the queue.

However changes to counter services have altered since then. Charges for counter cheques and minimal interest paid on accounts both reduce the demand for counter service. But reducing the number of available counters from 5 to 3, limiting the value of cheques that cash machines will pay in and removing the facility to withdraw cheques from those same machines increase the pressures on the counter. Add to this the increasing targets set for each cashier to get referrals for insurance policies, financial reviews and other profit making products and the queues increase again.

credit building credit cards canada says:
30 October 2012

Thanks for your post. I also feel that laptop computers are becoming more and more popular lately, and now are sometimes the only form of computer utilised in a household. The reason is that at the same time they are becoming more and more very affordable, their computing power keeps growing to the point where they’re as potent as desktop from just a few years ago.

These days I have several accounts for different reasons – the post office to pay cheques into as I have one locally, NatWest for my mortgage and business because their banking app is second to none, a post office travel card for use abroad and a Sainsbury’s visa for zero interest borrowing. It’s a pain really, it’d be lovely to have just one or two cards. I don’t use my overdraft much but I do have a packaged account for travel insurance and car breakdown. To be honest most of the ‘benefits’ of the packaged account are rubbish – ‘cheap holiday’ bookings such as flights are rarely really cheaper. And the airport lounges are only for the cardholder, so unless you travel without your kids or friends, you’ll be sat in the normal waiting areas with them.