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Are you happy to jump through hoops for telephone banking?

Pomeranian jumping through a hoop

These days, there are more ways to bank than ever. You can do it online or by using apps on your smartphone, but whatever happened to the good old-fashioned phone call?

For years before I set up my online banking, I used to trudge down to Barclays on my lunch break for everything from paying rent to transferring money.

And what a pain it was! Eventually, the inconvenience made me get into gear and get savvy with online banking. However, on the odd occasion, I still find it handy to be able to ring my bank.

Safety over time-saving

You might have a question about your bank account that can’t be answered online, or you might just want to speak to a real person. I usually call the bank because I’m not at a computer, or because I can’t find my card reader to access online banking. But it’s important to remember there’s a significant proportion of people that aren’t able to get online, or don’t want to, for that matter.

While online banking often requires a card reader or small key pad to generate a unique security code, telephone banking relies on pre-set up telephone banking passwords or codes. If you haven’t got your codes or if you’ve forgotten them, you can end up answering a series of questions to prove you’re really you.

The whole process with online or telephone banking can be annoying for the customer, as they face a long test to get past the numerous security measures. But are you willing to jump through all those hoops to keep your bank accounts safe and secure?

More importantly, do you think your telephone banking security measures go far enough? For example, when you go through security questions with your bank over the phone, do you think it would be easy for a potential fraudster to answer them in your place?


I have used NatWest Actionline telephone banking since soon after it was launched, though most of the time I use online banking. To use Actionline I have to put in my Customer Number, which is just my date of birth plus the additional figures, followed by a four digit PIN. I can remember them easily, but whether this provides sufficient security I am not sure.

What I find hardest is that banks and building societies all seem to have their own systems and that these periodically change. I am sure that I am not the only one who has to seek automatic or human help when I get passwords, etc. mixed up.

I would be happy to have a complex security process provided that the procedure was standard across all companies providing financial services.

Trying to remember security details is a nightmare, especially when the online ones are separate from the Telephone ones.
As you say it is not helped by the different names given to the same elements e.g. Memorable place or word or name.
Then some insist on numbers, upper and lower case and even “non-alphanumeric characters” while others cant cope with “non-alphanumeric” characters , and lets not get started on maximum password length…

This is driving me up the wall at present. To their credit, Natwest uses the same Customer Number and PIN for online and telephone banking.

For some insane reason a long time ago I chose the name of my first school as one of the “memorable” passwords for telephone banking and other on-line activity. I am able to remember the name all right, but I’m blowed if I can remember how I spelt it – is it Mount Edgecombe, Edgcombe, Edgcome, Edgcumbe, or some other variation? Probably the first, but that’s been rejected twice. The schools is long gone and the password is no longer associated withanything I do on the internet. My first cat’s name would have saved a lot of bother but I might have felt embarrassed reciting it to a call-centre operator.

I suggest you change your password to the name of the place where your school was. Naming my first pet would pose problems because I was given four goldfish, but I suppose that it might be best to forget them and go for the first hamster.

I can cope with passwords and have a secure system to remember which one to use, but meaningless customer numbers that cannot be changed are a major problem.

It surprises me that mother’s maiden name and parents’ middle names are common questions, since these are not hard to find and not all parents even have middle names.

Wavechange – you don’t need to answer those questions literally. As long as you remember what word or phrase you have given the organisation, you can make up any combination of characters you like.

Mother’s maiden name or parents’ middle names are presumably used as they are likely to be memorable to most people, but I agree that a determined fraudster would not be thwarted.

I cope fine, Russell, but do find the security systems rather quaint. I wonder how many people are using information that they have on their Facebook accounts, etc.

I take security very seriously and am confident that no-one else is will be able to access my accounts. Unfortunately, I’m sometimes a bit too clever for my own good and very glad that resetting passwords etc. is free-of-charge.

I find that with First Direct telephone banking can be quicker than internet banking and far more enjoyable.

richard says:
9 April 2013

Completely agree – I have used First Direct since it was introduced because of the errors generated by Midland Bank – my previous Bank – made me very annoyed – not to mention having to queue etc. First Direct is superb – I only need to memorise four “passwords” which is very easy – I have access to my accounts either on-line or telephone 24/7 with humans speaking English courteously every time I need it – I can get cash at the ATMs of HSBC branches without hassle or charges 24/7 – I can’t recommend First Direct highly enough

John Barker says:
12 April 2013

Having been with them for many years, I agree that ‘phone banking with First Direct is personal, friendly, efficient and effective. However, I mostly use their online banking service and have found that to be very easy to use, reliable and (to date) just as secure. I rely on it completely and am now using the phone service mainly for backup, ad-hoc queries, etc.

john mccolgan says:
10 April 2013

I’m only too happy to see all the institutions have separate and different procedures. Think how easy life would be for the scammers

Sophie Gilbert says:
10 April 2013

Has anyone seen the episode of Frasier when we see Martin over-articulate “personnal” down the phone several times throughout the episode when trying to get to a human at the bank on the other end of the line? That’s how annoying telephone banking can be. In my experience the phone hoops are only a different kind from the internet hoops.

Recently, my partner and I did an experiment with our banks. We both needed to have print-outs of our last 3 months’ bank statements to send to the mortgage company, so we both called our banks and made the request.

The call to my bank took 1 minute and 30 seconds, and I had the statements through the letterbox 3 days later. The phone was answered immediately by a human being.

My partner called his bank and was on the phone for 19 minutes, and didn’t receive the statements till 3 weeks later. The automated menus he had to navigate in the first instance took up a significant proportion of this time, and I could see him getting frustrated as he tried to work out exactly which option was the one he needed.

In both cases, we had to provide similar amounts of security information, which I believe was secure enough to deter potential fraudsters, even if they overheard my call in its entirety.

Telephone banking with First Direct is quick, easy and enjoyable. I have been with them for 9 years after trying Internet banking with Barclays. Every call to them is answered by a human after just a few rings and that person then deals with your request. They are very friendly, never try and sell you other financial products if you have stated that you do not wish to be bothered with marketing information but are willing to supply financial information if requested.

I only ever had one problem when I couldn’t remember my password and elected to go through security questions instead. Now I have done this for some time and am happy to supply the answers to about four questions. The person dealing with my call kept telling me to ‘have a stab’ at the password. I insisted on going the security questions route instead and told her that I wished to complain that she was not following the procedure for those forgetting their password. She then put me through to a manager who went on in great detail about security and after telling her I was quite happy to answer security questions, she proceeded to ask 13 security questions which I had no difficulty answering. She made her point!!! After that particular phone call, I considered leaving First Direct but as I had 9 trouble free years and had lauded their customer service over the years at every chance, I decided to stay with them. I rang them up and set up a new password which I hopefully will remember.

I think we should be able to choose our own security questions to go alongside the standard questions. I also think we are expected to remember too many user names and passwords If I wish to comment on a newspaper story or comment on a TV programme I have to set up an account with a user name and password. I am very security minded but my head is almost exploding trying to remember them all.

UK banks need to sort out their communication methods with their customers, as banks have already done in other countries.

One very simple but effective communication method is secure e-mail. Unlike conventional e-mail, secure e-mail is embedded within the online banking session with the same encryption and authentication used by the transactional side of online banking. Therefore any messages are pre-authenticated and cannot be intercepted by a third party. Only notifications of new secure e-mails are sent by conventional e-mail. This reduces significantly the number of scenarios where a customer needs to speak by telephone to the bank. On the rare occasions that a customer needs a voice phone call, they can request a call back via online banking, whereby the bank phones the customer back on a number of their choice. The web site gives the customer a single-use 2-digit code to enter when they answer the call to validate that the bank’s outgoing call has reached the customer rather than an unauthorised third party.

JWD says:
12 April 2013

I’ve been using the Bank of Scotland telephone banking system for almost two decades, and strongly approve of it. The system is constantly being updated, and there is now a sophisticated voice recognition system which enables me to make a number of simple transactions without speaking to a real human voice; instead, I talk to an automated voice which listens to me sympathetically, and double-checks everything before proceeding. But there are real human beings to cope with the more complex transactions. And they speak with clearly elocuted Scottish accents.

I am an Englishman from London by the way.

For NatWest telephone banking customers, the question of security may soon become irrelevant if my recent experience is anything to go by. Having listened to a recorded message telling me the service was about to change, I asked to set up a monthly payment record for a new credit card to facilitate a quick monthly call to say “please pay £x to x on this date” as already happens for my other credit card.

However I was told that this is no longer possible. That my existing record will continue to function but my new arrangement will no longer be stored and I will be required to quote the recipient name, my account number, their bank sort code etc every time I make a payment.

Having ended the call with disbelief, I phoned again to ensure I had understood what was being correctly. Sadly it was and no explanation could be offered. However on each occasion I was asked if I wished to try on-line banking. One can only conclude therefore that this ‘improvement’ is designed to drive customers in that direction especially as the up-front recorded message says I can find out full details of the changes at natwest.com/telephone banking and when I do so, I find these changes have been made in response to customer feedback. This must be the first recorded example of customers voting to improve their service by requesting a withdrawal of facilities.

I used NatWest telephone banking recently and listened to the same message about full details of changes being on the website. There is very little useful information there, and I’m not impressed.

Your credit card company should be able to set up a direct debit, GS. My suggestion would be to arrange for them to pay off the full balance on the cards and find a cheaper way to borrow money if necessary.

Antonio says:
13 April 2013

NatWest can drive me mad by locking me out of my account because of a’ mistake ‘ in logging in.
I cannot believe this is my fault as I have my password written down and numbered. You are only allowed this one mistake, most systems allow you 3 attempts. To transfer money you have to use their little ‘calculator’ type keypad, I have had the battery go flat in the middle of a transaction. In contrast I have never been locked out of my Santander account and they cleverly send you the security code through to your mobile.

I have never been locked out of online banking by NatWest, but thanks for the warning. I regularly transfer money online without using my card reader. Maybe it is needed to set up a new payee, but I cannot remember because it is so long since I last used it.

Grizzly says:
24 July 2013

Issue with Capital One and Sky asking for full passwords on the phone. Is this common? Others, like FirstDirect and HBOS only require a couple of characters.

This does sound unusual – are you certain that you are in fact speaking to the companies concerned, or are you responding to an unsolicited call which could be from anyone?

I would suggest that you obtain their official number – perhaps from http://www.bt.com or some piece of corrrespondence you have had from them and then phone them on that, to verify what their procedure is.

That would be easier than possibly giving personal information to a third party and then having to resolve any resulting problems.

Stay Safe!