/ Money

Voice your views on banking reform

Group of young people shouting

The voice of consumers in banking reform isn’t always as loud as it could be – maybe because the invite to join in isn’t clear or the discussions get a bit techy? We’re notching up the volume so you can tell us here.

Following the success of the Big Banking debate in February last year, we’ll be hosting a joint event with the Independent Commission on Banking (ICB) ‘Which? – Your Voice for Better Banking’.

It’ll take place on the evening of Thursday 24 May at a London location.

The event will be an opportunity to have your say on some of the key issues raised in the ICB’s interim report – which include ring fencing retail banks, improving transparency and helping consumers switch accounts.

How does this affect you?

If you’re wondering how issues like this affect your day-to-day banking it’s worth noting that they really do.

Have you been fed up with your current account’s interest rate and overdraft fees, but haven’t bothered switching accounts because of the hassle of changing all those pesky direct debits?

Well, a recommendation in the report calls for portable bank account numbers. A potential benefit of this is the ability to take your bank account number with you, reducing the hassle for customers.

Big banks squeezing out the little ones

And competition is all about making sure the big players don’t have it all their own way. If you used to like getting veg from your local grocer but have found they’ve been pushed out by big brand supermarkets then it’s the equivalent for the banks. The financial crisis has resulted in reduced competition – the big banks have got bigger and the small ones have been forced out.

With the five big banks dominating the market it’s hard for others to thrive and so the range of incentives and benefits can be limited as there can be less difference between the bunch.

Would you feel your money was safer if banks separated their retail business (dealing with you and me) from their investment businesses (big businesses, stocks and shares)? At least this way, we wouldn’t feel banks were gambling so much with our hard-earned cash?

Whatever your view, we’d like you to tell us what you think. We appreciate we can’t squeeze everyone into one space – but we’ve certainly room to squeeze in as many opinions as possible by collecting them here and sharing them with the ICB.

martin says:
13 May 2011

When buying Euros online using a debit card from NatWest a ‘cash advance’ charge was levied by the bank. When challenged about this charge the bank claimed it was a Visa charge for purchasing currency ( NatWest has recently changed to Visa for its card sevices ). However, if we bought the currency from Natwest there would be no charge.
The conversion rate offered by NatWest was no as good as that offered by the Post Office online currency site, which means that NatWest/RBS is making more money on the transaction and we are not getting such a good deal.
We do not require credit for this transaction and donot see the difference between it and using the same card to withdraw cash from an ATM where there is no charge. When a customer of the bank makes an online transactions that does not require credit, i.e. the cash is in their account ready to be used, how can this be done without any charges. You used to be able to use cheques, but this is going out of favour and is being whithdrawn by banks and the cheque guarantee part of the NatWest debit card is being removed as from July this year.

NatWest seems to be forcing us to move towards a cash system to avoid the ‘cash advance’ charge. We will walk around with pockets full of notes to get the best value for our money. This system if applied generally will impact on many areas, the black ecconomy, money laundering and street crime to name a few.

Is there any bank out there that will not make a charge for any debit card transation? If so I would transfer to it no matter what the difficulty was.

First Direct do not make charges for using your debit card – or at least I have never been charged in 20 years. They publish their interest charges on line and on statements – They also inform you annually about current interest rates or if the interest charges change,

Or to be precise the interest on your current account is used to pay for all transactions – (except loans) – so there is no interest paid – and you have a £250 no charge unauthorised overdraft facility in case you overspend occasionally .

My only criticism is they did not make it clear enough that one can have a new cash ISA every year – provided the old one is suspended (not used). The impression given was just one cash ISA. ever.

One final point – some ATMs charge for any withdrawal.

David Swindlehurst says:
13 May 2011

The idea of having portable bank accounts is fascinating as one thing which mitigates against changing banks is the problem of moving standing orders/direct debits which would under this proposal become easier. Also it might stop banks offering deals only to new customers which currently discriminate against existing, often long standing and loyal, customers

Martin, I used * Martin Lewis’s Travel Money Guide to decide on buying Euros this week. (*”Money Saving Expert” whose free weekly newsletter I receive online) I printed out a voucher which I took to the railway station, where I took cash from the machine next to the ICE money exchange booth to avoid paying a charge, because Martin Lewis had warned that this would happen whether using a Credit or Debit Card. I think the Debit Card should not incur a charge as it not a cash advance. He also recommends the Halifax Clarity Credit Card for avoiding fees once abroad.

Which? Expert, can you answer my question, which I am now re-wording?

Would a Personal Bank Number support or hinder my belt-and-braces preference for keeping two current accounts?

The Portable Bank Accont Number would of course be made a more practicable proposition if there were not cheques to be considered also. Is Which? actively working towards a bad result?

Michael Dyson says:
16 May 2011

Banks should not be allowed to advertise and trade under different brands without clear recognition of who owns what – ie RBS with Nat West, Ulster, Coutts, Churchill Insurance and Direct Line; or LBG with Scottish Widows, Cheltenham and Gloucester, Halifax and IF. It should be clear where the liability (and deposit guarantees) are.

The proliferation of High Street loan shark operations and supposed debt consolidation operations is a national regulatory disgrace; there needs to be a unversal banking acccess with strict regulation of vulnerable or distressed customers. This should be a service obligation placed on all retail banks.

Retail and so called Investment operations should be separated not just walled. Any Bank to big to fail should be split up. Pay back clauses must be standard for all senior executives.

You make some good points! If anyone wishes to know who owns which bank, the Financial Services Agency provide a list of the main institutions. (You may be interested to learn that both RBS and LBG own rather more authorised banking institutions than even you list!)


The FSA’s comprehensive Registration Scheme, itself, may be queried here, although the interface is not brilliant:


Thank you, Charlotte, for your reply – I haven’t looked at the link yet. Keith, I’ve just scanned through the posts to refresh my memory and realise you had already made the point I consider to be the elephant in the room, i.e. the lack of the percentage of interest paid or charged stated clearly at the top of each statement and/or each entry on that statement. It’s such a simple yet vital piece of information.

I received an email from nsandi informing me they could not proceed with my recent application for an ‘index-linked tax-free savings certificate’, because the Customer Number I gave did not match their records. It did not specify how I should proceed, e.g. whether to apply again or how I might provide the correct number (I presumed I had copied it incorrectly from my ‘Certificate of deduction of income tax’ they had sent April, 2011) and the email was a do-not-reply. While I was waiting on their busy line for the accurately predicted 30 minutes, they repeatedly suggested contacting them on their website. I was unsure whether it was secure however. Does anyone know?

It transpired that my correctly copied Customer Number is for Bonds and is not applicable to Certificates, so the system couldn’t recognise me or my application, although the advisor had all this information after asking me only a few basic questions like d.o.b.!

Would the proposed portable bank number apply to all accounts and not just one sort?

Hi Charlotte

I’ve read the link to Chris’s article. I don’t really understand exactly what is proposed. Is the idea that we each have a portable banking number which is ONLY for Current Accounts? If so and I continue to have TWO current accounts, how will they be distinguishable? Or will the PB number be attached to everything from ISAs and Regular Savers to Loans with the usual codes attached? (Can’t make italics!)

Help? It IS late!!! Thanks!

Hi Beth,
The motivation behind the idea is to make it easier for people to swap current accounts. Under the idea, when you opened a current account you would be given your account number as you are now. However, the account number would be in a format that would not be specific to your bank as your sort code is now. Your account would be identified by a number that could be applied universally by any bank. Therefore, should you decide to switch your current account to a new bank you would simply take the account number with you to your new provider. Therefore, you would not have to change direct debits and standing orders over as you do now, The principle would be the same as when you change mobile phone provider but keep your old number. If you wanted to keep two current accounts your accounts would be distinguishable as they would have different account numbers, just as they do now. I hope that clears up any questions you had.
Thanks, Chris

It does seem to me that “convenience/speed” seem to be words that are automatically equated with better which is not the case. Unfortunately those who might give you a reasoned argument as to the downsides of the change are not the ones who frequent this forum.

Consider the easy transfer of accounts. Would cheque books be seen as a bar and be a quid pro quo for the banks costs in establishing such a system? Would it be seen as workable only as an entirely electronic system? Presumably your past information at each Bank would not be carried forward as it would be covered by current privacy legislation – but would you be asked to sign your rights away on this matter. Would the ability to switch accounts be limited to a number of times a year? Or does the ability to switch banks often mean more opportunities for rogues to game the system? Or if your account is compromised, or you say it is, do you easily get another number anyway.

Its amusing to think how we fought the introduction of National ID cards when an ID system or something fairly similar can be introduced through Bank Account cards and the unique number.