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What would your perfect bank look like?

Piggy banks flying with wings

Most of us have gripes about our bank – queues, bad customer service, rubbish rates to name a few. But what if you could create the perfect bank with anything you wanted? What would your bank utopia look like?

When was the last time you visited your bank? How helpful did you find the staff – did they quickly fulfil your needs or try and sell you a product you didn’t want?

How useful was the information you were given? Clear, in plain English or complicated with reams of small print? And what about the environment – spacious and un-crowded or stuffy and packed with long queues?

The problem with banks…

People have told us time and again that they aren’t satisfied with their banks. Reasons range from poor customer service and low interest rates on savings and unfair charges to expensive contact telephone rates and poor quality call centres. Despite this, many people choose not to switch banks because there’s a general sense that they’re all as bad as each other.

In a few weeks’ time the Independent Commission on Banking will release its final report, setting out its recommendations to Government on the reform of the banking industry. We hope this report will mark the beginning of groundbreaking changes to the banking system, and this got me daydreaming about what a perfect bank would look like…

My perfect bank

I don’t know about you, but when I go to my bank and there are more than three people in line I think they should open another desk. And if I do have to queue I don’t want bank staff to try and sell me products that I don’t want or need.

I work full-time, and would like more staff available in branch at times that suit me and for call centre staff to be able to deal with all of my queries without having to be passed from pillar to post.

I would also like my bank to contact me if a new savings account is introduced with better rates of interest and all new products to be available to me as a loyal customer rather than just to entice new ones. Plus, my bank should text me when I’m nearing my overdraft limit so I have a chance to act before I’m charged.

If it turns out my bank has mis-sold a product then I want to know that the senior management will be held properly to account. More generally, when I have a problem, I want to deal with someone who can help there and then rather than being told to make an appointment or being asked to call an anonymous phone line. And more than anything, I want the staff to prioritise service over sales.

Clearly I could go on, but that’s enough of me – we want to hear from you. What’s wrong with your bank – and what would you expect out of a perfect bank?

On Thursday 8 September we’ll be holding an event to listen to your views on how the perfect bank would look. Find out more and register here.


In bullet format:
* Plenty of branches to call into with enough staff to see someone in a reasonable time without waiting for more than, say, 15 minutes watching one person at one till whilst 9 other tills are shut;
* No gimmicks or sales pitch whilst you are transacting your business;
* No piped music;
* No pretence to pay interest on your current account when that paid is so pitiful that generally it comes to less than a penny per month;
* Charges are all upfront and not in any way hidden (and are based firmly on the real cost of the service / action being charged for);
* Call centres are in the UK and staffed by people with good English skills, whilst at the same time having staff available by request who can speak other languages;
* Offer a Cheque Guarantee Card (now the national service has been withdrawn by the payments council);
* Offers the option of on-line banking if you wish to use it;
* All staff at all branches and all call centres are polite;
* Accurate / honest in the management of your account.

I like all of Dave D’s suggestions. Would also add:

* online banking that is secure and easy to use – I have four different accounts that I manage online and the variation in quality of their online services never fails to surprise me.
* instant transfer of money. Come on – it’s electronic. Why do I have to wait 3 working days to get my cash? I transfer money between accounts all the time – some banks do it instantly, others take their time. Surely if one can they should all be able to? Or am I missing something?

Unlike, according to Amnesty International, the Royal Bank of Scotland and other UK high street banks, including Barclays and Lloyds, my perfect bank wouldn’t continue to make financial investments in companies that produce cluster munitions despite a government ban on the production of the weapons.

My ideal bank was the Midland in Enfield Town in 1966. My initial interview was with the manager himself who allowed me to have a card for his brand new [£10!] cash machine and immediately gave me a book of ten cheques. The staff were all well-dressed, intelligent, and polite; they welcomed me to the counter by name, gave me crisp new notes, supplied a new cheque book from stock on demand, set up standing orders and direct debits carefully and sent a confirmation letter, sent me a comprehensible statement that arrived within two days of month-end, helped with overdrafts or loans with care and consideration. The bank provided bankers’ drafts for a very small fee, maintained a very smart banking hall with no extraneuous literature or posters, provided comfortable leather-upholstered chairs, sensible tables and good pens for doing your stuff, had a litter bin which was emptied as necessary, cleared cheques between other banks in The Town overnight, looked after documents and valuables for low charges, gave excellent advice on request [and not before], generally did not encourage children to enter but looked after them nicely if they had to come in with a parent, saw you in a private place if you wanted to discuss a financial arrangement, ascertained your circumstances and requirements fully before engaging in any additional transactions requested, gave honest and knowledgable recommendations, and offered trustworthy savings and insurance products. The manager drove a Rover, the staff had good pay and conditions and were well-regarded, and the brass letter-plate on the front door was polished daily. Isn’t all that just so old-fashioned? Who would want a bank like that? – nobody would put up with all that pomposity and condescension today would they?

I would!!!!

If they just added to that the call centre and on line items that I listed at the top of this convo and the security matters that Nikki added, I would be at their doorstep begging for an account there in seconds!

One word describes what John wrote: PROFESSIONAL.

My ideal bank:

* The same interest rates paid for a bank account, across the board, for all its customers
* Charges that reflect ACTUAL loss to the bank caused by the individual account holder’s actions – not a charge that recovers the previous financial year’s losses spread by how many charges they estimate they will have to impose (ie, follow common law/legal precedent as it has been for over 100 years)
* A bank that does not manipulate charges to get more money from an individual customer – instead of charging for a non payment of direct debit (£35) it reuses funds taken from balance and pays them towards direct debit and charges £25 for an unauthorised card transaction (even though the money was in account at point of sale) then adds on £35 for an unauthorised overdraft fee when there’s not enough remaining in the account – a total of £60 (the fraud act covers this but banks seem to be exempt from it? why, even the FSA don’t know!)
* Has all its call centres based in the UK
* Doesn’t sell on “reports” or “analysis” of people’s accounts to big business, which are bought and used against people via demographics
* That allows an account holder to withdraw more than £1000 of their own money without having to give days notice to the branch (santander accept unlimited amounts, but its a “security risk” when you want to withdraw)
* A bank that will take more than 5 bags of change per day – once again this is currently deemed to be “a security risk”
* A bank that allows the old electron style bank account holder – ie, no overdraft, no card payments – to withdraw their pension/wages from all cash machines not just their own (helping society)
* Bank that returns to allowing the use of cheques and pressures big businesses to accept them also

More than anything, I would like to see a bank that gets involved with communities and people who need help, using their influence to campaign for basic rights of society that needs some help.
Pressurising card payments to business which are way over the permitted card payment charge

I won’t hold my breathe…..

Bob Phillips says:
23 August 2011

My ideal – or as close to ideal as makes little difference – exists: it is first direct. When you want to see them they are there 24/7/365, any time zone, and they almost always answer immediately. It is a person who answers, and that person is always (in over 20 years experience) friendly, courteous, knowledgeable (they have all my info in front of them on a screen, and from their responses I would guess their screens are laid out so as to help them help), and empowered to act immediately on almost everything I ever want them to do. (I have only got into difficulties when they have to hand over to an HSBC operator, e.g. for foreign currency accounts.) fd offer all the services that other banks offer, at approximately the same cost – these services are a commodity very little differentiated among the banks.

An example. I called in a panic at 3am I was due to emigrate the next day with my whole family and I realized at the last minute that my employer had not paid for the tickets – I would have to do so at Heathrow. I did not have enough money. The fd person was friendly, calming, but did not have an immediate answer. She said: “Make a cup of tea, I will call you in 10 minutes.” Because it was fd, I trusted her to do so. She called in 8 minutes and said: “My power to extend your overdraft is limited – to go further I would have to ask a more senior manager, in the morning, and that is too late for you. But I have found a way round this. I have extended your overdraft as far as I am allowed; I have taken your wife’s details from your account and opened a VISA card for her and maxed its credit; I have maxed your VISA card credit. With all that, you can pay for your tickets with £46 to spare. And, by the way, your plane leaves from gate 43.”

That is about as close to ideal as it gets.

Kevin Banks says:
23 August 2011

At the end of June I asked NatWest and Gold Card to cancel subscriptions to Sky. Instead the bank cancelled my direct debit to Gold Card which then charged me a late fee after the error was corrected. I have since written to Gold Card and NatWest and received four copies of the customer complaints brochure, an assurance that my complaint was important and would be dealt with in 10 days (6 weeks ago), a reference to an enclosure showing progress which wasn’t included, and no replies from any human being I have written to – only computer generated waffle from a variety of customer relations people who don’t appear to speak to each other. I only wanted to know that Gold Card had refunded the late fee and now I am inclined to pursue the matter all the way – that’s customer relations in the helpful bank!

PeterW says:
23 August 2011

My perfect bank would:

• Offer a no-frills current account with secure, convenient online access, free to those customers whose accounts stay in credit;

• Apply a reasonable and well publicised scale of charges to current account customers using additional services, such as overdrafts;

• Automatically upgrade savings accounts for its existing, loyal customers to match the best deals it offers to new customers;

• Offer at least one savings account at an interest rate – after tax! – that is guaranteed to keep pace with inflation;

• Make mortgages and loans available to people and businesses who applied for them, but not lend more than such customers could pay back without hardship;

• Not waste its customers’ money on lavish, fantasy based advertising campaigns; and

• Reward its senior management with pay (including any bonuses) no more than ten times greater than the national average wage.

In an ideal world these would all be accepted as fundamentally fair and reasonable ways for a bank to conduct its business. Yet in our current situation only the first two seem even remotely attainable.

Why have we put up with such poor, unfair banking practices for so long?

Peter says:
26 August 2011

In bullet points I would like:
– Banks to open all day on a Saturday (as per the rest of the Country!)
– Banks to open for business by 8-30am
– Call centres to be in the UK and staffed by people who speak good English.
– A more personal service
– Separate day to day banking and customers from the high risk “casino” side
We the taxpayer saved these organisations so now lets have a good customer-centred modern service…. Thank you.

My ideal bank would have permanent staff in the branch not floaters who move from branch to branch at the whim of the bank. A bank manager in every branch who you could see if you wanted to. No call centres, but direct numbers into your branch with phone being answered by a person not a machine. Instant electronic transfers with no excuses, such as, “Well it is very near the fraud level so we have to check it.”(£3000.00 took 4 days to move from one bank to another.) Stop trying to sell me things at the counter, if I want insurance or a loan I will ask for it. No big bonuses for the bosses. They earn enough anyway and if bonuses are being given out they should be given to the peopla at the sharp end. They are the ones taking all the flak for irate customers. Cut down on advertising. The fact that so many people stay with the bank they have been with for years surely proves that the general public are not stupid and they don’t belive all the hype. Straightforward charges would be good too, and they should reflect the cost to the bank, not be plucked out of the air as they seem to be now. I can dream I suppose!!!

Paul Chandler says:
27 August 2011

I strongly object when if I buy currency using my debit card if I do not buy it from my bank they charge me for for spending my own money. I am not charged when I buy anything other than currency and my bank is not the best rate so I lose out .

Tony says:
27 August 2011

1. No monthly “Overdraft Usage Fee”, ie, charge debit interest for ageed overdrafts as and when they are used and account is overdrawn, but not a fee each month if you do make occassional use of your overdraft facility. This is charging twice – and at a huge APR!
2. Call centres in the UK, staffed by people who speak proper English and who have the knowledge and ability to deal with queries and problems.
3. Staff who have the authority and discretion to deal with their customers as indiviuals
4. Decent credit interest rates on savings accounts (not needed on current accounts) and linkage of overdraft rates to Base Rate as they used to be, ie, abolition of “managed” rates like 19% on overdrafts when they used to be 3 or 4% over base.
5. Purchase of foreign currency from a different provider to your bank should be no different than using your debit card to purchase petrol and should not command a special charge by the debit card provider.
6. No more talk of doing away with cheques and reinstatement of cheque guarantee cards.
7. Stop “doing me a favour” – I’m the customer!

mike mulligan says:
28 August 2011

I have to say that apart from interest rates, my experiences with HSBC have been mostly good. But I feel all financial institutions should use Faster Payments (and Which?, when it assesses Best Buy savings accounts, should take that into account)

I would add to the suggestions already made:

1) A bank that does not offer me a so called financial review every six months when that review is simply an attempt to persuade me to take out a loan I don’t want or buy some other product from the bank;
2) A bank where I can close a savings account online when the introductory interest period runs out. Seems daft that I can open a savings account and at the end of the introductory period can transfer the entire balance in that account to my current account but cannot then close the savings account online “for security reasons” – I have to visit a branch! Plus I cannot open a new savings account until I close the old one; and
3) A bank whose online service doesn’t tell me that I need to fill in a form to do something and have to ring a paid for number to get that form (why can’t I download it?) only to find that the person at the other end of the line has never heard of this form but spends my call charge money trying to sell me something I don’t want.

Oh, and finally, a bank from which Ed Balls is kept as far away as possible!

Just one thing! I want to know the interest rate on each and every account. A large sign like a health warning on cigarettes at the top stating the percentage of interest being paid and charged and then where the amount is paid (or charged) on the statement not just the amount but the rate again. I am irritated by being asked by bank staff questions like, “When did you open this account, madam?” when i ask them to tell me the current rate being paid. WHY DON’T THEY KNOW THE RATES ON THEIR OWN PRODUCTS? and if they don’t know them, how on earth can we be expected to keep track. A long notice period should warn of any impending change in rate and their best alternative should be offered! Rant over!

Frankie says:
1 September 2011

A bank that openly aknowedges that there is no such thing as identity theft. That when a fraudster successfully circumvents security processes and steals money it is a bank robbery not an identity robbery.

Stach Odrowaz says:
1 September 2011

First of all people should by now have learned that small is beautiful and large is a disaster. Why ?
A small unit can be easily controlled by its head, in large units the top boss does not really know what is going on. This means that a large unit like a large bank should be divided into smaller units with their heads having full authority over their units. Branch ‘a’ of a bank should be a cost centre with a manager having full responsibility and authority over the branch. The way it used to be.
Secondly, most of a bank’s income comes from trading, which often is a gamble. Ordinary depositors would like to feel that their money is safely invested and loans given either against a credible business plan or some security. Giving bonuses for proliferating loans only results in unsafe loans. That is why trading must be by a separate unit with isolated resources.

Karsam says:
1 September 2011

If it were possible everyone should withdraw all their money from the banks and set up a ‘People’s bank’ whose sole concern is to look after their customer’s (people’s) money in the best way possible.
There would be no gambling or risk taking with their money. Everyone would be paid according to their job description. There would be NO bonuses and they will not be included in any contracts. The customer should be treated with respect and helped with any problems that may occur. The number one rule should be:- The Customer ALWAYS comes FIRST.
I think the government has no backbone and won’t stand up to the banks. They should ban all bonuses and make them repay the taxpayer’s hard earned cash. So what if the present CEO’s leave, there will always be someone to follow. So what if a bank threatens to leave the country, there will always be another. If the government really cared about the taxpayer/people they would call the banker’s bluff and just tell them to go.

Eric Bookless says:
1 September 2011

Which should not be associated with Ed Balls or indeed any political party!

In particular Balls was part of the problem.

Legal rules controlling what banks can lend to customers, in particular mortgage borrowers, need to be re-introduced.

Investment (gambling) banks need to be completely disconnected from ordinary banks. Government and hence UK citizens must never again be required to pick up banker’s irresponsible gambling debts.

Snowdin says:
1 September 2011

My ideal bank is already working on all the fantastic responses that preceed this one. I switched to Virgin One in 1998 and since then have only entered a branch (RBS) once to deposit my pension lump sum cheque. No one has wanted to give me financial advice or sell me any financial product, I have no knowledge of my bank manager, and I have no idea what the inside of a bank currently looks like. I’m not sure I am missing out on anything.
My ideal bank operates 24 hours a day online with tight security and offers me additional protection software such as Trusteer Rapport.I will be able to carry out the vast majority of account management tasks myself eg. setting up or cancelling standing orders and direct debits, transfers to other accounts eg. savings etc. I can send cheques and other communications in the addressed, 1st class postage envelopes provided “free” and also communicate securely online. When I phone, the pleasant UK citizen bank employee will take me through security, address me by my title and surname and have the authority to carry out the vast majority of what I am likely to request at that time. The phone service will be available 24 hours a day and I can phone by a special freephone number if I have an urgent problem while abroad. I can notify intention to travel abroad online and have absolute certainty that my cards will not be cancelled the first time I use them on holiday. When the bank has a new bright idea, eg Visa debit instead of Maestro, it will give me the choice of change or continuity and will not charge me exorbitant fees for any transaction remotely connected to currency exchange. My brank will honestly recognise the bleedin’ obvious, for example that chip and pin can be cracked by fraudsters and place me at the centre of it’s help systems rather than viewing me as a likely criminal.
My ideal bank will notify me of changes in interest rate in advance and will never be less than the average of the 5 best paying current accounts. My bank will allow me to take out cash without additional charge at any bank or building society ATM.
My ideal bank will not associate itself with self-agrandissement such as lavish hospitality or sponsorship and will concern itself only with ploughing all it’s reasonable profits into good customer interest rates, benefits and services. It will allow me to make my own decisions on which charities and political donations I wish to support instead of thinking that it knows best. It will listen intently to every word spoken by Vince Cable and be well ahead of the game in ringfencing my deposits in a completely safe “good bank” that is totally divorced from it’s casino-like revenue raising (or losing) activities.
My bank will try hard to keep its security and software at the leading edge. When it has to close its systems down for maintenance or change, it will endeavour to give me plenty of notice, do the work overnight and be up and running within 12 hours of the said activity starting or email me telling me exactly why if it can’t. It will never ever take 5 weeks to get me online again …. “every little bit helps.”

My main complaint about banks is the excessive money laundering security and misrepresentation of the Digital Information act.

Don’t you think it ridiculous that when you go to buy foreign currency, even with your passport for ID, your Debit Card is refused. But you can go next door and take out the cash from an ATM and then get your foreign currency. That’s nuts.

When I travelled through Siberia, many hotel foyers had cash machines that accepted my UK debit card and let me draw cash in Roubles, Euros or US Dollars. We must be bonkers not having multiple denomination cask machines here. What possible excuse is there for this other than to perpetuate Exchange Bureaux?

And why do banks hide behind the digital information act? For example, when they lose your money transfer, they won’t tell you where/who they sent it to using the act as an excuse. It is just nuts. and is letting them cover their errors.