Switching banks should be as easy as switching mobile phone provider

Fr Ted Resting
The money was just resting

I am always struck by how some people can confuse cause with effect. Take Ulster Bank’s Chief Executive, Jim Brown, for example.

Yesterday, as he looked back over the month of turmoil; he noted that no customers had left the bank and that balances had remained flat.

This was said as if it was a measure of his customer’s loyalty to the bank. Might I suggest it is the other way around? The fact that no one has yet closed their account says more about how tough and cumbersome it is to change banks than it does about allegiance

If you are not happy with your mobile phone provider you can switch to another one without any major hassle. You don’t even have to change numbers or go without service for too long. You just make a call and the process proceeds. The same is essentially true for other utilities like internet, gas or even electricity supplier.

In all of these services, competition is king. So, why not in banking?

Switching banks is not easy.

Think of all the new account numbers and PINs to be learned. Think of all companies with whom you have direct debits and standing orders – they all have to be notified and their details changed.

I know how difficult and complex it can be. A few weeks after my dad died early last year my mother called into her bank to sort out a few things following the funeral.

My Dad had never had his own current account or credit card. For years his salary was paid into my mum’s account. I think his name only started to appear on the cheque book around the time of his retirement, though I cannot recall him ever signing one, well not to me at least. The account had always been with the same bank.

I went with to the bank with my Mum that day as she wanted to lodge some cheques and draw out some cash. We had already been to the tax office, social welfare, the credit union and HSE earlier that morning to sort out transfer of entitlements pensions and other stuff. These were all dealt with without any fuss or bother.

But the bank was another matter. One of the cheques Mum was lodging related to my dad’s funeral expenses. When the cashier noticed it she called the assistant manager and we were ushered from the teller’s window to the customer service area.

There we were told that the bank was closing the current account and cancelling her credit card due to my dad’s passing. They said that as one of the names on the account was dead the account had to be closed. They said they would open a new current account and issue a new credit card, both with new numbers and new PINs in the following days.

I asked why this was necessary. They said that it was “bank policy”. I explained that the cheques had only ever required one signature and that my Dad had rarely signed cheques or used the card when he was alive and was probably even less likely to do so now. This somehow failed to reassure them.

Thanks to their policy we then had to spend the following days resorting direct debits and lodgements to a new account number. Even more stressful my mum had to try and learn new account numbers and PINs and forget an account number she had known by heart for over forty years.

Long story short – of all the paperwork we had to sort out following dad’s death, the bank’s was the most burdensome and pointless: and this wasn’t even about moving the account to another bank, it was just about leaving it there and changing one name on it.

Simplifying the process of changing banks and allowing you to keep the same account number when you do move would be a start to real banking reform at ground level and a sign that customers matter.

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