DID you know you’re more likely to change spouses or partners than your bank – as Michael Caine might say, not a lot of people know that.
According to the UK Payments Council, the majority account-holders stay with their bank an average of 17 years in contrast to most marriages, which survive a paltry 11.5.
It’s not that Brits are so besotted with the treatment meted out by the institutions claiming to look after their money. Far from it, because complaints against banks soared 15 percent in the first half of last year alone to 370,000.
No, the prime reason for customer loyalty is fear…dread that switching to a rival will likely result in a calamitous hiatus, so direct debits or standing order pay-dates are missed, the electricity, gas or water will be cut off and the tallyman will repossess the family motor.
This same reluctance to change stalks most of the West, despite the array of incentives banks employ to lure each other’s clients, Consequently, while four in 10 of us regularly switch car or household insurer, only one in 20 has changed their bank in the last two years.
But what if a bank switches you, which is happening in my case?
It’s not that I’ve done anything to upset them. I keep a decent balance in my account, make few demands, never forget to say ’Have a nice day’ and am on first-name terms with the counter staff.
The pleasantries are always returned and, for the several years I’ve banked there – no names, no pack-drill, but it’s an international offshoot of a UK high street bank – I’ve been treated with cheery efficiency, sage advice and made to feel a valued customer.
Suddenly last summer, however, I received a letter from them, saying as of mid-March, 2014, I’d be a client of another bank, a Spanish one, whose name meant virtually nada to me.
In other words, having sold out to a competitor, I was part of the goods and chattels.
This was a fait accompli in the hatching; Hobson had more choice than me…it was either go with the flow or dive into the minefield of the great, financial unknown.
It isn’t that I’ve a problem with the theory of changing banks, despite my innate sense of loyalty/fear and belief in better the banking devil you know than parking my cash in another Satan’s den.
Nor am I particularly concerned about a bank’s country of origin, so long as it’s regulated to international standards and not run by some philanthropic Nigerian, offering me 1,000% interest if I park the odd twenty thou with him for a month.
Because – at least now – banks almost everywhere no longer act like robber barons in pin stripes. Mostly, they’ve mended their errant, grasping ways, stopped lending recklessly and quit foisting junk products, like payment protection insurance, on duped punters.
So, in the hope my familiar counter-staff mates would be part of the takeover, I went along with the assurances that this would simply be a name-change and the transition would tick with the precision of a Swiss watch.
Except it didn’t and isn’t.
At the turn of last year I received a leaflet from the future custodians of my moolah, explaining a few ‘modifications of the contractual conditions of certain bank services’.
Very thoughtfully, they’d written it in English, but – such was its arcane terminology – it might as well have been Swahili or Serbo-Croat.
Despite the vast cesspool of trivia drivel I accumulated over a lifetime, comprehension of banking parlance isn’t floating on its surface, like an unsinkable cowpat.
So the €35 ‘fee for dunning of debt positions’ fell on glazed eyes, as did the ‘formula used for calculating the settlement of credit and debit interest on sight accounts’.
Was my debt position being ‘dun’ over then? And would I need an optical test to have a ‘sight account’?
Then, after receiving a new debit card, a further piece of plastic landed in my mailbox. Mysteriously titled ‘a new distance banking code card’, the accompanying letter exhorted me to ‘ACTIVATE NOW’ (their caps) by going on line.
Dutifully, I did – immediately. Except the website told me to try again in four days. So, I did. And the website said try again in a week. So I did and the website said phone a number somewhere. So I did.
‘We’re experiencing website integration issues’, explained a polite lady at the other end of the line. ‘Try again in four days’
‘But I’ve be trying for three weeks,’ said I, plaintively. ‘Besides, you’ve had since last August to sort this out and you’re a bank, for heaven’s sake, overflowing with IT geeks.’
‘You have until March 15 to do it, so there’s plenty of time,’ replied the call centre agent.
‘So why, in January, did you send out the urgent ACTIVE NOW message?’
‘Oh, that was just in case you forgot.’
‘This doesn’t exactly inspire new customer confidence, does it,’ I noted rhetorically.
‘Well, send in a complaint,’ she suggested. ‘Here, I’ll give you the email address of who to write to. They’ll reply within four days.’
So I did – on February 6. And I’m still awaiting the courtesy of a response. Maybe it’s a hiccup with email ‘integration’. Who knows in this era of supa-dupa hi-tech.
Meantime, my pals at my old bank – the one that’s going to be eviscerated next month – managed to sort out my ‘new distance banking’ glitch, which I discovered is a bunkum euphemism for something simply known as ‘online banking’.
Ah, well, I sighed. At least that’s done and dusted…except every time I go online to check my balance I still keep being exhorted to ACTIVE NOW the ‘new distance banking code’, which I do ad nauseum, since it’s the only way I can access my account.
Maybe the computer that keeps saying ‘No’ doesn’t like me. Maybe I’ll send it a bunch of flowers as a sop.
Or maybe I’ll break the habit of a lifetime and switch banks.