Santander: The bank people love to hate
We get a constant stream of emails and letters here at Moneywise from readers complaining about poor service - and the UK's biggest banks seem to be the worst offenders.
The result from our latest customer service survey highlights this problem. Over 12,000 of you voted in the poll, which looked at the most-trusted financial service companies across a range of products, from current accounts, savings accounts and credit cards to car and travel insurance.
By and large, it's the big banks that take the top spot as the worst companies when it comes to looking after their customers. In fact, only one building society - compared with eight major banks - is mentioned among the top 18 worst financial services providers.
And the news is especially bad for Santander. Labelled the worst bank in the UK last year by both consumers and the press, it has yet again been voted the bank most people love to hate.
Almost 40% of comments about bad service were about the Spanish-owned bank - an enormous proportion compared with the second and third-worst service providers, Barclays and Halifax, which received just under 11% and slightly over 9% of the comments respectively.
Long queues in branches, unhelpful call centres and untrained staff were three of the most common complaints relating to Santander.
One disgruntled customer said: "My visit to a large branch in Swansea to open a savings account was a nightmare, and a waste of time, due to terrible service. I decided not to open an account based on the experience."
Other comments ranged from "Branch staff well-meaning idiots. Head office in a coma" to "I had more problems with Santander in one year than I had over 30 years with Alliance & Leicester. Out of 10 I would give them minus 10". Not exactly great feedback!
The bank's customer service problems began in 2004 when it went on a frantic shopping spree in the UK, first buying Abbey National's business, then snapping up mortgage provider Bradford & Bingley in September 2008, followed by Alliance & Leicester in October 2008.
Finally, last year it announced that it had agreed to take over 318 branches from Royal Bank of Scotland (likely to be completed in the first quarter of 2012).
No signs of improvement
But while it's understandable that the banking giant's service took a nosedive when it initially tried to amalgamate all these businesses under one brand, there are no signs of subsequent improvement.
To say customers are unhappy is an understatement. So what has Santander got to say? After repeated requests, we finally got hold of Steve Williams, director of service quality at Santander, who issued a grovelling apology.
"It's not our business strategy to have competitive products and poor customer service - that's certainly not our intention," he said. "I'd like to say sorry and apologise to customers for the problems they've had."
However, promises are one thing; delivering them is quite another. Santander needs to show tangible proof that it's serious about customer service and is making some real and fundamental changes.
The big test will be when the bank tries to complete the takeover of the 300-plus RBS branches. It's Santander's big chance to show it's changed, but it's also its greatest challenge. If it leads to a fresh wave of complaints, the bank's reputation could be ruined forever.
For more details of the most and least trusted financial service providers, go to moneywise.co.uk/customerserviceawards/2011
This is a mutual organisation owned by its members and not by shareholders. These societies offer a range of financial services but have historically concentrated on taking deposits from savers and lending the money to borrowers as mortgages, hence the name. In the mid-1990s many societies “demutualised” and became banks. One academic study (Heffernan, 2003) found demutualised societies’ pricing on deposits and mortgages was more favourable to shareholders than to customers, with the remaining mutual building societies offering consistently better rates. In 1900, there were 2,286 building societies in the UK; in 2011, there are just 51.