Why is Santander's service so poor?

For the past few months, I've been up to my ankles in complaints - not of my own making, I hasten to add. I've never received such an angry barrage since I asked Financial Mail readers fortheir views on the Post Office's controversial decision to axe 2,500 branches in 2006.

This time the complaints all centre on the administrative incompetence of the Spanish-owned bank Santander. The bank has established a massive presence on Britain's high street through its takeover of Abbey (or 'Shabby Abbey' as it was usually referred to), and more recently the acquisition of credit crunch-impacted Alliance & Leicester and Bradford & Bingley.

In more than 20 years of reporting on personal finance issues, I've never witnessed an administrative meltdown quite like that which has taken place at Santander.

In its defence, the bank has gone through the difficult process of amalgamating three savings books onto one administrative system. Such an exercise is bound to result in teething problems.

But many of the Santander complaints have nothing to do with integration; they're about a bank failing to carry out basic banking procedures, such as opening new accounts in a timely fashion and honouring terms and conditions spelt out in the small print.

They're all about a bank that has clearly not invested sufficiently in its complaints handling, resulting in small problems becoming big ones as they fail to be resolved in a timely fashion. The result has been an absolute administrative shambles, with customers left angry, frustrated and many giving up and going elsewhere.

No wonder 2010's Moneywise Customer Service Awards (as voted by you) highlighted Santander as one of the poorest providers. Certainly, some of the complaints that have come across my desk have made my blood boil - primarily because the 'problem' should have been nipped in the bud, not left to fester like an open wound.

Wider problems

Santander has promised to sort out this administrative debacle - employing more staff and on-shoring all complaints handling - and I hope it does. But the customer service issues at Santander are symptomatic of a wider problem across the entire financial services industry. I'm talking about the propensity for most financial companies (not all) to put the pursuit of new business above all else.

Rather than investing in customer support and extending the
relationships they have with existing customers, most companies (banks are the most guilty) are only interested in the next sale.

Going back to our Spanish friends, it's no coincidence that while Santander has been angering many of its existing customers, the bank has been making big inroads into the current accounts market with the promise of a cash gift (and an attractive rate of interest) to new customers. Looking at it dispassionately, Santander has put the interests of new customers above those of its existing ones.

A better – and more sustainable – business model is one founded on two key pillars: the delivery of excellent customer service and building, and rewarding, long-term customer relationships. It's a model adopted by the likes of insurer NFU Mutual, building society Coventry and internet/telephone bank First Direct.

It's no coincidence that these businesses are all thriving despite the poor state of the economy (and were winners in the Moneywise Customer Service Awards).

We need less hard sell and more TLC from our providers of financial services. That's surely not too much to ask? I live in hope that we are on the cusp of a change – and that I will be able to see my ankles again.

Jeff Prestridge is personal finance editor of Financial Mail
on Sunday. Email him on

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Your Comments

If they retained the "Shabby Abbey" staff what else would you expect ?

I changed to Santander about 18months ago and what a fiasco!! They said it would be seamless they would move all my standing orders, direct debits, pensions etc, etc.
I finished up with angry letters for none payment of standing orders etc. I did not receive my pensions as they had cancelled them all. I had weeks of confusion. Luckily my Bank Manager at the RBS sorted it all out.
Ringing Santander was like paddling through treacle!! They were less than useless. If they offerd £1,000 I would not bank with them.


I agree that Santander has done well in attracting new business.
using the accounts is awkward.

It is difficult to move money between accounts.

I have a savings account set up on line but can only do transaction in branch.
I have a Business Ac personal Ac which only recently can i transfer money between- saying that I have to do a bank payment and wait several days to transfer from my personal to my business account-seems daft being as they are the same sort code.

HSBC transfers immediately if you want.

Could not agree more especially having worked for a great number of years for one of the major Clearing Banks a while agonow.All the banks are interested in these days are"ticks in boxes" for selling new services(I use the term loosely!!!) and products.They want to look after existing customers who themselves would become the banks'own marketeers by recommendations to others,
I have also had cause to complain to Santander recently on what would have been a very simple matter in the "good old days"

I completely agree!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Santander dont care-they know the vast majority of Brits will not change banks no matter what is thrown at them.

I bank with Santander's internet only subsidiary, cahoot, and my wife banks with Nationwide (primarily over the internet). Everything required happens when needed, and we can only praise the two banks for providing just what we need.

Santanders customer service isn't the only issue. The branch in my town will not accept cheques or cash over the counter. They have a machine that you can pay cheques into, but say you go into the bank at 10am, to pay in a cheque, they refuse to accept it over the counter, and insist you pay it into the machine. The machine does not get emptied until 3pm in the afternoon, which means you miss a whole day of clearance. If they accepted in the morning, that day would count as the first day of clearance. They also don't accept cash (?!?!?!?!) over the counter, and you can only withdraw payments of over £30, so if you have odds and sods (say you go in to draw out £23 because you can only get increments of £10 out of the cashline machine) to withdraw they will not entertain you. Also, I wanted to withdraw £3000 out of my account, to make a large purchase, and they said they couldn't give me it because they didn't hold that kind of cash at the bank! I had to travel to another town to get the money! I'm in the process of setting up an account with a new bank, and it can't get processed fast enough as far as I'm concerned. They are as useful as a chocolate teapot!

I totally agree had no problem with alliance and Leicester in eight years.

Santander then took over throw a whole new bank account and credit card at me and still wanted to keep the older current account open.

Keep it simple it was not just that - teething problems letting down loyal older customers etc I did in the end move else where one current account and savings account with no strings attached was all I wanted.

The basics is sadly lacking in Santander and many did leave for that reason.

I have been unable to withdraw from my Alliance and Leicester (part of Santander) for about 5 days now - there is a techie bug message that appears. I have told then about it, stressed the increasing urgency and seriousness to them, all to no avail. They send me a message (which I am sometimes unable to read because of another error) saying I should phone them and speak to someone. Why should I go throught the rigmarole and expense of phoning them, just to give them details they already know ? Given the situation, they should be fixing the problem and phoning me. I am finished with Alliance and Lecicester (I've had other online problems in the past). Save with Alliance and Leicester at your peril.


Most of Santander's problems seem to be around very basic issues. I repeatedly find they do not have deposit envelopes in their ATMs nor cash nor indeed an ATM in use. I do not see this with other banks. This is just basic housekeeping.

Transferring my A&L account to Santander went almost without a hitch - only four messed up direct debits which had to be fixed. Mensa wrote to get one DD sorted out, and told me that Santander had messed up a lot of them.

Now though, Santander's 'Fraud Department' has got in on the customer dissatisfaction bandwagon. They keep phoning me once a month to query whether some of my recent transactions were genuine. I confirm them as definitely genuine, and they then refuse to pay one of them. This is a transaction for about £5 which has only been getting paid every 9th of the month since 2007 while I was with A& L, so it's not a change of pattern on the account. I have to re-set up the transaction each month after they mess it up.

I asked Santander why they messed this up, and haven't had a reply for over 2 months now. I've just set it up again and they'll probably mess it up again next month. Obviously their fraud department feels that messing people up and not answering any queries is an important part of their duties. Perhaps Santander hasn't realised that sacking them all would improve the service.

Yes - completely agree - completely useless. As Abbey Business Banking they were reasonable, but since becoming Santander all pretence about knowing what they are doing, doing anything right first time, having any sensible policies and procedures that work to support business customer needs rather than against them has disappeared.

We've had enough - we're off to - oh wait a minute, they're all just as bad.....

What we need to know is where do all the overpaid bankers bank - let's all go there.....

I recently tried to pay a cheque for £20 into my old Abbey branch, the payer had forgotten to enter my name so I asked for a pen so I could do it myself. The cashier told me I couldn't because for all she knew I may have stolen it! I pointed out that it would be perfectly possible to trace the money if it was stolen, whereas they couldn't trace cash. She wouldn't have any of it.

I then went to an ex-Bingley & Bradford branch down the road, filled in my name and they accepted it without complaint!

On another occasion I wanted to deliver a letter to the bank, after completing my transaction at the cashier's window I handed the letter over, only to be told she couldn't accept it and I had to hand it over at the reception desk, another long queue!

Like so many large companies, the customer is the least important part of their business.

cahoot is impossible to use this week. First it wouldn't let me add or alter payees. Then it would not let me carry out any transactions whatsoever. At least I could log in, but then this morning cahoot deleted all of my payees, standing orders and direct debits. Finally I cannot even log in. I have a significant sum of money in the account, none of my bills are being paid (I await the calls when my direct debits and standing orders don't get paid) and now I can't even log in.

cahoot aren't taking new current account customers, it would seem since the takeover by Santander that they're trying to get rid of their remaining customers as well. Absolutely disgraceful.

I will not invest until Santanders reputation improves.

Merging the different computer systems each of the companies they took over at the same time must have been a nightmare.

it all went wrong when the santander introduced there systems to the abbeys, lack of training for all the staff and the systems are too slow and unreliable. staff are working with rubbish systems,

The most frightening think about the Spanish takeover of our High Street banks is the thought that they might introduce Spanish customer service standards into the UK.

I spend a lot of time in Spain and have an account with one of their main banks, Solbank. Going into my local branch to carry out a simple piece of business is a nightmare.

Staff have no concept of customer focus: they chat to each other while serving you; they answer phone calls - and deal with the resultant query while you stand around: their procedures are archaic; staff can disappear for five minutes in the middle of dealing with you; length of queue is of no consequence (thier smoke break is more important); staff disappear at lunchtime with no regard to customers waiting.

This is not unique to Solbank, but seems to pervadse all the banks I go into - it must be a cultural thing - so changing banks is not an answer.

All I can say to Santander customers complaining now is "you ain't seen nothing yet!"

It is not just the banking side that is a shambles. Their store card systems are just as bad. They do not answer letters, lose letters, give unhelpful replies when they bother to reply and lie.

Their shareholder services side have the same administrative failings as the rest of the company to the extent that they refuse to recognise orders from the Court of Protection

They have changed their overdraft rules and as expected a complete shambles, they seem to have backdated the date they took effect from even though they say effective from 16 March. they have charged my for going overdrawn back at beginning of Feb!! Tried to complain and they couldn't explain it - I wonder how many others they have done this too!!

I have been to my local branch 4 times and now feel thay are all part of a family 10/10

My husband is trying to set up a business bank account and it has been 5 weeks since handing in the paperwork to being told that it is with the underwriters and everything is fine. No it is not fine - we cannot invoice without the bank account and my husband has been into the branch and complained quite loudly to the Manager and the Business Manager who say that there is nothing they can do and we should complain which by the way we have but no response there either!!!

Would not recommend this bank to anyone and we are currently in the process of opening elsewhere and we will be closing our accounts we have with this bunch of useless morons

Like the other folks my husband is now on first name terms with most of the branch staff

Disasterander would be a better name. My partner had a debit on her account which Santander insisted was correct: hoards of communications to them just shovelled on and rotated - if you even got an answer. They insisted all in order but after a year I discovered that store in which card was stated to have been used closed two months previous, and she had never been there anyway. Letter to Chief Executive in Spain ignored in accordance with Santander practice. Money eventually returned "As a gesture of Goodwill".....disgusting cheek. I have no current account with them but I've also had an e-mail telling me £2000 incorrectly credited to my account..............
I suggest people go to a country branch of Barclays where one might find an old fashioned live manager: I did, no problems but when 'remote' central department didn't come up to scratch he delivered them his thoughts, and then wrote me a real letter in his own hand! I have found Barclays excellent to deal with but ensure you get the right person - always start 'at the top' if in doubt!

nothing but frustation in branch.you can bet on a good hour on every visit. over an hour to close account. interested only in opening new business.lived in spain for 15yrs its gone the same way totally--- incompetant

I too had lots of problems when I opened a Santander current account. I wasted a lot of time and money on phone calls to rectify the problems. Another problem when they tried to transfer my A&L online accounts to Santander. This took months to sort out. The latest problem happened few weeks ago when I filled an ISA transfer form to transfer my ISA from Santander to Nationwide. Instead of doing the transfer, they decided to close my ISA account and send me a check. I have been in touch with them for at least two weeks trying to get them to rectify their mistake, but so far there is no joy!!!!. I even called their complaint department but they are just as useless as their customer service.

SANTANDER IS TOO BUY TRYING TO GET NEW CUSTOMERS FROM OTHER PLACES TO JOIN THEM TO WORRY ABOUT THE CUSTOMERS THEY ALREADY HAVE. i THINK LOYAL CUSTOMERS SHOULD BE TREATED BETTER. And why tell me do they give a new customer a better deal than their already customers,l they can't look after their own, no need to be greedy SANTANDER

We have had an account with A & L for many years and have never had any cause to complain but Santander are a complete nightmare. I have to say there were no problems with the transfer of accounts and they did spot a fraud on our card but everything else is a nightmare. We did then get some calls querying random small amounts though like somebody else mentioned. Length of time hanging on the phone to get through to them and just general poor customer service. I don't know if they use the old A & L staff at their call centres but the service is definitely not the same, maybe they are fed up with everyone complaining.

I was interested in Peter Dowd's comment about using the ATM in Spain because frankly this is the main reason we have stayed with them. He says he has used his A & L card with no charges but when I spoke to Santander recently they said it is only free if you have a red Santander card and the blue A & L doesn't count. I have written to them for clairification as everything else I have is Santander red - statements, online banking, savings accounts etc. In fact the website seems to say now that the usual ATM charges apply. Mr Dowd's comments are quite old so I wonder if the situation is different now. They said I could change to their current account but you don't seem to get the free travel insurance with that.

I switched to Santander from Nationwide about eighteen months ago ... now on their Premier Account basis. I've had nothing but great service and an easy and accurate transfer ... no missed dd's etc. Their Premier Service extras such as Travel Insurance, Vehicle Recovery and Airport Angel are first class extras.
I've nothing but praise for them: Viva Espana!

I spent an over an hour on the telephone to Santander today being passed from one team to another, are they not working for the same company, will no one take responsibility!

The irony now is that the head of Santander UK is now the head of Lloyds (I wonder if customer service was raised at the interview) - will he bring with him his track record of poor customer service?

I have had constant arguments with Santander over faster payments, which they seem to do in their own sweet time and these, they say, are 'at our discretion'. They do not publicise or put on their internet banking site that they have a daily limit of only £300, this can only be done once per day and only to a person or organisation to whom you have previously transferred money. They cannot give me a straight answer about this - other banks have limits of around £10,000 and no once a day rules. It is obvious they like to keep their hands on customers' money for as long as possible so that they get the interest.

They used to be fine as Alliance and Leicester, now as Santander, customer service is a misnomer.

I can empathise with everything that is said here and whilst we had no problems when the account transferred and they did ring us when we had some fraudulent transactions, the customer service is now appalling.

We were with A & L for many years and never ever had cause to complain but since the takeover it has been one thing after another.

I am interested in Peter Dowds comment about using the ATM card in Spain free of charges as I notice he says he used his A & L card. When I asked Santander about t his recently they said it was only free if you had the red Santander card. I have written for clarification about this as even though I still have the old A & L card, statements, online page etc are all Santander red. I was told that they "manage" the A & L accounts so don't qualify as proper Santander!! I have written to them to get this clarified (not confident I will!) but would be interested if anyone has used their A & L card in an ATM in Spain recently with no fees?

My husband and myself have been customers of A/L for some years, changing to Santander has been no problem. If we need to make any changes to our accounts we just go into our local Santander everything is sorted there and then and receive a very good service. We bank online and have no problems in that area also.10/10.

I must say the service is better than Moneywise, I reported to them an error as regards the interest rate on Yorkshire Bank they showed on several occasions being incorrect, oh yes they replied, I believe it is probably the messages they send everyone when they can't send an apology. 4/10

I was with the old Giro Bank in 1983 who was excellent as a Bank & they were sold out to Alliance & Leicester & I was sceptical about this as I think most of us don`t like change but to my surprise they turned out to be excellent with no problems in my experience then come along Santander well that was when my nightmare started with customer services as I wanted a no fee current account they said we can only upgrade accounts & not down grade on the phone so I was instructed me to go to a local branch so off I go to halesowen to be told by their staff that they can`t do that & the lady passed this enquiry on to the manager who was not impressed & also confirmed to me that they should know that?so back to customer services who replied they were sorting this out within a few weeks ?wrong 6 months later still can`t do this! & after more calls told to go to my local branch again so I decided enough is enough & decided to change banks which is incredibly easier than I thought & is currently being processed all I can say is if anyone is tempted to apply for cash back & 5% interest for 12months & £12 monthly account fee unless you are committed for the long term be cautious & think again.

Well I think Santander are very good, I have no problems with any of the banking side, in fact I think their internet banking is one of the best around. Unlike an earlier post which quoted a daily limit of £300 for transfers? I have no problem and can transfer up to the £10000 limit and have done a few times.

Where they let themselves down is how they treat us existing customers, they give the better rates to get new business and wont give them to us.

But most banks are guilty of this, I regularly have to move from one bank to another to get the best rates for savings & ISA's, Now this must cost a fortune in admin as I usually only stay with a savings account for 1 year, then when the bonus ends I move to another account or bank.



More and more people are now willing to move to get a good deal where they used to stay with a bank for life, so as the TV ad says, the big fat juicy worm on the hook only works for me during the bonus period, then I'm off looking for the next one.

It works for me, so far I've received £50 and £35 in compensation for shabby service. I've even reopened one account in the hope of getting more - I'm sure they'll muck something up again.

I have had an account now with Santander coming up for 3 years. I have only had one complaint ehich was dealt with efficiently and courteously. Similar complaints when having had an account with RBS for over 20 years were ignored and required the intervention of the banks's compliance officer who after having banking regulations explained to him sorted the problem out but it took over 2 weeks. This of course is the same bank thatwe as taxpayers bailed out, and the same bank who continue to pay outrageous bonuses and salries to their top staff. It is also the second largest bank in terms of misselling PPI.
At least Santander has agreed to repay any missold PPI, but not RBS, their hoping as usual to wriggle out of their responsibilities.

I am glad to hear I am not alone - Santander have been the bane of my life since they took over my Asdacard account last September. They have made mistakes on my account, and despite repeated telephone calls, they have failed to rectify those mistakes. They even failed to follow through, after trying to fob me off with a token amount, by cheque, which never arrived. I have just filed a complaint with the ombudsman - an utter shambles. Why are they still trading

I've been with Santander (ex A&KL) for about 2 years. There are so many mistakes and bad practices, I just go straight to formal complaint now if they don't solve something on first contact..

Most recent example was when they customer service rep assured me I could pay a dollar cheque into my current account with no fees, charges or commission, just normal exchange rates. Duly sent with letter stating that 'as confirmed on the telephone, please pay this into my account without any fees or charges (etc)'. Sterling value - when eventually reaches my account - was less than expected so I query and find they have deducted a £10 fee. So they had ignored the letter and their previous offer - breach of contract? Some time after my formal complaint, my account was credited with £10 adjustment which I take to be related to this, but they have never informed me of their decision or action.

The 'secure message facility' is broken' - I get emails telling me I have a new secure message bit when I log in there are no new messages. Occasionally they appear. Santander say they know the system is broken and will only be fixed when all clients are migrated to a new system.

Even small (e.g. under £100) transfers between Santander accounts can take 3 or more working days. they are supposed to be instant as per the Fast Payment rules, and for a while they were, but recently few if any have gone through immediately or even on the next working day.

I have been an Abbey customer - bank and mortgage for 6 years - I would until March of this year have said that I have never had any problems - until charges were incorrectly applied to my account due to an Abbey customer service advisor making the transfer to the wrong account - my husbands instead of mine! - I phoned and complained and was told some one would ring me back, the next working day - they didn't so I rang them. I was offered £10 compensation for inconvenience - if I agreed that the matter was sorted which to me it isn't as I had not received my call back with an explanation of how it occurred, the offer was upped to £20 - I would still not agree and I was promised a call back- this was on 29 April and guess what I am still waiting - I know the Spanish like to do things tomorrow but this is ridiculous - ps I also bank with HSBC and never had any problems - I do think thta Abbey want to pulll their finger out and get their act together as Customers will WALK.......

They are a joke and merrily carrying on the tradition of shoddy service we received from Shabby Abbey, A & L weren't much better. Can't believe there are so many complaints over so many years and they are still too hopeless to do anything about it! It is also scary that they are taking over so many of their competitors, soon we won't have a choice. I must admit some of their products are very tempting, I have succumbed to the 5% current account for a year and the 3.5% Loyalty ISA (which means I will have to leave the current account open for a few months longer than I intended!) but I know better than to expect any sort of customer service from them. Recently my overdraft facility just 'disappeared' from my statement for no apparent reason and with no explanation, the person I spoke to on the phone had no idea either (surprise, surprise!) and said I would have to go into branch and fill out a form. As every visit into branch necessitates about an hour's wait to see someone and a further hour while they blunder around trying to sort out whatever cock-up it is this time I really haven't got the energy to bother!!

Went to my local branch to get a higher rate of inetrest for my ISA (drops after 12months) and they said sorry no products - only for new custormers.Checked online when i got home and found one.

I totally agree that Santander has the worst customer service. I contacted my branch for an appointment with a financial advisor to enable me to move money from accounts where the bonus was about to lapse and to open replacement accounts. I was told that there were no appointments available for the next 2 weeks! I was then told that there was a new system where I could call in to the branch and would be seen by an advisor within 20 minutes. I called in to branch at 11.15 and was told that I would have to wait until 1.30. If I left the branch, I would lose my place in the queue! When I asked to complain to the manager, I was firstly asked to wait (which I did for 20 minutes) Then I was told that the manager was too busy to see me. AMAZING!!

moved from natwest to santander 2months ago best thing iav done not a problem would recommend

My mother had an account with Santander, i had a power of attorney and spent weeks and weeks ringing their customer help line,my mum needed the money to pay for her care, they lost my Power of Attorney documentation denied ever receiving it but returned other paperwork i had sent them with it. In the end i gave up it was making me ill with the stress of it all and made a formal complaint to the Financial Services Ombudsman, within 2 weeks i had received my mums money and a cheque for £100 as compensation. I have never seen such bad and inconsiderate customer service. The bank does not deserve your custom. Make a complaint direct to the FSO it seems the only way of getting anything done with this bank.

Having been with A&L for many years with good service I found that this as now continued with Santander with the added advantage that I can now go into the local Santander branch if I cannot solve a problem online. It is also an advantage to be able to use the Post Office to deposit cheques and draw out cash. I had an occasion to phone them and the next day they phoned to see if I was happy with the service.
I am sure that given time they will be one of the best banks to deal with.

Santander are great until something goes wrong and then their customer service is atrocious, they don't phone when they say they will and their own staff don't know their procedures. I've been in branch with a customer advisor when a member of their secuirty team hung up on the guy because it was 5pm and they are only open until 5pm. If they treat their own staff like that, there's no hope for the customer. Avoid at all costs.

Off-Shore International woes too...

I've been very happy with the service I've received from Bradford and Bingley International on the Isle of Man. It looks like Santander have dropped the ball with its closure and integration with A&L though.

I received an e-mail on 6th May telling me B&BI was going to cease operating, my account was going to be closed and there were a number of options open to me, most of which involved me having to take action and pro-actively open a new account with Alliance & Leicester International on the I.O.M. or Abbey National International in the Channel Islands. I believe I'm currently receiving 2.25% interest with no-notice on my e-Access2 account. The equivalent account at A&LI only pays 1%! A 2.25% return is available, but only with 120-day notice.

A few days later, I received a letter and instruction leaflet in the post stating my B&BI account was going to be automatically transferred to A&LI as part of the closure and integration activities. It said "Sit back and let us take care of everything. You do not need to do or change anything. The transfer of accounts to A&LI will not result in any alteration..."!!

Which one is it?!

On 9th May, three days after the initial e-mail, a follow-up e-mail was sent. It said "Please do not worry." I'm not worried! I'm confused, irritated, frustrated and angry!

The service is horrible/terrible. I donot have the words to express my disapointment. I ordered a card. For 3 months no pin arrived....

They have no idea what loyal means