The best and worst cash ISA providers for customer service
Their tax-free status coupled with some fairly decent interest rates means that cash ISAs should be a first stop for every saver with up to £5,340, the annual limit for 2011/2012) to tuck away.
MOST TRUSTED: NS&I
This year's winner is NS&I, one of the UK's largest savings organisations with more than 26 million customers. In spite of all these customers, it didn't even make the shortlist in 2010 so its arrival at the top spot this year is an even more significant achievement.
Customers put it down to a number of factors. Customer service is strong, with praise given to the friendly and efficient call centre staff. Another part of the package that customers particularly appreciate is the information NS&I gives to customers, with several saying the website and literature are the clearest and most comprehensive on the market.
NS&I customers also like the organisation's HM Revenue & Customs backing. This means all its products offer 100% security. "You know your money can be trusted with it," said one customer.
BEST CASH ISA PROVIDER FOR ONLINE SERVICE: FIRST DIRECT
A super-complaint by Consumer Focus last year has shaken up the cash ISA market, forcing providers to complete ISA transfers within 15 rather than 23 days. While this is good news for customers of ISA providers that were dragging out the process, some cash ISA customers have always felt well looked after by their providers.
"Exceptional service," said one customer of this year's winner First Direct. Another said it was easy to access and manage the account online. The ease of making transfers was also highly praised, with customers saying they were happy with the length of time it took to get their money either to, or from, First Direct. "The transfer of two old ISAs to First Direct was very quick and easy to arrange," said one happy customer.
BEST CASH ISA FOR CONSISTENCY OF RATES: LEEDS BUILDING SOCIETY
With bonuses and short-term deals making it ever important to keep an eye on the interest rate you're getting on your cash ISA, many savers look for a cash ISA provider that offers consistently good rates. This year, customers recognised Leeds Building Society as the best cash ISA provider in this area.
The building society runs a range of different cash ISAs, including simple instant and online ISAs offering maximum flexibility, to a variety of fixed-rate and tracker ISA offering higher interest rates for the additional commitment.
As well as flagging up the keen rates, customers said they particularly liked the personal service, with one saying: "I've been a customer for many years. No problems at all with Leeds Building Society."
WORST CASH ISA PROVIDER: SANTANDER
Santander slips to the bottom in this category with customers complaining about the service they receive in branches as well as online. "Service is consistently extremely poor and unreliable, even non-existent in some cases," said one of Santander's cash ISA customers.
Another complained they had to wait over an hour to be seen in a branch, even though there were only a couple of people in the queue.
Botched applications were a common complaint for cash ISAs too, with customers complaining they'd had the wrong ISA opened; their account details were incorrect; or they had to complete the paperwork several times.
Invidivual Savings Accounts were introduced on 6 April 1999 to replace personal equity plans (PEPs) and tax-exempt special savings accounts (TESSAs) with one plan that covered both stockmarket and savings products, the returns from which are tax-exempt. The ISA is not in itself an investment product. Rather, it’s a tax-free “wrapper” in which you place investments and savings up to a specified annual allowance where the returns (capital growth, dividends, interest) are tax-exempt (you don’t have to declare ISAs and their contents on your tax return). However, any dividends are taxed within the investment, and that can’t be reclaimed.
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.