Moneywise Customer Service Awards 2016: The winners: Banking
It’s relatively easy to find the best rates on the market – a wealth of comparison tools and best buy round-ups mean, in theory, it’s easier than ever to cast your net far and wide for the highest paying savings accounts, the best-value insurance products, and the cheapest ways to borrow, either over the short term, using cards and loans, or for long-term debts such as mortgages.
But finding the most reputable companies is a completely different story. Adverts universally show happy customers, and while online reviews might be helpful a lot of the time, it’s becoming clear that many of them are of questionable provenance.
That’s why, for the eighth year in a row, we’ve asked readers of Moneywise magazine and Moneywise.co.uk to share their experiences, good and bad, to find the most trustworthy financial companies in the UK. Tens of thousands of people have spoken at length, scoring firms on customer service, the rates on offer, online security and general trustworthiness.
Also see the Moneywise Awards results for:
- Best savings accounts
- Best credit cards and loans
- Best insurance and business services
- Worst companies
Over the next four articles you’ll find readers’ recommendations that cover everything from current accounts to pet insurance, peer-to-peer savings accounts, life insurance and the best banks for small businesses.
You’ll also see cautionary tales from people who’ve had to put up with poor service, and the providers which haven’t quite convinced their customers they are on top of protecting people’s money online.
More than 24,000 people took the time to share their experiences in the 2016 Moneywise Customer Service Awards.
We’re confident you’ll find their feedback as useful as we have for the next time you decide to switch a financial product, and hope that the positive experiences reported by thousands of people will make you pause to think if you might be getting a better deal elsewhere.
Before we jump to the results, we’d like to give a special thanks to everyone who participated in this year’s awards. It simply would not have been possible without you.
Congratulations to Laura Mason, who won the prize draw of £1,000 cash for completing the survey, as well as Irinel Sandu, Lukasz Zakrzewski, Simon Field, Jim Moore and Alan Marshall, who each won £100 Amazon vouchers.
To be recognised as a Most Trusted company, firms must go beyond the minimum standards, and signal trustworthy intentions, or that they put their customers’ interests first. Companies that do this won’t slash the rates on our savings every time we turn our heads the other way, or push ‘special offers’ on us that aren’t that special.
It’s no surprise that trust and top rates often coincide. The phenomenally popular 123 account from Santander is genuinely a novel type of current account, paying cashback on household bills. Similarly, peer-to-peer lenders, such as Lending Works and Zopa, are cutting the costs of banking and passing on the savings to savers, which readers love.
Trust isn’t just about the best rates though and readers take a dim view of ‘best today, gone tomorrow’ savings offers, which lock in customers with rates that don’t last.
Two of 2016’s biggest winners understand this well – they don’t offer the best rates, but they do offer good rates. Where they excel is in meeting their customers’ needs. The first of these, First Direct, will be very familiar to long- term Moneywise readers, as it’s picked up a gong every year since the Customer Service Awards first ran in 2008. The second, Metro Bank, can’t match an eight-year winning streak because it’s not that old, but its customer-focused model makes it also a Moneywise favourite too.
So without further ado, meet the most trusted banking providers in the UK in 2016.
Most trusted financial provider
Winner: Metro Bank
Highly commended: First Direct
Given the number of awards it picked up this year, it’s no surprise that Metro Bank won the coveted Most Trusted Financial Provider Award.
The challenger bank uses its branches to set itself apart from the competition, using toys and games that get children into money – it even offers treats for dogs. More usefully to some, the Metro also reprints debit cards while you wait.
Away from the gimmicks, the hard work to make its branches something special is clearly appreciated by Moneywise readers.
Meanwhile, First Direct scored highly all around. Top-notch customer service and mortgage deals for existing customers were two of the most tipped aspects of this telephone and online bank.
Most trusted mainstream bank
Highly commended: Natwest
Santander may not have been voted Most Trusted overall provider, but it still kept its title as the Most Trusted Mainstream Bank. The first, second and third main reason people backed Santander were one and the same, namely the 123 account. Despite fees rising to £5 a month in January, most people seem happy to pay this for the cashback on utility bills, and high-paying interest accounts.
One reader says: “They pay good rates of interest on their 123 account and decent cashback on their credit card. Even with increased fees for these products, they are still very competitive. Their online service is also great!”
Runner-up NatWest is part of the same group as RBS, but doesn’t share any of its issues. Customers love the service and a large number of people commended their keeping branches open.
Most trusted current account provider
Winner: Metro Bank
Highly commended: First Direct
Metro Bank has retained its title as the most trusted current account provider. Its customers all love its products, particularly the current account which is cheap to use abroad. But it is the outstanding level of customer service that really sets this bank apart.
One reader says: “They put customers at the heart of everything they do and take my needs into consideration. They provide me with a banking relationship that I don’t need to worry about.”
Highly commended in this category is regular Moneywise favourite First Direct. While it can’t compete for in-branch services, its telephone and online access more than make up for it.
“They answer the phone, and you get to speak to a human being. Also, they have good mortgage rates and excellent customer service,” says one reader.
Several readers have been with First Direct for more than 20 years, which really says something.
Here’s one comment, typical of many: “All of my banking affairs are looked after by my bank of many years. There is always a person on the other end of the line, friendly and ready to answer any questions.”
Best current account for branch service
Winner: Metro Bank
Highly commended: Nationwide Building Society
Metro Bank has come a long way since it first launched in London in 2010, and its focus on in-branch services is clearly a winning formula, having been mentioned by dozens of readers.
“Whenever I walk into a store, I can speak to someone straight away, there are no appointments and the hours are more convenient for me,” says one.
Highly commended is Nationwide, for its “excellent” customer service. One reader says: “We have found, particularly in the branch office, that the staff are very courteous and helpful.”
Best current account provider for call centre service
Winner: First Direct
Highly commended: Metro Bank
First Direct has learnt a thing or two about telephone banking since it launched in 1989.
Readers appreciate not being sent around the houses for basic queries too: “The telephone is answered promptly by a real person who is knowledgeable and professional – there’s no endless button pushing to speak to someone,” says one.
That’s not to say First Direct has the only decent telephone banking services too. Metro Bank narrowly took the highly commended accolade, proving there’s more to it than shiny new branches. Readers praised Metro’s long access hours and friendly staff.
Best mobile banking app
Highly commended: Metro Bank
Banks haven’t exactly been leading the charge with mobile apps, with the first generation tending to mimic websites, but on a smaller screen.
Barclays has proven a notable exception since it launched Pingit in 2012, allowing people to make small payments to friends via text message.
“I like the use of technology through the mobile app and online banking. The app has nice features,” explains one reader.
The runner-up is Metro Bank: “The app is very quick to update, is easy to use and has lots you can do on it,” says another.
Most trusted for small business banking
Highly commended: HSBC
In a first for the Moneywise Customer Service Awards, entrepreneurial readers were invited to rate their business banking services.
Overall, Santander received the top scores in all categories, winning votes in many areas.
One small business owner says Santander offers “a simple account, which does everything I need for my very small business”.
Another liked the fact that they’re treated like a customer, and not like an account number: “As I have my personal, family and two business accounts with Santander I can logon once and see all at the same time. It’s great to be recognised as one person!”
HSBC was the other stand-out performer in the small business banking category. It’s “100% reliable”, inspiring “confidence in the service”, so much so that one reader has used them for 50 years, without any issues.
Generally thought of as being interchangeable with life assurance, but isn’t. Life insurance insures you for a specific period of time, at a premium fixed by your age, health and the amount the life is insured for. If you die while the policy is in force, the insurance company pays the claim. However, if you survive to the end of the term or cease paying the premiums, the policy is finished and has no remaining value whatsoever as it only has any value if you have a claim. For this reason, life insurance is much cheaper than life assurance (also called whole of life).
An account opened with a clearing bank (few building societies offer current accounts) that provides the ability to draw cash (usually via a debit card) or cheques from the account. Some pay fairly minimal rates of interest if the account is in credit. Most current accounts insist your monthly income (salary or pension) is paid directly in each month and they offer a number of optional services – such as overdrafts and charge cards – which are negotiable but will incur fees.
Used by the holder to buy goods and services, credit cards also have a monthly or annual spending limit, which may be raised or lowered depending on the creditworthiness of the cardholder. But unlike charge cards, borrowers aren’t forced to pay the balance off in full every month and, as long as they make a stated minimum payment, can carry a balance from one month to the next, generating compound interest. As the issuing company is effectively giving you a short-term loan, most credit cards have variable and relatively high interest rates. Allowing the interest to compound for too long may result in dire financial straits.