Are British banks letting their customers down?

Published by Chris Thomas on 12 November 2009.
Last updated on 13 November 2009

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The Financial Ombudsman Service recently published a range of complaints data, revealing how many complaints financial firms had each received and how they had dealt with them.

Nearly 70,000 complaints were made between January and June this year, forcing the question: are banks letting their customers down?

Yes says: Peter Vicary-Smith, Chief Executive, Which?

The latest Ombudsman research into complaints should have made uncomfortable reading for those in the boardrooms of Britain's banks.
The UK's five biggest banks account for more than half of all the complaints the Ombudsman received during the first half of the year, with complaints upheld in favour of the consumer at a new high (59%).

It seems that people are complaining about all aspects of banking, from current accounts to insurance, credit cards to loans.

And this is only the tip of the iceberg. These people had a grievance, complained to their bank, were rejected by the internal complaints system, and then went to the Ombudsman.

We can only guess at the many thousands of people who began this process but gave up half way through, frustrated and lacking the energy to fight any further.
It is clear from our own satisfaction surveys that significant numbers of customers remain dissatisfied with the products and services that the banking sector provides, and that there are clear differences between the best and worst performers across a range of different criteria – not all banks are the same.

People are unhappy about poor customer service, but they are also annoyed by salespeople who constantly push products they don't want or need.

During this current crisis, we would have expected the banking industry to apologise to their customers. But instead the British Bankers' Association (BBA) dismissed these concerns, saying that "most customers are satisfied with their bank".

Britain needs better banks and the BBA should be trying to get its members to fix these problems, rather than implicitly encouraging them to bury their heads in the sand.

No says: Eric Leenders, Executive Director for retail banking, British Bankers' Association

In light of some recent headlines it would be easy to believe that the service provided by Britain's banks was somehow lacking. However, nothing could be further from the truth.

Every day of every week, UK banks carry out millions of transactions for their customers. This includes distributing nearly £3 million in cash through cash machines, processing 25,000 cheques, 102,000 automatic credits and 123,000 plastic card payments.

The vast majority of transactions go through without problems, but banks are not complacent and are continually working to improve their service and efficiency.

While it is inevitable that things occasionally do go wrong, banks are committed to putting any problems right as quickly and efficiently as possible.

This was confirmed by new figures published by the Ombudsman in September, which showed that on the small number of occasions when problems did arise, most complaints were sorted out between the bank and its customer within 48 hours and did not need to be referred to the Ombudsman.

Of those that could not be resolved in this way, there was less than one complaint upheld by the Ombudsman for every 10,000 products you can get from your bank. The figures, based on complaints handled by the Ombudsman, confirm that most customers are satisfied with the service they receive from their bank.

Other research comparing bank services in the UK with those abroad shows clearly that UK banks provide consumers with transparent, diverse services that are good value for money. However, UK banks will not rest on their laurels, and they remain committed to providing services to meet the evolving needs of their customers.

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