Open a new bank account? Sorry, ‘the computer says no’

Written by on April 14, 2016 in Opinion with 5 Comments

Computer says noWe are exhausted. In January we reported on our futile efforts to open a new bank account. The experience was quite like a visit to the proctologist. What we had no idea of at the time was that we were nowhere near the end of the road. And certainly nowhere near opening a bank account.

To recap:

Our existing bank has a stone age system for online banking and foreign currency transactions. Most of our business is done in foreign currencies. We needed an hour-long tutorial just to make a simple payment. No-one had figured it out without the tutorial.

We decided to move bank.

One bank had a three-week wait before they could see us.

One Spanish bank did not offer a Euro account.

Some banks had no online banking or foreign currency accounts whatsoever.

We settled on Lloyds. One of our directors banked there personally and was happy. He is now sad. And sorry.

Our first online application, back in September, got lost in the system. We persisted and opted for an in-person, with a ‘customer manager’ in London on January 13. We had everything required to open the account and were assured it would all happen that day. Wrong. Our director’s personal address did not match the UK Company’s registered address. Despite being there in person and with all the necessary documentation for the address change the computer said no. It had to be done by some remote clerk at another location. By January 21, the computer said yes, and the last barrier to our new account being opened was lifted after the address had been updated in the ‘back end’ – the bank’s term.

Three months later, a full quarter of a year on, we still do not have a new bank account.

So last week we decided to give up altogether and wrote to our ‘customer relationship manager’ but he was on annual leave. So we called the number on his ‘out of office’ email and were told there was no record of our account application on the system and that we should not have called the ‘sales’ department. When quizzed who we should call there was no response, lady on phone and computer both said ‘no’.

So we opted for the next most logical step when all else fails – hit social media. Nine minutes after the first Tweet we got a response that led to a call from a colleague of our ‘customer manager’ who left a message saying there was nothing he could do but to call him back if we wanted to discuss things. He said he would send an urgent message for our man to contact us the moment he returned. We called him back, we left a message saying ‘tell him not to bother, why would we want to deal with people who take three months to open an account.’ He didn’t call back.

Another Twitter exchange and this time we got a call from the ‘complaints department’ and a message with a number to call back. We called and were asked for our complaint number but we didn’t have one, just a name. By this stage we were past complaining and only wanted to have our application cancelled and all our papers returned. Presuming the bank could find them.

Helena from complaints was very nice but even she admitted that no-one could push our customer manager’s work forward in his absence, no-one knew what was going on. She, like us, was suitably amazed and the term ‘totally unacceptable’ was muttered a number of times. All we wanted to do was highlight to someone senior in the bank that the system had failed us.

All those millions the bank spends on marketing and bold promises of easy account opening, looking after small business and low charges mean nought, zero when the whole ‘back end’ fails the most basic part – opening the account.

They are launching an internal investigation. This seems a little silly. Are banks simply incompetent or under-resourced, or both? Having a witch hunt will not win this customer back nor remedy the situation, we suspect. This simply should not happen in the first place and when a customer tries four or five times to find out what is going wrong alarm bells should ring.

Our man is now back from his holiday.

He hasn’t called back, but the complaints department has. As part of its investigation it wants us to send in all our email correspondence with our man so they can, presumably, tally up both sides. Our view is ‘don’t bother.’

We don’t care any longer, we just want our papers back. Enough time wasted. Enough aggravation.

Despite legislation in UK making it easier to change banks there doesn’t seem to be any rush by banks to service new customers – at least SME customers like us. For banks to be effective and competitive in a market suffering more disruption – arguably – than telecoms, they need to either have leading-edge technology and mobile, app-based functionality or searingly good customer service – preferably both.

To have neither, to be lumbered with 30 year old systems and have people in customer facing positions who have no power to do anything if the ‘computer says no’ is a recipe for disaster.

As in telecoms, banking, if it doesn’t get its act together and fast, will be overtaken, outflanked and bettered by the newer fintech companies. Sadly, the only people who probably won’t be affected will be the management that created the mess in the first place.

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About the Author

About the Author: Alex was Founder and CEO of the Global Billing Association (GBA), a trade body focused on the communications sector. He is a sought after speaker and chairman at leading industry conferences, and is widely published in communications magazines around the world. Until it closed, he was Contributing Editor, OSS/BSS for Connected Planet. He is publisher of DisruptiveViews and previously BillingViews. .


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  1. bob says:

    We’ve been trying for two years to open a joint account with Nationwide in order to transfer all our business from the dreaded RBS (soon to be Williams & Glyns, which appears to be confusing them terribly). Despite the fact that we have a mortgage with them, and some car finance, and I have had an individual Flexaccount for 30 years, despite the fact that we are fully employed and handsomely rewarded and have the payment records of minor saints, the best that Nationwide have been ‘pleased to offer us today’, after two hours of online form-filling and fact-checking, is their ‘Basic account’, i.e. the one they otherwise give to criminals and errant teenagers. Nobody can explain why: it’s the computer’s decision.
    Thanks for the opportunity to unload.

  2. Joe Zeff says:

    You can always work with a good law firm like Mossack Fonseca. They seem to have no problem setting up bank accounts.

  3. Peter Coleman says:

    And the problems dont stop even when you get the account open. Last week it took me 6 hours which included two visits to the branch of one of the global banking behemoths and four separate calls with telephone banking to make a transfer from my local currency to my USD account at the same branch of the same bank, which I then wanted to transfer to my account with the same bank in a different country (that took 30 second by the way). So basically a whole day wasted to make a relatively small value transaction. Customer service, nope. Oh and it took me nearly four months to open my account with said bank in the first instance.

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