Opening a UK small business bank account like visiting a proctologist

Written by on January 19, 2016 in Billing & Payments, Opinion with 0 Comments

The proctologistIt is extraordinary how badly banks treat their customers. Getting the service you want is a hit and miss affair. RBS and NatWest are the latest to lock people out of their accounts. HSBC managed this trick not so long ago.

In the latest RBS case, the culprit was a system (or actually mish-mash of ancient, creaking systems) that had been cobbled together. To this they had pasted on something that looks like a web-based front end and shoved it down their small company customers’ throats. One of the many complaints from these irate customers, after discovering the problem (many by accident), was that the bank did not even bother to communicate it to them.

Twitter was aglow with indignation.

What is irritating is that RBS actually blamed the cobbled-together bunch of legacy systems that should be in a museum. When DisruptiveViews (DV) was ‘getting started’ with the RBS small business system, it first had to go through a tedious and overly-long, paper-based sign up process. Bear in mind that DV was already a customer, with a UK account when all it wanted was a linked Euro account to avoid the pathetic exchange rates on offer – hardly rocket science.

Half way through the over-the-phone ‘training process’ to use the dinosaur of a system (essential because the system is so user-unfriendly) the trainer was asked whether anyone had managed to start using the system without a 30 minute session. No-one had.

Can you imagine if setting up an account using an online service like the App Store or Amazon required the same effort?

What is most irritating is that the bank’s retail system is as slick as they come. It has a handy, secure little app that allows you to look at balances, transfer money, pay bills anywhere, anytime. With the business Bankline, it is completely the opposite. You need an engineering degree and a ‘security token’ the size of a small calculator that you have to carry around.

The even more irritating thing is that businesses are – for some inexplicable reason – not allowed to simply use the retail platform. Which begs the question, when does an individual (or two or three individuals) cross the line and become a business with all the tedious regulations and red tape beloved of the behemoth banks? Is it just the moment when you get a company number or more than two people are involved?

The really frustrating thing is that RBS, NatWest and HSBC are not alone in their ineptitude. DV also  tried Santander (you know, the Spanish bank) but for some bizarre reason it does not offer Euro accounts in the UK.

Next was an online application with Lloyds that resulted in the usual machine-created ‘thank you, do not reply to this email’ email and claiming that one of the dedicated customer service team would phone within 24 hours to discuss requirements (that had already been painstakingly entered online). 24 hours came and went. So did two whole weeks. A call to the number on the email yielded someone that said one of the dedicated customer service team would phone back within 24 hours. Another 24 hours (and several months) went by, still nothing. What they were dedicated to remains a complete mystery. Certainly not customer service.

After another frustrating and fraught session on the RBS system trying to transfer some Euros somewhere, we rang Lloyds again. We talked to a person. We set up a meeting in London branch. We arrived at the meeting.

The dedicated customer service person greeted us by saying a curious thing happened when he was entering the details we had emailed him. There was a duplicate application already in the system. We said we knew. We resisted the temptation to hold our heads in our hands and scream. Instead, we asked some questions, he answered them and assured us that we would have an account open before we would leave.

But, inevitably, there was a problem.

One of the DV directors (who will remain nameless) was a Lloyds’ personal banking customer and also held a mortgage with them, but the address on the Lloyds’ system did not match the address of the director in the company register. The director had to produce a visa proving residence in the country that his Lloyds’ address showed, you know, the same address as the mortgage, bank accounts and debit cards held by them – even though it is not a requirement of that country.

Apart from the obvious dubious banking rule that allowed that to happen in the first place, the dedicated customer service person was unable to access the ‘back end’ (his terminology) in order to change the address. He tried every which way. Computer said ‘no.’ He phoned people. People said ‘no.’

In the end, several more paper forms were filled in, some of which he took to the ‘physical’ branch downstairs so that they could be ‘physically’ sent to a service centre in Birmingham, where someone (probably with a beard and a decent knowledge of COBOL) could ride bare back on UNIX, access some mainframe somewhere and change an address. Time will tell.

Meanwhile, the DV operatives have gone back to their various lairs, and will soon start travelling the world. While they do, if all goes to the new plan, physical paper forms will be sent to the company trading address in the UK, where they will be signed and sent on to France. Where they will await the return of the other DV director, who will then sign them and send them back to the UK where they will be stamped by the customer service person.

And then, if DV is lucky and there isn’t a postal strike in France (highly likely), or the letter doesn’t get lost in a channel crossing mishap, then it will have a new bank account. Even a visit to the proctologist is more pleasant than this!

Surely adding a currency or two to the retail system is not rocket science. And surely, installing a second iteration of their consumer system would not cost the earth. In fact, it would probably cost less than fighting a rearguard action (no pun intended) against the hordes of business customers locked out of their accounts – again.

Yes, we know there are all sorts of anti-money-laundering regulations but stop using them as another excuse to make life hell for potential customers, especially if the bank already holds all the information on the directors already.

It is incredible that banks are so bad at what they do. They seem to suffer from the same bias that many telcos suffer from – they focus on the consumer side of their business and ignore, to their detriment, small businesses.

And for the newer banks, this is a great opportunity. Grasp it. Here is one potential customer dying to be churned.

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About the Author

About the Author: Tony is a freelance writer, regular speaker, MC and chairman for the telecoms and digital services industries worldwide. He has founded and managed software and services companies, acts a market strategist and is now Editor of DisruptiveViews. In June 2011, Tony was recognized as one of the 25 most influential people in telecom software worldwide. .

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