There’s nothing like a true story to bring a point home, so here’s my latest one. I’m starting a new venture. It’s a philanthropic thing, nothing to do with banking, but because we are seeking sponsorship, we need to open a bank account. I choose to open an account with ABC Bank, where I already have three business bank accounts and where my new company partner has banked for 40 years.
As I have done this a few times, I start with calling their new business account number which I find online. After being on hold for half an hour, I finally get a human to talk with and pre-arrange the account opening meeting in their West London branch for 10:30 on Monday. It was a struggle, as they only have a limited window of business account opening managers, but we got there. Even though I have three accounts with the bank and my partner has banked there for 40 years.
Come the day. Come the day. Come the day.
We meet at the bank branch. I listen to my voicemails whilst waiting for Nisha, the business bank account opening manager, to turn up. The last voicemail, delivered at 09:45 that morning, is a bit worrying. “Dear Mr Skinner, this is the manager of the West London branch. I just heard that Nisha’s son has had a problem and been taken to hospital, so she might be late this morning. Can you call us to rearrange?”
We’re sitting in the bank branch. It’s 10:29. I travel non-stop around the world and this is one of the very rare, few days that myself and my partner could both be together in London to open an account. We demand to be seen.
We are seen. We are seen by a very nice young man who does his best to deal with our frustration. I had arranged this appointment ten days ago, we are both here, and their account opening person is not. What’s going on?
He ends up ringing all the other branches in London and, after three calls, finds one that can deal with our request. My partner and I jump on the subway to get to the West London nearby branch, and arrive there ten minutes later. As we leave the subway, I get a phone call from the new business account openings manger in the nearby West London branch, who tells me there’s been a security scare and the branch has had to close. WTF? It’s only been ten minutes???
My partner and I look each other in the face and say, OK, let’s try this bank. It’s a branch, just right outside the subway station, of a competitor’s bank. We walk in and are blocked by two bank employees.
“Sorry, our branch is closed right now”, they near enough say in unison.
“What? But we want to open an account. We want to give you our business. We could be worth millions to your bank!” we say.
“Sorry, we are closed”, they say. “Security scare”, they add.
We start to scour the street for bank branches, most of which look sad and gloomy. Then we spot the branch we were supposed to meet our new account opening manager and decide to knock on the door.
“Hello”, they say. “We are closed”, they say.
“Closed?” We say. “But we want to open an account and give you our business”, we say.
“Well”, they say. “You can try around the corner in our digital co-working space”, they say. “That might work”, they say.
Digital co-working space, I think. That sounds just funky.
So, we go around the corner to the digital co-working space and are offered coffee, tea, water, olives, avocado or whatever we want. We tell them we want to see Ms. Amazing, the account opening manager, and they say no problemo and give her a call. She arrives.
“Hi, thanks for coming. Sorry I can’t do anything. We are on a security training exercise”, she opens.
“But we want to open an account and, ten minutes ago, you said no problem?”, we counter.
“Yes, but that was before the sudden security crackdown”, she replies. “And we have to have our training”, she adds, badly.
“How long will that last”, we ask.
“I have no idea”, she replies … and looks forlorn. “But would you like some more coffee or an avocado?” she asks.
I look at my partner and our eyes roll to the roof.
We say no, and Ms. Amazing walks away to start drawing instructions on a white board about security procedures and how to make a great expresso. I pull my hair out.
My partner nicely says that we might as well go back to her flat to talk about things and, as it happens, on the way back to her flat we walk past her bank of 40 years branch. She says, shall we go in and give it a try here? I say yes.
We walk in. Bad idea. I know it’s a bad idea because, as we walk in, there’s a huge queue to talk to the tellers about paying in cheques and depositing a life savings of 3,000 one-pence pieces.
She goes, why don’t you queue, and I will see if I can find my personal relationship manager of forty years? I go ok.
I listen to the customer counting the one-pence pieces. They are on number one thousand three hundred and ninety-two. One thousand three hundred and ninety-three. One thousand three hundred and ninety-four. Oh god, I’ve just lost the will to live.
Thankfully, my partner reappears and waves me into the back of the branch where a nice Mr. Khan is sitting in his plush office.
Hello, how are you? he says.
We explain our predicament and frustration which, after a few minutes, he waves us to keep quiet.
“I cannot deal with this”, he says.
“Why not?” we say.
“Because I only deal with personal accounts”, he says, “and this is a business account”.
So, my partner asks to see the business account person.
“They don’t work here”, he says. “You have to go our West London business centre”, he adds.
“But we’ve just been there”, we say. “And they are closed for a security scare”, we add.
“Well”, Mr. Khan replies. “I can’t help anyway because our systems are down today, so we cannot do any new account openings.”
Ah-ha, I think. Finally, the truth.
Mr. Khan then kindly gives us a card with the new accounts telephone number and says we can open a new account online or by telephone.
Fantastic, we think, and we are duly put into an office with a telephone in the branch and call the number. Ring, ring. Ring, ring. Ring, ring. Ring, ring. Ring, ring. Ring, ring. Ring, ring. Ring, ring. Ring, ring. Ring, ring. Ring, ring. Ring, ring. Ring, ring. Ring, ring. Ring, ring … “hello, welcome to ABC Bank. You are held in a queue and will be answered as fast as possible”, and then some muzak plays and we look at each other in bemusement.
We have spent two hours trying to give this bank our business and are now held in a queue.
Dinky, dinky, dinky, dink. Dinky, dinky, dink.
The muzak is terrible. My partner and I start playing war games on our mobile phones. Me versus ABC Bank.
Eventually, after half an hour, the dinky dink stops, and a person says “Hello. This is ABC Bank. Sorry for your wait. How can I help?”
I say, “Hi. We want to open an account with your bank and give you millions of pounds of business.”
“Oh great”, says the person on the line who sounds like they are based about ten thousand miles away from London. “When would you like to do this?”
“Well now”, I say. “As we are talking now on the telephone”, I say.
“Oh no”, says Mr. I Have No Decision-Making Capacity. “You can only open accounts in a branch”, he adds.
“But that’s what we tried to do this morning”, I reply, and recount the story above finishing with the fact that we are sitting in their branch and Mr. I Only Open Personal Accounts had told us we could do this on the telephone, right now, on this number.
“Well, that's not the case", says I Have No Empathy. "When would you like to rearrange the appointment”, he asks.
“The twelfth of never”, I respond. “Screw you, you big old incumbent asshole bank. I’ll just launder the money myself”, and hang up the phone.
And no, I’m not laundering any money at all, but big old banks have such archaic, Jurassic account opening processes, I cannot believe they can stay in business. Except that, in the middle of my call above, I ask why this is taking so long and is so difficult.
“Well, we are taking over 1,000 calls a week to open new business accounts Mr. Skinner”, says call centre Billy No Mates. “We just cannot keep up with the pace of demand!”
Wow. That’s either a massively entrepreneurial Britain, a load of Russian and Chinese start-ups, a Brexit reaction or a FinTech and crypto bubble, but if big, old, crappy, boring, terrible British bank is getting 1,000 new account openings a week then maybe that’s the reason why the service is on a par with Ryanair on a bad day, when the flights are cancelled and the staff are on strike.
I don’t understand the world anymore. Goodbye.
Chris M Skinner
Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog, TheFinanser.com, as author of the bestselling book Digital Bank, and Chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club. He has been voted one of the most influential people in banking by The Financial Brand (as well as one of the best blogs), a FinTech Titan (Next Bank), one of the Fintech Leaders you need to follow (City AM, Deluxe and Jax Finance), as well as one of the Top 40 most influential people in financial technology by the Wall Street Journal's Financial News. To learn more click here...