Tag Archives: Co-Operative Bank

Not Smiling

I guess it had to happen at some point, nobody is perfect, and despite riding high at the top of numerous customer satisfaction surveys, there had to be some part of the organisation at Smile and the Co-operative Bank that wasn’t quite up to scratch, and unfortunately I’ve managed to find it.

The people in question are the Tax Services group, and their job is to handle all the stuff related to tax, in my case with the Mini Cash ISA that I’m trying to set up in order to take the money I had in an ISA with Icesave. This in actual fact is the crux of the problem.

When I claimed my money via the Financial Services Compensation Scheme it was returned via an electronic transfer into my regular current account. As the money has a tax free status I was then issued with a certificate stating how much money I had, and confirming that it was still tax free. In theory what is supposed to happen is you set up a new ISA with another provider, and then send the certificate to them and they reinstate as with any other transfer. Since the money is sitting in an account with the same provider I thought it would be pretty straightforward – I was wrong.

The general problem seems to be that since handling a transfer via a certificate is out of the ordinary, it is not covered by regular procedures. Some banks, Nat West for example, have now issued a memo to each of it’s branches detailing the process for taking in an Icesave ISA, Smile it seems has not – although after this I hope somebody senior sees fit to issue one, as to be frank the people at Smile seem to need some guidance.

When I initially set up the new ISA, I had already told them where the money was coming from. At that point the advisor put me on hold whilst he consulted with the Tax Services department, who told him that I needed to fill in a special form, and that they would send the form. I went ahead and opened the account, and waited for the form to arrive in the post. A week or so later a letter arrived welcoming me to the account, but with a standard transfer form. I waited a bit longer, and still no form, so I phoned again, and again the advisor said they’d talk to Tax Services to get the form sent. A few days later and still no form.

I phoned again, and once again waited whilst the advisor spoke to Tax Services. The advice this time was that there was no form and that all they needed was the certificate and a covering letter, and the advisor provided me with the address of the Tax Services department. I duly wrote a letter explaining where the money was, including the certificate, and dropped it in the post box.

A couple of days later I had a phone call from Smile querying the fact that I had opened the account, but there was nothing in it, having explained the situation, the advisor then didn’t suggest there would be any problem having sent the letter and the certificate.

That was about a week ago. This morning I logged on to see if they’d made the transfer. With all the bad weather it was quite likely the post had been held up. Looking at the accounts, the money was still sitting where it had been, and there was no acknowledgement that my letter had even been received. There was however a message from Tax Services, apologising for the delay and saying that they had dropped the relevant form – the form Tax Services had told the advisor didn’t exist – in the post and to fill it in.

At this point it is fair to say that I exploded. There is a single copy of the certificate, which they hadn’t even acknowledged receipt of, and they couldn’t seem to make up their mind what they needed. I replied to the secure message, and waited several hours – there was no response so I therefore phoned them again, and spoke to another advisor, who then talked to Tax Services to try and find out what was happening.

The first thing she did was confirm that they had indeed received the certificate, but that they were now insisting on me having returned the signed form. The big frustration here is that as the customer I am not allowed to speak to the Tax Services team, like some other corners of lousy customer service in other organisations they hide behind the not speaking to customers, and essentially leave the front line call centre staff to deal with the inevitable results of their actions. The only suggestion I was offered was to send a secure message – the problem being that I’d sent one of those already and hadn’t got a response, and they hadn’t bothered to send a message asking me to fill in the form and acknowledging receipt of the certificate either. She said that the reason they wanted the form was that they needed my signature – despite the fact that they have that on the letter I sent. Indeed with the certificate and the information in the letter they have everything they need to make the transfer, it just seems to be that they are on a major jobsworth streak wanting me to fill in the form.

The big frustration is that through all of this, the money is languishing in my current account, and I’m losing daily interest all the while Tax Services at Smile mess around giving conflicting advice, and not sending the forms they said they would.

I’m certainly going to raise up a complaint over this, as after years of exemplary service, and at times actively going out of their way to help, this current experience has been a total pain, and the behaviour of Tax Services is letting the whole of the rest of the organisation down.

As a general day-to-day bank, I’d still recommend Smile – through all of this the advisers have always been helpful, indeed the woman this morning seemed just as frustrated by the intransigence of the Tax Services team as me. But seriously, if you have anything out of the ordinary, in particular that involves the Tax Services team, I’d say to go somewhere else.

Still With a Major High Street Bank?

It’s been about eight years now since I ditched the bunch of muppets at Lloyds TSB in favour of Smile, the Internet bank from the Co-operative. Quite apart from their ethical banking policy, they offer decent rates on their accounts, and more than that running the account is a minimum of hassle.

Tonight, Watchdog on the BBC published the results of their recent banking survey, which showed that my decision of eight years ago was a good one now, with Smile in second place, just piped at the post by First Direct, another internet based bank.

What was interesting to note was the big names down at the bottom of the table, my former bank Lloyds TSB was right down there – ironic considering the comment of the manager at Rickmansworth when I closed my Lloyds TSB account that he hoped to tempt me back – along with the Halifax and Bank of Scotland, and award for the worst bank of all going to the Abbey.

However, the detail of the figures is what makes interesting reading, so for example the banks that did well had most voters saying that they hadn’t had need to complain, and those that did found problems easily resolved by the bank. In comparison the banks that did poorly had larger numbers of complaints, and it was more of a problem to solve.

In the past it has been reported that people didn’t change banks because they thought it was a hassle – it is perhaps pleasing to see that only ten percent of respondents to this survey believe this. Certainly even eight years ago it was relatively straightforward for me to switch, and the problems there were came down to Lloyds TSB incompetence rather than Smile. The biggest reason for non-switching now seems to be that people think they won’t get better service elsewhere – based on the results of the survey, if they are with one of the big banks in the bottom five this is untrue. When you look at the massive numbers of people who have been with the same bank for years – almost two-thirds for ten or more years, you realise that the big banks essentially rely on the apathy of the vast majority of their customers to make them money. They hit their customers with big charges, pay miserly interest rates and offer us lousy customer service because they know that the vast majority of people won’t bother to move, because they either think the other banks will be the same, or they think it’s too much hassle.

Certainly I’ll disagree. I’ll happily recommend Smile, the accounts have run without a major hitch for years. The most recent time I had to call customer service was actually to unpick my screw up, rather than something they’d done, but they were really helpful and apologetic that they couldn’t be more help, despite it being my fault. On top of that they have a current account that pays almost thirty times the interest of some of the major banks on my whole balance rather than just part of it (check out the small print on some of the competition), and doesn’t hammer me when I go overdrawn either. The changeover is not too bad either – with Smile it’s one form to fill in, and then a month or so of keeping an eye on the old bank to make sure they do their part in switching you over. So, if you’re still with a high street bank, and dissatisfied with their service, why not vote with your feet and take your business elsewhere?

Why Smile makes me Smile

For a number of years I’ve been a happy customer of Smile, the internet division of the Co-operative Bank. As you may know, Smile has some of the highest customer satisfaction levels of any UK bank – you can see a selection of their awards listed here.

To show you why, I’ll give an example. Last week I needed to order some foreign currency for our upcoming trip to Taizé, and also for a later trip to a wedding in Canada. As a result I needed three currencies – Canadian Dollar for Canada, Euro for France, and a few Swiss Francs as we are flying in to Geneva. The Smile website has a fairly simple interface for ordering currency which just asks you for an amount in sterling, and a currency, so I had to do it three times, once for each different currency type.

At this point, ask yourself what your bank would have done? I’m sure that 99% would expect your bank to have processed and charged for three separate transactions, but not Smile. I got a nice little note from one of their staff members who had spotted the three orders going through and had put them all into a single order for me, and only charging once for the handling.

The Co-Op Bank Takes A Stand

Browsing through the news feeds today I came across a news item I had missed reporting that the Co-Op Bank had decided to bar my favourite group of Christian fundamentalists, Christian Voice. The bank gave the reason as follows:

“Following a review of the activities of Christian Voice, we wish to give you notice that we require you to close your account with the Co-operative Bank plc. It has come to our attention that Christian Voice is engaged in discriminatory pronouncements, based on the grounds of sexual orientation. This public stance is incompatible with the position of the Co-operative Bank, which publicly supports diversity, in all its forms, for our staff, customers and other stakeholders.”

You can read the full Christian Voice press release on their site. Of course, you can also read about their campaign against gays in the Police, and their ‘satire’ site called true vision both part of the reason given for the decision by the Co-Op.

Christian Voice is now calling on the bank to ask all other Christian, Muslim and Jewish organisations to withdraw for the same reason, and calling on Christians to boycott the bank. They describe the action as being by “politically correct bully boys”, which does strike me as somewhat hypocritical following what they did to the Maggies centres earlier in the year!

It is important to realise at this point that however Stephen Green tries to spin it, the Co-Op are very clear over why they took the action, it is not for religious reasons, but purely on grounds of diversity:

“They are targeting one group of society in a hateful manner. The bank believes in respect for all sectors of society and its approach to Christian Voice is based purely on the issue of diversity and not on the grounds of religion.”

The bank is being very clear not to make a statement about the religious belief, but on the way that Christian Voice act on that belief. Indeed as Christian Voice themselves say, many religious groups bank with them based on their ethical stance. Their objection is on the basis of the active targeting of gays that the organisation carries out. (The Thinking Anglicans site explores this further.) This is in some ways a classic example of the conflict between ethics and religion with which the Church continues to wrestle, a conflict that is present within the gospels in resolving the inclusivity of Jesus against the exclusivity practiced by the Jewish authorities in his time.

Anyway, going back to the decision, it is worth noting that whilst Christian Voice are correct in stating that homophobia is not explicitly stated within the banks ethical policy, the last line reads:

On occasion, we will make decisions on specific business, involving ethical issues not included in our Ethical Policy.

It also states elsewhere that controversial decisions such as this, where the case is not clear cut, will be passed to a special committee for discussion before the decision is made.

In my opinion, whatever you think of Christian Voice, the bank is entirely within it’s rights to do business with whom it wants. The ethical policy of the bank is created from customer feedback and voted on by the customers on a regular basis, and certainly the majority of opinion I have heard on this decision so far has backed the stance taken by the bank. Whilst there may be some who will close their accounts over it, I suspect many people will either see it as a good move, or not be bothered at all.