Sunday, 18 October 2009

Nothing 'Instant' about Abbey Santander

Spanish bank Santander has announced that it is merging all its UK banks - Abbey, Alliance and Leicester and Bradford and Bingley under the Santander brand. Chaos should surely follow, as I can reveal here.

Recently I opened an online Instant Access savings account with Alliance and Leicester. I already have a similar telephone Instant Access savings account with Abbey paying 2.5% but A&L pays 3.15%.

I can transfer funds from my Abbey bank account to the A&L savings account at the click of a mouse. But to transfer funds from my Abbey bank account to my Abbey savings account I must phone or visit a branch. I hate phoning Abbey, for the reasons I'm about to describe.

Three weeks ago I wanted to transfer the bulk of my savings from Abbey to A&L to benefit from the higher interest rate. I called Abbey. My savings account number did not figure in the automated menu so my call was cycled through the options a couple of times while I tried to work out how to actually speak to someone (that option isn't offered either).

After a couple of minutes I'm connected to the call centre in India. My call is being handled by a charming lady working to a script. I explain that my savings account is not offered in the personalised menu, and that I want to transfer my savings to my bank account.

She asks why I want to do this (it's my money, is it any of her business?) but I give her the benefit of the doubt in these fraudulent times and assume this might be some oblique security check.

So I explain I'm moving my money, via my bank account, to my other Santander savings account. In fact, as it's the same bank; Santander, can she make this transfer directly for me?

No, of course she can't. Santander isn't actually joined up at all. Even worse she tells me she has to refer my request to transfer my own money from my savings account to my bank account, to the fraud department for security checks.

I am on hold for what seems like forever. Abbey call this an 'Instant Access' Savings Account. There is nothing 'Instant' about this process.

I'm not asked any questions during the wait, so quite how Abbey verifies my identity during this essential security check is any one's guess. Perhaps they simply note that I have the funds and I'm moving them from one of my Abbey accounts to another of my Abbey accounts?

After 19 minutes my request to transfer my money from my Abbey savings account, to my Abbey bank account is approved.

I explain that there is nothing 'Instant' about this, and I would like to speak to a senior manager about the process. But my request is denied, because it is a Saturday and no one is available. So I ask for a manager to call me on Monday to discuss Santander's service. This request is denied too and I am asked to email in. Here is my email:

Dear Abbey

I have just spent 19 minutes on the telephone transferring my instant access savings account to my Abbey bank account.

There is nothing instant about your ‘Instant Access Savings Account.’

The above account is not offered as part of the automated banking menu, there is no offer to speak to an advisor, customers are simply cycled through unhelpful menus.

Finally when I do speak to an advisor I am asked why I want to transfer such a large sum to my own bank account and then put on hold for a lengthy period while my request is referred to the fraud department for security checks.

In case the absurdity of this is lost on you, and before you cite the importance of security, let me remind you I am transferring money from one Abbey account in my name to another Abbey account in my name.

I am doing this in order to transfer the money to another Santander savings account which pays a significantly higher interest rate. This account will transfer cash from my Abbey bank account at the click of a mouse.

I asked to speak to a senior manager to express my concern that this transaction took so long, and was told no one was available, nor could anyone telephone me on Monday.

I am surprised Abbey cannot look after it’s higher depositing customers with more care. I cannot waste my time because Abbey’s systems are so poorly organised. I am a shareholder and I am concerned that your business is not adequately resourced. This will cost the bank customers and my investment in the bank will suffer.

I will shortly be transferring further funds away from Abbey unless you can assure me that you plan to provide a faster, more efficient service and competitive interest rates between different parts of the Santander group.

I would be grateful for your comments on my experience, the functionality of the Instant Access Savings account and the service provided by your call centre.

Abbey's far from 'Instant' letter

'We are serious about your complaint'
Abbey leaflet enclosed with their letter.

On 13th October Abbey write to say they are sorry, and assure me customer service is of great importance. They agree at 20 minutes this (transaction) seems to have taken a long time. 'We still need to do the relevant security checks, I am sorry that you were not happy with this but hope you can understand our reasons.' Abbey don't feel any need to explain these reasons, so I am none the wiser about what they did during the huge time I was kept waiting. Abbey agree a manager should have called me back as I requested. If I'm unhappy with this response I can also complain to Abbey's Central Complaints Team. Great, perhaps they'll fob me off again?

Abbey also point out that while this savings account doesn't offer Internet banking I can use it in any branch. So I plan to put Abbey to the test - will a transfer take less than 20 minutes in a branch?

The race is on can Abbey make an 'Instant transfer' in under 20 minutes?
The answer is No.

Update: On Saturday 24th October. at 15:50 hours I walk into the local Abbey branch armed with no more details than when I telephoned Abbey to make the previous transfer. Amazingly there is no queue and I walk straight up to the cashier. There is a sign advising he is a trainee. I ask to make a large transfer from my Instant Access Savings account to my bank account. He can't find the account and asks about taking money from my Cash Isa account. This would be a very costly and irreversible error. Finally he has the account, but he wants to see my passport or drivers licence. Just as when I telephoned Abbey I have neither. Without ID there can be no transaction.

I ask to speak to the duty manager sitting behind him, who he has twice had to go and ask questions. She accepts a UK credit card as ID but asks me to move across to the other cashier, because my guy is only a trainee. The second cashier also has problems, and the manager talks him through the transaction.

Transfer over, I look at my watch. It is 16.11. the branch has closed. The transaction has taken 21 minutes. One minute longer than the telephone call duration I originally complained about!

Based on my experience Abbey is far from committed to Customer Service.

Update 11 November. I have since moved most of my Instant Access savings from Abbey to A&L - OK, so it's another branch of Santander, but shortly I will be moving again. Next time my money is going to NS&I who pay a hefty 3.95% on a 1 year bond which can be cancelled at any time with loss of 90 days interest. Hopefully NS&I are even more committed to their customers than Santander?