Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Some more thoughts on banks

I mentioned my bank issues in Journey Planet really as a prelude to an appalling pun, however, it’s something that I want to return to after the Global Poverty project I’ve participated in recently.

To put it in context, although I grumble a lot I don’t usually move away from any provider. A mixture of inertia and loyalty. I have used two clearing banks in my life. My father worked for Midland Bank and so I banked with them until I got married, even when they heartlessly made him redundant. I only moved to my current bank because David, my husband, pointed out that if we ever needed to borrow money we would be better asking a bank with which we had a good credit record. I’d had a permanent overdraft with Midland. Until we married David had never been in debt with his bank. So, I closed my Midland account and we had a joint account with Barclays Bank.

I would never have chosen Barclays. The apartheid protests lingered in my awareness but David made a good point and at the time Barclays had divested themselves of the offending interests. So, we had a joint account and I settled into an apathetic relationship with Barclays.

Twenty three years later I am thinking again. I have always found the telephone ‘support’ from Barclays irritating. Some years ago I considered dumping the bank because of their Hard Sell but the branch staff in Kidderminster were really lovely and provided me with a direct dial so I didn’t have to go through the call centre. They told me at the time that they shouldn’t do this but many of their customers had the same problem and so, in order to keep some semblance of personal banking, they were ignoring the dictat.

My dissatisfaction has grown recently. About a year ago someone from Barclays phoned me up at work, ostensibly to check my payments, but actually to try to sell me cheaper house insurance. It wasted half an hour of my time that I then had to make up at the end of the day. Silly things started to irritate me. I now no longer visit a branch; all transactions are online, so there is never a personable teller to interact with, just an impersonal screen. In some ways I like this, but it means I have no loyalty, and the stupid tricks they play really annoy me. The ‘next’ button on each page is always below the visible window. The obvious button, which I occasionally click on inadvertently, is usually to a sales pitch – update your account to one that gives you useless ‘benefits’ and costs more, for example.

So, over recent years, some irritation. I suspect that this would be the case whichever bank I was with. As is regularly pointed out, they are businesses and they need to expand their business all the time (which is a rant for another time) but I am resistant to being sold to when I have no need and I resent having my time wasted, either online or by telephone sales calls.

What finally tipped the balance, some time on from the banking crisis, was Bob Diamond’s bonus, the pitiful amount of corporation tax paid and the news that Barclays is implicated in the further commoditisation of food via agricultural speculation using collateralised commodity obligations. For those living in extreme poverty, increasing food prices driven by financial speculation means starvation. Generally the people benefitting from food speculation have never been hungry in their lives, have never felt concern about their children suffering from malnutrition, have probably never thought of the consequences of one more financial bet. Barclays Capital are just the provider of this ‘service’ but the banks lobbied very hard for deregulation of the commodities markets to make this type of transaction possible and Barclays is the UK’s biggest player in the food commodities market, one of the big three in the world. I don’t want any part in supporting an organisation that is doing this. I am not under any illusion that taking my monthly pay packet away from them is going to make the least bit of difference to Barclays but I am moving my money to a mutual building society where I’m fairly sure my money will be supporting more benign projects.

1 comment:

  1. Yvonne, do they have credit unions in the UK? I'm very ignorant about your banking system, obviously. I use a credit union (customer owned, so better interest on savings, lower rates on loans) instead of a bank, and really love using it. Very straight-forward internet options; it is mostly online, with only one brick & mortar building to serve the entire national clientele. And the people there are incredibly nice and the telephone service is superb. Most credit unions are worlds better than the for-profit banks. The trick is that not just anyone can be a member; one must have some sort of connection to get an account - generally they are aligned with the type of work one does. Not an option in the UK?