Banks are the universal constant – everyone living in the modern world needs a bank account or five, many of us have mortgages, overdrafts, loans, savings accounts, alternate accounts and direct debits, and many of us even do our banking on our smartphones!
With banks being such central figures of our lives, we hope that they won’t let us down, since they are important enough to fall a long way – and the people running the banks are, in the end, only people, so they do mess up occasionally. Or more than just occasionally.
These are the top 10 most common banking complaints, and a little bit about what you can do if they happen to you.
1. Terrible Customer Service
The number one complaint in every industry, at all times, across the board. If customer service is bad, nothing else will be good enough – the greatest product will fall flat. Banks like Barclays can stumble at this hurdle, especially when the customer is calling for a reason which is difficult to resolve. One of the biggest complaints we hear about banks is their customer service departments seeming to flail incompetently at a problem, transferring customers around like a hot potato, without any real movement towards resolution, and often with lengthy hold times included. It can feel like the customer service department is simply hoping that you’ll get tired and go away, but this isn’t the case – try to calmly direct the conversation towards management or get around the issue entirely by calling the bank’s Head Office, where the staff have more authority and can transfer you higher up the food chain.
Doing a little research online is also a great way to prepare for calling customer services – if you know what your problem is, and have some idea of what you need in order to fix it, you’re bound to have an easier time on the phone to customer service, no matter how lousy the bank.
2. Sneaky additional charges
Banks exist to help the customer, that’s true – but they also exist to make money. As a result, many customers trust them completely, and wind up paying more than they need to, or more than they should. Optional charges like overdraft protection are not clearly labelled as optional, and many additional services and coverages are never revealed to be optional bonuses unless you ask directly. The alternative is that you will be told up-front that the charge is optional, but very strongly recommended, pressuring you to take it.
If you’re concerned about falling victim to this phenomenon, we recommend that you call your bank to ask them for more information on the fees that could be applied to you, or to challenge fees which you have just noticed and which you don’t recall having opted to take on – in many cases calm pursuit of these unnecessary fees can result in them being dropped altogether.
3. Mortgage problems
Mortgages are one of the most important financial services available, and one of the most ubiquitous. Essential for most homeowners, and an important source of equity, when a mortgage experiences problems, it can be a disaster, and the fact that complaints about mortgage issues are on our top 10 total complaints list means that they do happen, and more often than they should. If you are experiencing mortgage troubles, phone the bank’s customer service department immediately, preferably in their head office, and report the problem to them.
If they can’t help, you may need to refinance your mortgage – applying for a new mortgage with your new circumstances and increased equity taken into account. Refinancing lets you take advantage of a number of potential changes, like the ability to reduce monthly payments, shorten the repayment period entirely, ditch a tracker mortgage for a fixed-term one or free up some cash value stored in the house – but make sure to talk to a financial advisor at your bank before committing to it.
4. Payments being rejected, or cheques bouncing
If a bank transfers its accounts to new holdings, if it is bought over, or if it undergoes a rules change, it is possible that accounts which were previously healthy will be “locked” without the owners knowing, or will have their account information altered. If the customer is not made aware of these changes, attempted payments will be unsuccessful, and cheques will bounce. This can be much more harmful than simply saying “oops, better buy it next time instead.” Essentials cannot be bought, time-sensitive payments will be missed – probably incurring fees or losing the product, and if the customer has a deposit down on something which they then cannot buy, it is lost.
If you notice cheques bouncing, the best thing to do is get on the phone to customer services – you can do this in-branch if you like, as the end goal is just to find out why your accoutn won’t pay out. Make sure to keep records of the calls and correspondence. Once you know, a call to the head office should sort it, but it might take some patience – with a problem like that, you may be passed around for some time (see “Bad Customer Service at point #1 above).
5. No consideration of customer loyalty
When so much of your life and your material success is entrusted to a bank, it is easy to wind up feeling a certain attachment to them, as they have “taken care of you” for so long and helped you through so much by carefully guarding your money. However, the banks themselves often don’t look at this loyalty the same way, despite how much sense it makes to take care of your loyal customers.
Even though it may be frustrating, telling your bank about how loyal a customer you have been for the duration of your many years together may not sway them in dealing with you. Instead, make sure that you have solid, cold evidence to deal with them – facts and figures, written evidence of problems, bank statements, whatever else you feel you need to prove that there has been a problem and convince them to react to it. If worst comes to worst, escalate your complaint to the financial ombudsman.
6. Unkept promises
Incredibly, it is more common that we’d like to think for banks to fail to follow through on promotional offers or deals made. This may be the result of an oversight, a miscalculation of your deals, or the result of the collapse of the structures that made that promise necessary – it doesn’t matter the source, you should feel free to complain. If you were promised something by the bank, and you did not receive it, you can escalate that complaint to whatever level you feel is necessary to get the closure you need.
7. Disadvantaging small Businesses
It isn’t the most common complaint by any stretch, but small businesses often have better luck with community banks, credit unions and building societies than they would with large international banks – that said, all major banking institutions include systems and rules which make small businesses viable and let entrepreneurs take their idea to the world. For more information, get in touch with your bank and talk to them about what they can offer – but don’t forget to shop around and see whether you’d get a better deal elsewhere.
8. Charges going from most- to least-expensive
This one is slightly more niche, but when overdraft charges apply, they will be levied any time a transaction is made past the point of a £0 account balance – and taking the most expensive transactions first, even if they did not occur first in real life, may throw off the account-holder’s financial planning, pushing them into their overdrafts earlier than expected and incurring fees that were not accounted for.
While this may seem like a sneaky tactic to swindle customers out of money, from the bank’s perspective it makes sound sense – handling the larger and more impactful costs first, then dealing with the smaller purchases from the remaining funds. To combat this tendency, the best thing to do is develop a cushion of cash to fall back on above your overdraft – not only will this keep you solvent, and dodge overdraft charges, it doubles excellently as a small “Emergencies” fund.
9. Large-scale mistakes
As we talked about before, banks are trusted with the most important facets of our financial lives – all our assets and worldly wealth is tied up in them, and so a mistake on their part can be catastrophic. Unfortunately, these mistakes happen.
Bank errors can lock an account, drain it unjustly, credit it with money that must then be removed and accounted for, close it completely, or cause any other problem imaginable – some customers have come to the point of ruin as the result of a bank error. As soon as the error is noticed, you need to get in contact with the bank – preferably their head office. You should also gather as much evidence of your finances as possible, and, depending on how the conversation with the bank goes, may need to retain a lawyer to ensure that you are not damaged by the error.
10. Terrible experiences in-branch
Once again, it comes back to this crucial point. Customer service trumps everything.
A bad experience in-branch can really sour a customer on the bank as a whole, but thankfully these problems are decreasing as banks take a more customer-focused approach to branch banking. With branch banking as a whole under threat from internet banking, big banks can’t take any chances, and the biggest of them are working hard to overhaul their image and provide a much more customer-friendly approach. If they are to survive over internet banking, they will have to.