Sunday 20 May 2018

Time fed-up bank customers do more than threaten to switch and vote with their feet

Recently, some customers of Ulster Bank found when they attempted to access their accounts online that their funds had disappeared. Salaries went missing, and many customers found they were unable to use their debit cards. Photo: PA
Recently, some customers of Ulster Bank found when they attempted to access their accounts online that their funds had disappeared. Salaries went missing, and many customers found they were unable to use their debit cards. Photo: PA
Charlie Weston

Charlie Weston

What are the chances that the latest loss of day-to-day banking for some at Ulster Bank will prompt more people to switch bank accounts? Don't hold your breath that the latest episode of a bank being unable to carry out basic functions will spur more people to move their accounts to a different provider, would be my answer.

Recently, some customers of Ulster Bank found when they attempted to access their accounts online that their funds had disappeared. Salaries went missing, and many customers found they were unable to use their debit cards.

The bank said the problems arose as a result of a mistake by a staff member, but it is just the latest in a long line of outages that have plagued the bank. It was fined €5m by the Central Bank for an IT failure that left customers unable to access their bank accounts for weeks on end in the summer of 2012. Its parent group, Royal Bank of Scotland, was fined €64m by UK regulators.

A spokesman insisted Ulster Bank is among the banks benefiting from €1.14bn spent every year by its parent, Royal Bank of Scotland, on technology and innovation.

Many people took to Twitter over the latest blunder and threatened to move bank.

But history teaches us that most will not follow through on this. The latest figures from the Central Bank show that there are close to 5.3 million current accounts provided by six banks in this country.

But the numbers switching are pitiful. Just 2,715 people switched current account in first half of last year, the latest date for which figures are available. That means just 0.05pc of accounts are switched.

The Department of Finance has an excellent website, SwitchYourBank.ie, which takes you through the switching process.

The website is funded by AIB and Permanent TSB as conditions of their bailout.

But people do not want to go to the effort of moving bank due to inertia, but also due to a justifiable fear something will go wrong and a mortgage payment will be missed.

They excuse their inertia by telling themselves that all the banks are as bad as each other.

This lack of customer switching action lets banks off the hook.

They can get away with poor services and repeated technical mess-ups secure in the knowledge that they will not lose customers.

This is unforgivable, and requires the Central Bank to insist on higher standards from banks.

Customers, for their part, must learn to stop threatening to switch and instead vote with their feet.

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