BANKS have been told to up their game after an undercover probe found their staff were often clueless when customers ask about switching current accounts.
The Central Bank said tiny numbers of people choose to move their current account from one bank to another.
But consumers who do switch often find that direct debits go unpaid, their complaints are not dealt with properly and banks have a tendency to lose letters and other communications.
Inspectors from the Central Bank went into four unnamed banks to see how they dealt with customers who wanted to move their current account to another bank. And a mystery shopper exercise was also conducted in 60 branches around the country.
Director of consumer protection at the Central Bank Bernard Sheridan said: "We are disappointed and concerned at the quality and standard of information and interactions between consumers and branch staff as experienced by our mystery shoppers."
Just 6,114 people switched bank accounts in the eight months up to June this year.
Mr Sheridan said part of reason for this was the difficulty in making arrangements to have direct debits paid out of the new bank account. This caused "undue hassle and cost" for consumers, he said.
Statutory rules mean that banks are supposed to take most of the hassle out of switching a bank account and fill out most of the documentation.
The probe found one unnamed bank had such poor processes that it was told to present a plan to regulators on what it was going to do to improve by February.
The mystery shopper exercise found that:
• Only half of bank staff could immediately come up with information about how to switch.
• Less than half of the banks visited had an information pack on hand about how to switch.
• Many banks told customers who wanted to switch to make an appointment and come back later.
Mr Sheridan said the banks had now been told to properly train their staff to make it easier for consumers who wanted to move to a different bank.
Five banks offer current accounts -- AIB, Bank of Ireland, Permanent TSB, Ulster Bank and National Irish Bank.
At the start of this year, Bank of Ireland made it difficult for customers to avoid fees and charges.
It said customers had to keep a minimum credit balance in their accounts and make at least nine payments every quarter to avoid fees.
AIB stopped paying interest on credit balances in current accounts.
Earlier this week, the Cental Bank said an inspection of 300 current accounts across five banks had found problems with the way charges were applied to customers accounts where the approved overdraft amount was exceeded.