Is it time to send your bank packing?

Covered mag, presented by Gocompare.com
  • | by Kristian Dando

You’ve had it, once and for all. They say they’ve seen the error of their ways. That they can change. They plead that things will be different this time. But they never are.

There’s always something else. And deep down, you know it’s a matter of when, not if. The sleepless nights. The volcanic rows on the phone. The endless embarrassing incidents. The broken promises – it’s those that hurt the most.

But still, either through familiarity, misplaced loyalty, or just fear that the next one will turn out being just as bad, we stick with them. Perhaps it's the thought of all the hassle that leaving them would cause.

So, we give them another chance, even though we know we’ll end up disappointed. And so the wretched cycle continues.

Banks can often seem like long-term romantic partners with whom you have a joyless and begrudging relationship which you can’t bring yourself to end. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

After all, there have been no end of reasons to start casting covetous glances in the direction of other banks lately. Reckless investment wings requiring state-funded bailouts. Executive bonus pay-outs equivalent to the gross domestic products of small African states. Piffling interest rates. Lousy customer service. Or most topically, computer glitches which prevent customers from that small matter of, you know, getting their money and stuff as exhibted by the RBS, Nat West and Ulster Bank fiasco this week.

“The best way to punish Natwest is to switch your current account away from them,” says Ed Bowsher, banking expert at Lovemoney.com. “Many people stay with their bank for twenty years or longer, but surely now is the time to change the habits of a lifetime and move to a better bank.” Here’s how to do it…

SHOP AROUND

Cast a studious gaze over the best current account offers. The best rates of interest are the obvious things to look out for, but make sure you pay close notice to charges for overdrafts and other services, too, particularly if you spend a fair bit of time ‘in the red’.

You may want to consider whether you want a free account (which will likely have low interest rates on savings and punitive overdraft fees) or one that you pay a monthly fee for – more on that here.

Then of course, there’s the customer service element – take a look at the current rankings from consumer groups such as Which? for the skinny. Then there’s the matter of ethics – you’ll have to rely on your own moral compass for that one.

“first direct is the bank that consistently comes top in customer service polls and they’ll also pay you £100 when you switch account, so it may be a good option for many people,” says Lovemoney.com’s Ed Bowsher.

THE RULES ARE ON YOUR SIDE

There are strict guidelines which make switching bank accounts as quick as possible. Your previous bank has three working days to pass on all your information – direct debits, standing orders, credit history and so forth – to your new bank. Once the application is approved, your new bank provider has 10 working days to get your new account sorted. Some banks will even offer a switching service, taking the aggravation of contacting any companies you have direct debits and standing orders with.

In fact, it will get even easier to switch bank accounts next year (2013), with new FSA guidelines which will make banks transfer your details “seamlessly” in seven days.

THE INNOVATION GAME

As competition heats up between the banks, they’re having to come up with more and more creative ways of getting us through the doors.

Take Santander’s 123 cashback current account. You’ll have to pay £2 a month for the privilege, but if you’ve got a lot of money in the bank (like Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button, who advertise the account), you could be in line to earn rewards of 1 per cent interest per month on balances over £1,000; 2 per cent on balances over £2,000; and 3 per cent on balances over £3,000 – the latter having a cap of £20,000 on it.

Then there’s Halifax’s ‘Ultimate Reward’ zinger – it’s a hefty £15 a month, reduced to £10 if you’ve got £1,000 or more nestling in your account, but for that you’ll get a sackload of goodies like breakdown cover, mobile phone insurance, home emergency cover and card protection.

Meanwhile, Barclays has recently introduced various ‘packs’ which offer items like gadget cover and travel insurance aimed at specific lifestyles, from £6 a month.

HOW SOON IS NOW?

While the process of switching banks should only take 10 working days, it’s advisable to give yourself at least 20 or 30, just in case.

So, there you have it. You can (probably) do better. And it’s just apathy stopping you. So, stick on that worn-out old copy of Gloria Gaynor's I Will Survive and fire up Gocompare.com’s current account service – you might just find a bank to enjoy a long and happy relationship with.