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I’ve just set up a second WordPress blog. In trying to select a theme for the new one, I inadvertently changed ITasITis. And I couldn’t get back, so I made a new choice.

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How complex can it be to open a new savings account ?

We’ve recently gone through the exercise of opening online access saving accounts, looking for online instant access accounts with something more than a derisory rate of interest. The exercise has been instructive and at some times extraordinarily frustrating. Terms and Conditions varied from a couple of pages to around forty. It’s worth sharing a few observations which relate, it seems to me, to pseudo-security and to not thinking from the customer’s perspective.

There was one genuine complication. We have recently moved house. Online identity confirmation uses electoral registers, so we don’t show up: and most providers therefore asked for some form of additional confirmation. I don’t have a problem with that, but some make it easy and some don’t!

I’ll name one provider: Virgin Money. Their online process ran like clockwork, their checks were easily completed, and we were up and running in better than even time. The documentation was brief and a model of clarity. And, since they provide the account with an “ordinary” sort code and account number, the initial deposit could be made easily by the third party who was holding our funds.

It’s a pity the others couldn’t take a leaf out of Virgin’s book.

Most of them asked for paper documentation, which is fair enough: typically a certified copy of a passport and a driving licence would do. Certification, like a passport photo, could be done by pretty much any professional: but our first attempt, asking our own bank to do it, met with a refusal. They will only do it for their own products – not even their own customers. The Post Office will do it, for a fee, which is a good solution if you’re new to an area and haven’t yet acquired a wide circle of professional friends. One provider, linked to a major supermarket (one which is somewhat in the news at the moment) wouldn’t even tell us what documents they would ask for until the account had been opened and the initial deposit made. Some were quite quick to send postal correspondence, others much slower. Access codes of course also arrived in the post: fair enough, I count that as good practice.

Then there’s the “linked account” issue. Many savings providers, especially the ones that aren’t clearing banks, require that you nominate a “linked” bank account which must already exist in your name. Some insist that you sign a direct debit in their favour from this account, so you’re not transferring money to them; they’re claiming it off you and you’re subject to their processes. I guess this may avoid the limit which most banks quite properly put on online transfers.

And the rules vary. Some will only accept deposits from this linked account. Some will only pay out to it. Some will only pay interest into it, and some will only add interest to the deposit. All these arcane rules get in the way of what you actually want to do, which is to deposit a sum of money and earn interest.

Third, one account had persistent problems trying to get through the login sequence using Internet Explorer on Windows 8 – hardly an uncommon platform. Firefox on Mac was fine! For another attempt, we persistently failed to get to the starting gate on the online system at all, even after three separate interactions with their tech helpdesk; guess what, they didn’t get the business.

So don’t ever believe a deposit account which says it only takes half an hour to set up. For a start, do make sure you read the T&Cs, and that you can live with how you will be able to deposit money and get it back (including on account closure). Expect to spend up to an hour reading the T&Cs, and another hour working through the setup process. Expect the security checks, other confirmations and postal correspondence to take at least a week and possibly two.

But here’s the key question. If Virgin can make it quick, easy and efficient – and yet, presumably, secure and compliant – why does any other organisation have to make it so complex and frustrating? IT people: don’t let your organisation swamp your interface work with un-necessary complexity!

Links (just one this week)
• Virgin Money: Instant Access e-Saver. See how simple it is!