Banks set to reveal surge of incentives as new rules make it easier to move to new provider, writes Jeff Salway
Banks are preparing to launch a wave of new products and incentives over the coming weeks in a bid to attract new customers as a new seven-day switching guarantee takes effect.
Under the switching service coming into force on Monday, banks and building societies must take no longer than seven days to complete current account transfers – including regular payments such as direct debits – down from an average of 18 days.
Switchers will also have the security of a guarantee that their bank or building society will cover any losses in the event of problems during the process.
As it is now, the bank to which the customer is switching will be responsible for the transfer and ensuring all payments are moved across in time. However, there is no requirement for cards and PINs to arrive within the seven days.
The change is being introduced by the Payments Council as part of reforms first set out two years ago by the Independent Commission on Banking. But experts warn that, despite widespread dissatisfaction with the UK’s biggest banks, switching levels will remain low until competition in the market improves.
The big five – HSBC, Lloyds, Royal Bank of Scotland/NatWest, Barclays and Santander – provide 85 per cent of the current accounts in the UK, which led the Office of Fair Trading to conclude earlier this year that the market isn’t “working well for consumers or the wider economy”.
Competition among those banks, plus the likes of Nationwide Building Society, is heating up as the seven-day guarantee comes into play. Most have increased their advertising in recent weeks, some have introduced enhanced incentives for new customers and more offers are on the way as the big high street names compete for customers.
David Black, a banking specialist at Consumer Intelligence, said: “Overall, switching gifts and incentives can be tempting and there is sure to be a raft of new offers and advertising over the coming weeks, but if you are going to switch and then stick with one provider for a number of years, which most switchers probably will, then it makes sense to look at the long-term value of the account.”
But it will take more than one-off incentives for most people to consider switching. Scots are particularly loyal to their bank, Payments Council research shows, having held the same current account for an average of 19 years. More than one in four still uses the first current account they opened, while a third use the same bank as one or both of their parents.
Some research points to a surge in switching once the seven-day rule is in place. More than four in ten people surveyed by comparison site uSwitch.com said they would be more likely to change current account. Metro Bank has predicted a rise of up to 90 per cent in the number of people switching current account over the next decade.
But others say the impact will be muted, pointing to other obstacles to switching. Almost three in ten bank customers believe there’s little point in changing bank as “most current accounts are very similar”, according to research by Consumer Intelligence. It also revealed that 15 per cent worry that direct debits payments would be missed and 11 per cent doubted they could get an overdraft with another bank.
The difficulty of comparing current accounts is a considerable issue too for many people, pointed out Andrew Hagger, of Moneycomms.co.uk, pictured right.
“The problem is that no two accounts are the same and difficulty in trying to compare the different rates and charging structures is probably one of the major reasons that customers stick with their existing provider.”
Understanding what you need from an account is therefore vital when switching. If you’re regularly overdrawn, for instance, an account with a competitive overdraft arrangement may be a priority.
The best products for overdrafts are the 1st Account from HSBC-owned First Direct and the FlexAccount from the Nationwide, said Hagger.
If you tend to be in credit it’s better to look for current accounts with decent in-credit balances. Hagger picked out the Classic with Vantage account at Bank of Scotland and Santander’s 123 account as good examples.
The latter, which offers cashback on household bills and up to 3 per cent interest on balances, was also singled out by Consumer Intelligence as the best account for those typically in-credit. However its research revealed that for many people, a good reputation for customer service, convenient branches and UK-based call centres are also key factors likely to make them switch provider.