Gareth Shaw: Old Bank dogs can learn new tech tricks

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I think it was the 5am wake-up call from my one-year-old that set the wheels in motion.

After an hour of play that included reading ‘Spot Bakes a Cake’ for the 73rd time and a game that involves putting 
a cup on my head and quacking like a duck which makes my son laugh hysterically, I set off for a fatigue-stricken, three-hour journey to a conference in deepest Berkshire, which involved one bus, two tubes, three trains and a taxi ride.

A taxi ride, it turns out, I was unable to pay for. Somewhere on the transfer between Twyford and Henley, I’d absent-mindedly lost my wallet, which included three debit cards, a credit card and an old five-pound note I’d been planning to exchange at the Bank of England.

Surprisingly, this is the first time this has happened to me and, naturally, I was filled with horror. Was someone going crazy with my contactless cards? Was my identity being stolen? Was that old paper fiver I’d been clinging onto being cashed in? But the financial hack in me saw an opportunity – how quickly could I get back to spending after being forced to cancel every single card I owned.

I have three bank accounts – one with the high-street provider I joined when I was 17 years old because it was nearest to the bus stop, and two smartphone-only accounts I run exclusively through mobile applications. My credit card provider is a well-known retailer with a superb reward scheme.

My first step was to open the banking apps on my phone. I was able to freeze all three debit cards to stop anyone using them – all it took was a thumb-print to unlock the apps and the flick of a button to put a block on the cards. And when the train company confirmed that my wallet couldn’t be found, I once again used the apps to cancel my debit cards and reorder a new one.

In just a minute of tapping and swiping, 75 per cent of my anxiety had subsided.

Things were more cumbersome with my credit card. I had to Google the number for lost or stolen cards; go through around five automated options and then three security questions before I could cancel. All in all, I was on the phone for 15 minutes, and told that a new card would be reissued to me in seven to 10 working days. Clearly, the loser in the pack had been identified.

The ability to freeze or cancel your card in-app is a relatively new phenomenon, pioneered by smartphone-only challenger banks.

The likes of Monzo and Starling have made this a major selling-point, demonstrating their agility and desire to solve the old frustrations of traditional banks.

Very few of the big high-street beasts of banking offer this option – except for mine, fortunately. Had I put my 17-year-old business with any other provider, I suspect I would have faced another 15-minute call to get my card cancelled..

That wasn’t the most remarkable outcome of this experience. All of my debit cards are loaded on my phone to use with Apple Pay. Ordinarily, if you’ve cancelled your card, those residing in your Apple Wallet will no longer work and need to be deleted.

But moments after cancelling my debit card with my oldest bank, I noticed the last four digits of the card changed on my phone, and I’d already been issued a new card which had automatically been updated. Without expecting it, there wasn’t a moment where I’d lost the ability to pay for something (so long as it was done contactless via contactless). Opening the app of one of my smartphone accounts, I discovered the same had occurred and all I need to do was add the new card to my Apple Wallet. It was only the last smartphone bank the required me to be issued with a new physical card before I could load it onto my phone.

I was away for three days in total, from Monday through to Wednesday. By the time I’d returned, my oldest bank had reissued my new card. By Thursday, I had three out of the four new cards in my hands.

At Which?, we’re deluged with stories from people who have had bad banking experiences, giving little room to celebrate when things go well. But I was genuinely blown away by how easy it was to get back on my feet after an event that must happen to people every single day. This was an excellent demonstration of banks understanding the pain points when things go wrong for a customer and remove all of the friction to solve their problem.

And the fact that my legacy bank, whose peers are not known for leading the pack in terms of digital innovation, outperformed the fin-tech upstarts in my scenario shows that even the biggest of the old dogs can learn new tech tricks to keep their customers happy.

Of course, it’s not an experiment I want to replicate. But it’s one less thing to worry about the next time I spend the day in a stupor after a game of twilight quacky-cup-hat.

Gareth Shaw is head of Which? Money online