Visit your nearest branch

Last week I spent a frustrating morning trying to open a business bank account. I assumed banks would make it as easy as possible and so I was surprised how frustrating it was. I’m easily put off by small but easily-avoidable annoyances and I found plenty of those.

I had no idea how to choose a bank and bank account. I don’t have any obscure requirements: let people pay me; let me transfer money; a debit/ATM card; online banking. Charges for business current accounts vary, but not enough to make a wild difference. I had few good reasons to choose one bank over another.

Barclays

A couple of friends recommended Barclays, mainly because it can integrate with FreeAgent without going through a third-party service. It sounded pretty broken — one friend registered for both online and mobile banking, and with “data services”, but still needed to separately request a “phone banking PIN” to enable a feed into FreeAgent. But, once that was navigated, it apparently worked well.

Barclays logo

I wasn’t wild about Barclays. I don’t like their shade of blue, I don’t like their now insipid eagle/shield logo, and I still associate them with closing my first ever bank account in the 1980s over their support of apartheid in South Africa. But these days it’s just another bank, I guess.

You can start an application online but, for a limited company, you will subsequently have to book an appointment in a branch anyway. So, given the website said this:

Part of the Barclays site saying you can visit your local branch to apply for an account

at 9am I was in my local branch, Moorgate. “If they can’t open business accounts in the City of London, there’s no hope!” I thought to myself. They can’t, there wasn’t.

A polite man insisted that I would have to call a central Barclays phone number to book an appointment at the branch in which I was standing. I couldn’t speak to anyone at the branch, not even to arrange when to come in later. But it says “visit your nearest branch”! Why does it say that?! I was amazed and annoyed and walked out.

I still don’t understand. Even if I could have made an appointment in the branch, to see someone in that same branch later, why tell me to visit the branch to do so? Only tell me to visit the branch to apply for an account if I can apply for an account when I get there!

NatWest

In the 1980s, when I closed my Barclays account, I walked up the high street into NatWest and opened one there. So I’m slightly more fond of it than most anonymous international banking corporations. Plus, out of all the banks, I like their logo the most:

NatWest logo

Despite their current credit card advertising campaign which emphasises simplicity, fairness and transparency, finding their business banking charges wasn’t simple or transparent, being buried in a PDF and not listed in any navigation. But still, two years’ free banking was at least fair.

(Incidentally, that URL for NatWest’s “Start-up package” is 780 characters long. Which is an improvement on the 1,126 it had when I looked last week.)

NatWest screenshot

If I read this correctly, applying online means waiting five working days for a further discussion. Or I could call them or visit a branch. Having been bitten by Barclay’s branch-visiting, I called the number helpfully displayed on the right.

But, ha ha, despite being displayed in a box headed “Apply now” on a business banking page, that number is not the number to call if you want to apply for a business bank account. The woman who answered gave me the number to call (she couldn’t transfer me).

I pressed on, and called the new number. Before we could get started on the application process, the next woman had to read some standard stuff out to me in the “I am reading this” voice. The first of these was that in 2016 my account would move to a new bank, Williams & Glyn. Oh. I’ve just made the arbitrary decision to bank with NatWest and now you’re telling me I can’t. Hmm.

Unable to make snap decisions on the phone, I thanked her and hung up. Next!

Metro Bank

A couple of friends said they’d walked into branches of Metro Bank and opened up accounts on the spot. This sounded good and in line with Metro Bank’s aims of shaking up the system, gently.

I routed round an initial hiccup — the link Google displayed for Metro’s business banking was a 404 — and checked that I should be able to open a business account by walking into a branch. Yes! “Please visit your local store to apply for this account.”

I walked to the Cheapside branch around 10am and entered their small, quiet replica of a Reno casino. Unfortunately, a helpful woman told me that the “CSR” was busy at the moment and I’d have to wait for 90 minutes. Oh. This is the downside of inviting people to just walk in: you need the capacity to handle them. There seemed to be more staff than customers but they must have been the wrong kind of “CSR”s. So I left.

The day was far too hot already and I was getting nowhere, with something I thought would be simple. I couldn’t believe it was so difficult.

Falling Down starring Victor Meldrew

Cater Allen

A couple of friends said they were with the Cater Allen private bank, but their business bank account page didn’t really encourage me to simply open an account. A lot of text, talk of “an Application Pack for your client”, a lot of documents to download, and a ten day processing time.

I moved on. I really wanted a bank to sell itself to me, simply, and make it as easy as possible for me to become their customer.

Triodos

Someone suggested Triodos, who I’d forgotten all about, despite having had a savings account with them for a while. They’re an ethical bank, who do good things, and have a business current account. You don’t get a credit or debit card but I was past caring, and figured I could get a credit card elsewhere.

To apply for an account you have to call to make sure your business is suitable, which is fair enough. I called, had a chat (“Well, I’m not planning on making websites for arms dealers, ha ha!”) and was emailed a link to the application form.

For some reason this link, at the end of a long email, wasn’t clickable. But, undeterred, I worked out how to get to the form. This is, however, as far as I got. The form wanted to know “the main activities of your Organisation” and “your main sources of income”. The first field needed at least 50 words (or, as the error message put it, 200 characters), and the second needed at least 25 words (or 150 characters). It’s just not that complicated. I design and make websites, people pay me money to do so. At this point, and given the limitations of the account, I was beyond making up nonsense to please a form’s validation algorithms and closed the tab.

Santander

Belatedly, I remembered another friend saying Santander had been quick to set up their business account. So, despite disliking their stagey, awkward adverts featuring sports people, and their renaming of the combined Abbey National and Bradford & Bingley, I just wanted a bank account.

Ignoring the forest of stock photography showing industrious white people, I quickly found their current account for new businesses, for which I could apply online, with a nice clear list of requirements. The form was simple, with a minimum of onerous questions, and it was soon completed.

Within 24 hours I received an email telling me my new account was open! Easy! The email said:

We’re pleased to let you know that we’ve opened a Santander Business Bank Account for you and you can start using your account straightaway.

and:

Your account is now open and ready for use…

Brilliant!

Except there was no account number or sort code, and the details for accessing online, mobile and telephone banking would be sent in two letters within 7 to 10 days.

So the account is only “open and ready for use” in the sense that it exists as an entry in a database somewhere. And I can only “start using your account” in the sense of… I don’t know. That just doesn’t make any sense.

Done

Still, it’s done. Or soon will be.

A lot of the above is going to seem petty. And, yes, it is. I could easily have ignored many of these little difficulties and applied for an account a few hours sooner than I did. But no one should have to encounter these difficulties.

They’re mostly easy things to get right if you want to make it easy for people to use your service. Putting the correct phone number on the page. Giving people the correct instructions. Making it easy to find information and fill in forms. It’s not just making good websites, it’s about making the whole company and service work how someone would expect.

Banks seem to be like electricity suppliers or mobile phone companies. They’re desperate to seem special but for many customers they’re simply interchangeable utilities. But we have to use at least one of them. There’s a huge barrier to new companies entering the market and doing things in new ways. Consequently we have to put up with the above petty silliness, clunky online banking, Verified By Visa, and everything else that could be done so much better if only the services focused on the people who use them. Or want to use them.

Further reading

30 Jul 2014 at Twitter

  • 08:41am: @spaceboy Someone is subtweeting.
  • 08:42am: @agpublic Er, yes. Not entirely sure what being hit up for a quote means, but why not.
  • 08:58am: @agpublic phil@gyford.com
  • 08:59am: Swam the usual 1000m this morning. Met a woman in the lift who finished swimming the Channel at 4am.
  • 09:00am: @minor9th Yeah, lightweight.
  • 09:08am: @KushalP Not every. Three mornings a week, all being well.
  • 09:09am: @KushalP Just swim. I would do more (with a few more pauses to get my breath back) but it gets boring!
  • 09:43am: @weareicoEx “we will continue to support Sifteo Cubes and Sifteo users”
  • 10:39am: Enhancing one of last week’s tweets: ‘Falling Down’ starring Victor Meldrew. http://t.co/lhKtK9iMhM
  • 11:22am: @tomstuart Save Shoreditch from people with responsive faces. Or FOR people with responsive faces. I’m confused.
  • 11:30am: We should Save Tech City by returning it to fields. It’s been downhill since the 18th century. http://t.co/PIvPhN7SmE http://t.co/7T4mEK4ivZ
  • 11:32am: Sorry, that was silly. We should Save Tech City by returning it to the printers, furniture makers and tailors of the 19th century.
  • 11:33am: Sorry, I’m being sarcastic. We should Save Tech City by returning it to the musicians and artists of the 70s, 80s and 90s.
  • 11:37am: @flaneur Year 2042: Save Tech City by returning it to the traditional VC-funded start-ups, American corporations and luxury hotels!
  • 11:39am: Anyway, a blog post from 2012 about Shoreditch / Tech City: http://t.co/XCelFtnHOD
  • 11:40am: @agentGav Yes, the Huguenots, then Jews.
  • 11:40am: @flaneur KEEP TECH CITY AMERICAN!
  • 11:44am: @gsvoss @flaneur Remember the good old days when the Plague really brought the Tech City community together?
  • 01:01pm: @holgate We can only Save Tech City by scrapping all mobile phones and going back to 14.4 modems.
  • 01:11pm: @alruii @joe_malia Who’s doing the keynote?
  • 01:16pm: @joe_malia @alruii Great. I have two hours, yeah? I’ll need an IMAX screen and no one can enter or leave once I’ve begun. No autographs.
  • 01:16pm: @joe_malia @alruii PS. Hope it’s a special day.
  • 01:21pm: @joe_malia @alruii Oh forget it then. I know it’s your big day but the doves hammer home an important point at the 78 minute mark.
  • 02:19pm: @jonty I keep looking at it. I can’t quite believe it’s real or that those people so lack in self-awareness.
  • 02:24pm: @jonty Amazing. The actual campaign http://t.co/pO9bavX1xf seems focused on a single development. I don’t know why they’re confusing things.
  • 02:27pm: @NeilBennun @jonty There is a valid bigger issue. But consultants, biz-dev, entrepreneurs etc complaining “Tech City” isn’t what it was…?!
  • 02:28pm: @flaneur @jonty I know! It’s focused, makes more sense, is something concrete you can say yes or no about.
  • 02:38pm: This seems a worthwhile campaign about Shoreditch: http://t.co/pO9bavX1xf This, related, is hilariously un-selfaware: http://t.co/BbmoIFXS7K
  • 02:42pm: @jasecoop @ntlk Why what?
  • 02:43pm: @jasecoop @ntlk Because all those people (people like me, maybe you) *are* the reason “Tech City” has changed over the past 15ish years.
  • 02:48pm: @jasecoop @ntlk *That* is the thing. You can’t say “I’m glad we’ve changed it this much, but no more.”
  • 02:48pm: @jasecoop @ntlk Artists complained about having to move out of Hoxton Square when we all arrived. Are we more right than they were?
  • 02:51pm: @jasecoop @ntlk You can *say* it all you like. People always have and always will.
  • 02:52pm: @jasecoop @ntlk But people who have come to Shoreditch because of all the start-ups etc are complicit in the area changing.
  • 02:56pm: @jasecoop @ntlk I’m not saying it used to be better, just that it was better for other people whose views were as valid as ours.
  • 03:09pm: Londoners, join my campaign to KEEP MIDTOWN WEIRD!
  • 03:12pm: If you don’t know, Midtown is west of Tech City, east of Theatreland and north of Northbank.
  • 03:13pm: @jasecoop @ntlk As I said, the campaign against the building is fine. The vague “Save Tech City” site comes across as nonsense.
  • 03:17pm: @inthecompanyof @jasecoop @ntlk Good luck with the campaign. Unfortunately, Save Tech City, with all those faces, makes me laugh/despair.
  • 03:24pm: @inthecompanyof Because it comes across as “Don’t change Tech City now that we’re here and have changed it just enough so that we like it.”
  • 03:28pm: @inthecompanyof Again, the specific campaign is worthwhile, but the initial messaging of Save Tech City makes me roll my eyes.
  • 03:29pm: I wrote more about my frustrating attempts to open a business bank account last week: http://t.co/CzWZdFp69l Yes, that sounds really dull.
  • 03:30pm: @inthecompanyof It’s nothing to do with using “Tech City”! (Not that I like the name.)
  • 03:34pm: @inthecompanyof Because it comes across as “Keep Shoreditch Weird!” when it looks like all the people on that page are, like me, exactly…
  • 03:34pm: @inthecompanyof …the kinds of people who have stopped Shoreditch being weird. We are the reason rent has gone up and developers moved in.
  • 03:37pm: @genmon Yeah, should have had a better pay-off. “And so I will now only barter my services.”
  • 03:44pm: @inthecompanyof It appears to take a very short-term self-involved view of the area. “We changed it but we like it now so no more change ta”
  • 03:46pm: @inthecompanyof I support the specific campaign but Save Tech City’s tone feels like part of the area’s problem not it’s solution. Good luck
  • 03:52pm: Doing well with today’s Getting Things Done process. http://t.co/XXaVSe1zf1
  • 03:57pm: @denisewilton It’s only 5pm! Admittedly, considering past mistakes is going to take a fair old while…
  • 03:59pm: @mattsheret I have no excuses. Shall I start the day again?
  • 04:01pm: @denisewilton No I can’t! (OK, think that one’s done.)
  • 04:01pm: @mattsheret That one recurs daily.
  • 04:09pm: @george08 I’m sure there are plenty of worse countries!
  • 05:04pm: @tedmills Well jel.
  • 08:27pm: @pkqk @tomstuart God, last year, trying to learn how to test things properly by trying to find decent RSpec docs. Not productive.
  • 09:16pm: @infovore Ooh good. Hadn't even realised S02 was around. Starts on More 4 next week!
  • 09:18pm: @infovore No sorry required! I'm pleased to realise it's starting again.

30 Jul 2014 in Links

On this day I was reading