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Goodbye, Santander! The end of a banking love affair

My love affair with Santander began many years ago when I started meeting some of their amazing people at the start of my journey of selling them Meniga's PFM. Over time many of those people became friends because it's hard to resist bankers with such astoundingly large hearts. Don't get me wrong, most banks have a contingent of great minds and fiery hearts but in Santander, the passion seemed to run through  the veins of every department from the digital crusaders to the procurement people so I quickly became a personal fan too and switched my impossible-to-use-due-to-extreme-passwording (annus domini: 2014 so no touch ID) Lloyds account to a Santander one. 

Many of the people I worked with over the last few years, have seen me use a folder I was forced to create on my phone to contain all the various Santander apps in one place (affectionately called "FFS Santander!") as an example of what not to do as a bank, but that was not me the consumer moaning but the front-end strategist disagreeing with the scattered growth. Aside from that though, as a consumer, I had only one major complaint - that of having to call them to let them know I'm out of the country and will be using their card so once a week I'd be on the phone -some times for ages- to do so typically on my way to the airport or they would promptly block me out of funds because yanno, flagging that I'm the epitome of the frequent flyer seemed to be too much to handle for their systems.  

That was the only problem I really had, and if we accept Santander is simply not interested in air crew and the likes, it wasn't an issue major enough to make me consider switching, chiefly because, as any other consumer, I didn't think I could get better elsewhere. (Turns out that's wrong, at least 3 UK banks let you tell them you'll be away on the go).

So all in all Santander and I had settled into the lull of a semi-dysfunctional but comfortable long term relationship where the shine of young love thrills had been replaced by torn corners of my debit card and I had thought we'd be together till the day that I'll choose my Challenger bank and then amicably part ways. 

But then this happened.

On my way to Budapest to work with Unicredit a couple of weeks ago, I go through my normal round of Santander calls to ensure they don't cut me off. This once I'm short for time, so don't even do my "you guys really need to sort this" litany but hurriedly hung up as I'm passing through security and holding up the queue. I pick up my belongings and as I run to the aircraft I log into my Metro Bank business account application (which gleefully responds within milliseconds causing me to fleetingly give cheating on Santander a thought) and send my Santander debit account a few thousand pounds for various things. Having seen the confirmation of the transfer I turn off my phone and settle into my Priority Boarding many comforts. 

Once at the hotel in Budapest I decide to carry on with my on-the-move home accounting endeavour thinking it can easily be done while I reapply make-up and get ready for dinner. In particular as this should only be a couple of transfers including a hefty one to the husband-come-PA as he's in charge of paying most of the bills, taking cash out for the Monzo-reluctant nanny (another story for another time), etc.  

Half absent-mindedly, I log into Smartbank , click on Transfer, write down the amount and make to scroll down through my list of Payees to find Husband's Lloyds. Nothing to scroll down through. Huh? I put down the lipstick, sit down and give it full attention. Have they changed the interface and it now needs side scrolling? Have they made the payees' names white-on-white? All possible scenarios, sadly. Nope. The payees' field stares at me empty and surprised I quiz it. Instead of the 6-7 names there all the time I now have nothing at all.  

Feeling my blood pressure raising I decide it's likely easier to get online on my laptop and set him up as a payee again, than try and deal with what has happened and while I shoot him an Whatsapp asking him for a picture of his Lloyds card (because c'mon, security schecurity, I have bankers waiting with dinner!) I pop open the lid of my laptop and brace myself for the ordeal that is going to the online bank in Santander while hoping things have miraculously changed since I was there last 6 months ago. 

Nope, still there. The three incomprehensible blood-of-grandmother-type password steps complete with gratuitous picture they made me choose for "personalisation" reasons and an online-only password so painful to remember I have written in my London office on an eternal post-it. In hindsight, had I asked someone to take a picture of said post-it and send it to me I would have been in, and Bob may have been my banking uncle but instead I risk it and you guessed it, lock myself out of the online bank on the skippy. Time for the last resort.  

"Hi, I need to keep this brief as I'm calling you from Hungary and I'm in a hurry. You guys "vanished" my payees from the mobile app for no good reas..."

"Oh hello my name is Charlie, I'll need to walk you through some security first"

"Awesome. Let me save you some time - name is, date of birth is, address is and tell me what number letters you need"

"2nd, 5th and 6th"

"7, 4, 1"

"Excellent! How can we help you today Mrs Blomstrom?"

"As I said, I got into my mobile app and have no payees so I can't..."

"Oh I'm sorry to hear that. That's strange, I will have to move you to the team dealing with the mobile app"

"No, wait! I don't need that, they can't magically reinstate them for me! I need to register at least another one tonight. Can I do it with you on the phone, please?"

"Oh no I'm afraid we can not do that but you can do it in the onl..."

" bank. I know. I tried. I didn't get your impossible online password right so I locked myself out."

"Oh ok, that's not ideal. What I can do is send you another temporary password for the online bank"

"Excellent! Email or SMS?"

"Oh no, I'm afraid we can't do that m'am, this will be in the regular mail"

"WHAT?!? Leave alone how ridiculous it is to send a password for online in the mail that won't do me any good as I need to transfer money tonight!"

"Yes well, let me explain, once the password is sent in the mail we can reset it for you from here so I am trying to get you in tonight"

"O....k.... that's just dumb but sure, go ahead and send it."

"Ok M'am, please give me your address"

"It's probably XYZ in the system but I moved to ABC"

"What?!? You moved and never went to the branch to sort the new address?"

"Yes well I'm sorry, it's been a busy few weeks - let's just change it now"

"I'm sorry that will not work, you have to go into a branch to do a change of address."

"Ok well nevermind, forget I said that, send the password to the address you have"

"I can't do that M'am since you just admitted you do not reside there"

"Ok but you said it doesn't matter and we can change the password through a reset link!!!"

"Yes but not if I can not send the password by mail and I can not"

"Are you friggin' kidding me?! It's now been 3 hours of me trying to make ONE payment"

"I'm sorry M'am"

"Ok listen, what can we actually do? If you can't set up the payee, can you at least make this one time transfer?"

"Over the phone? No, I'm afraid it has to be on the mobile app or inside the on..."

"You MUST BE JOKING!!!! What am I supposed to do?"

"I'm afraid you will have to go to a branch M'am"

"I'm not even in the country! Are you saying you will keep my money prisoner till I get back because your entire system is crap?!?"

"No, I am just..."

"This is not acceptable! I need a solution! Either you make a transfer or I am done with you guys!"

"M'am - shall I patch you through to our complaints department?"

"Yes! Wait! No!"

"Hello? We understand you are not happy with the online banking service?

"What? NO! That's not it. Nevermind, done with you people I want to close my account!"

"May I ask why?"

"No. I am seriously done, send me my CDs back done, you can have your leather jacket done. It's over. Finito. Kaput. 

"Well ok... I'm just asking if I can I help...

"You can not, your backend sucks so bad that you managed to lose entries in the database, develop online as yet another separate endeavour with no connection to the same security system and build a login process so painful it makes grown men cry, and topped it all of with extreme phone channel impotence. I am serious, I want to close my account with Santander and switch to a real bank."

"Well if you're sure M'am. You can close your account at any of our branches, would you like me to provide you with a list of the closest ones to you?"

So there you have it. My Disney fairytale ending of switching to the most valiant challenger or even, if they did not prove themselves before Santander caught up, staying with my bank till AI, PSD2, and Blockchain did us part, will never be.

And I did go to a branch. I went to several. A Santander one to change my address as otherwise I couldn't Switch and then a NatWest one (don't judge!) for a strangely enjoyable long, cathartic chat with my local banker over a cuppa, about how others did me wrong and what a lovely future we'll have together.  

Goodbye Santander, we can't stay friends, it wasn't me, it was you. 




Comments: (14)

A Finextra member
A Finextra member 19 October, 2016, 15:371 like 1 like

I'm not sure any other large UK bank is necessarily going to be any different/better. My bank (one of the top 4 in the UK) wouldn't let me make an urgent payment when I was in New York as I had left my second factor token at home and thus couldn't authenticate, and they would not make the payment on my behalf due to "security".

I was quite able however to use PayPal to pull the funds from the same bank account using a debit card, send it for free to the beneficiary, who was able to sweep it straight back into their account instantly thanks to PayPal being connected through Faster Payments! 

Ketharaman Swaminathan
Ketharaman Swaminathan - GTM360 Marketing Solutions - Pune 19 October, 2016, 20:05Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

"Customer will forget password. Customer will forget hardware token. We must waive our normal security procedures so that they're still permitted to transfer funds. And, hey, if they claim later that it was a fraudulent transfer, we need to refund their money". 

I'd imagine that such a software spec would be right up the alley of a neobank funded by VC money and under no obligation to make revenues or profits.

I totally agree that it won't be any different / better with any traditional bank - in UK or anywhere else in the world.

A Finextra member
A Finextra member 19 October, 2016, 20:13Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

@Ketharaman - two factor security is usually "something I know, something I have, something I am". Why not move from "something I know" (password - which I forgot), "something I have" (my RSA token or whatever, that I left at home), to the "something I am"...I'm unlikely to forget or loose my fingerprints. 

And, in my example, I was able to bypass my bank's fancy two factor setup by using a very insecure plastic card with my untokenized and plain for all to steal PAN to debut the funds thanks to is that secure?


Ketharaman Swaminathan
Ketharaman Swaminathan - GTM360 Marketing Solutions - Pune 20 October, 2016, 09:22Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

@DavidGodfrey: Your question contains the answer: PayPal. It's not secure. In all probability, if you dispute the payment, your bank will deflect you to PayPal.

A Finextra member
A Finextra member 20 October, 2016, 15:19Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

@Ketharaman - surely if I dispute a transaction, it's between me and my card issuer, not the acquirer/merchant? Regardless, PayPal *is* secure, they authenticate my login to their mobile app using bio data (my fingerprint), avoiding the whole "forgot my password, left my RSA dongle at home" malarkey that I have with my bank. And yet the net effect is the same, I was able to pull funds from my bank account and make them available for someone else to deposit instantly in their bank account. So, surely my bank's security is misplaced or not completely thoughout if there are two ways to do the same thing but with differing levels of security? My bank wouldn't actually care or know that PayPal use bio data to authenticate me.

Ketharaman Swaminathan
Ketharaman Swaminathan - GTM360 Marketing Solutions - Pune 20 October, 2016, 17:05Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

@DavidGodfrey: Sorry but I'm confused: In your previous comment, you imply that you went thru' very poor security; in your latest comment, you imply that you went thru' superstrong biometric security. 

A Finextra member
A Finextra member 20 October, 2016, 22:372 likes 2 likes You don't need to inform Santander if you are using your card in Europe! You can also use your online banking to Let Santander know where you are going! You can also update your address and gain instant reaches to your accounts if you have forgotten your passwords!! Whilst this is a fairly new article it seems to be based on the online banking service about 4 years ago!
A Finextra member
A Finextra member 21 October, 2016, 00:201 like 1 like "PayPal *is* secure" - if you say so... "They authenticate my login using bio date" - nope - they "trust" an API call to the OS and hope the OS hasn't been rooted. Nobody has direct access to the Fingerprint Reader or eSE but Apple. Security can be a double-edged sword. Still it could be worse - just look at QuickChip and M/CHIP Fast...
A Finextra member
A Finextra member 21 October, 2016, 07:34Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

I'm using an Android phone, not an iPhone. As for rooting, can't say specifically for PayPal but many banking apps will specifically check for this and won't allow the app to be used.

Ketharaman Swaminathan
Ketharaman Swaminathan - GTM360 Marketing Solutions - Pune 21 October, 2016, 09:08Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

"As for rooting, can't say specifically for PayPal but many banking apps will specifically check for this and won't allow the app to be used." When it comes to security, bank - not fintech - seems to be the gold standard LOL!

Duena Blomstrom
Duena Blomstrom - Duena Blomstrom Consulting - London 21 October, 2016, 09:47Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

Dear "A Finextra member" - that's absolutely untrue. The article is not only new but that conversation took place on October 5th. You're either misinformed or using Santander elsewhere than the UK.

Ketharaman and David - I appreciate the dialogue. 

Brett King
Brett King - Moven - New York 25 October, 2016, 20:00Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

Great post DB

James Piggot
James Piggot - Finastra - London 26 October, 2016, 13:22Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

The Lloyds mobile app now uses the iPhone touch Id so no need for passwords, you can set-up new recipeints and to make payments directly. They also do not need notification when you go abroad, they send a text alert if your card is used abroad but do not block it, this works fine for me.

A Finextra member
A Finextra member 27 October, 2016, 15:08Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

Santander let you setup up to 5 future destinations on online banking (but not mobile banking yet) for personal accounts.  It is quicker and easier than phoning.  When you phoned the service agent they could / should have offered that advice.

You can reset your credentials for online banking instantly from mobile banking or online banking, but you need to know an account number (or have your card with it on) and have access to your mobile (not a problem if using mobile banking obviously).

Sounds like the technology / processes were in place, but you received poor service from Santander.