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Ignore those interest rates - suck on this instead

Panorama ran a 30 minute programme last night on banks - old-fashioned, high street, retail banks. In true mainstream media style (I'm getting increasingly frustrated with the BBC of late) the focus was on branch banks.

Now, don't get me wrong, branch banks are still a force to be reckoned with. (although for the life of me, I cannot remember the last time I actually entered a branch to do any banking, can you?)

However, Panorama made no mention of Tesco Bank or Virgin Money or any of those so-called non-bank competitors we keep hearing about. As for mobile? I think the BBC once heard that some people in Africa were actually using their phones to bank - but it is, of course, just a rumour and when they get it confirmed (in 2025) I'm sure they'll run a Panorama special on it. 

Anyway, one part of the show intrigued me. The Panorama presenter visited Vernon Hill, founder of Metro Bank, which plans on launching here in London on July 29th. (the first new British high street bank in 100 years).

While the presenter coo'ed over the red lollipops and dog biscuits ("because you shouldn't have to leave your dog on the street to bank" OK) Hill admitted that Metro will not necessarily offer the best rates of interest to its customers on current and savings accounts. What?! ... wait a second.

Now, I'm not the world's most sophisticated investor, but when I shop around (on the internet, while my dog chases squirrels in the back garden) for a good place to lay my spare £2.50, I look for a savings account with the best interest rate. I don't think I would ever, think 'Hmmmmm, ING Direct is offering 3% but Metro has red lollipops and dog biscuits! Metro you've got my business!'

I love a good show as much as the next person. And the recent trend for better customer service, an end to small print and simple transparent charging, al la Metro Bank and banksimple in the US, is definitely a step in the right direction. 

But banking customers, who have bailed out these banks with their tax dollars and pounds, deserve more than just removing the bullet-proof glass from the teller stations. They deserve actual banking services - mortgages that are responsible, but not impossible to take out, small business loans that don't bankrupt a family business and a savings account with a decent rate of interest.

Until that happens, I'll hold off on sucking anyone's lollipop



Comments: (3)

A Finextra member
A Finextra member 21 July, 2010, 11:29Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

Great piece, Ms Lumley. So much to respond to.

Personally, I wish Metro Bank and its ilk well. The proposition (safe harbour for cash, access to credit and other services via personal service instead of web pages, opening hours to suit working life, and a welcome for canine companions) certainly has a market for those of us who are not, or cannot be bothered to be, sophisticated consumers of financial products. I get it. And I am completely prepared to "suffer" low or zero interest rates on my current account - even the odd charge here and there - in exchange for convenience and security WITHOUT electronics.

I agree with you completely, however, that Panorama should not be reduced to cheap, smart-arsed bullet-point pot-shooting at popular-but-misunderstood targets. Simple does not equate with Stupid.

Metro Bank appears to understand this - the BBC should take note.

Elizabeth Lumley
Elizabeth Lumley - Girl, Disrupted - Crayford 21 July, 2010, 11:44Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

Yes, I was probably a bit harder on Metro Bank than needed. They do seem to have put customer service needs as a priority, which is always welcome in my book.

I just hope that the 'lollpops and dog biscuits' (and opening hours and personal service etc...) aren't distracting us from mediocre banking products.

Really, Andrew, you would be happy with a 'zero' percent interest rate on your savings account?

A Finextra member
A Finextra member 21 July, 2010, 12:03Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

Current account - yes. Savings account - well, right now, given that my domestic inflation rate outstrips any and all rates the banks can offer, I am effectively earning negative real interest on cash, so I don't have much of that. Chasing returns, I moved into equities and commercial paper. (Note - I did put some money into BP before the disaster, chasing dividend yield... my investment track record is pretty dire, frankly, and all of my comments need to be viewed in that context). My house and my children seem to consume vast quantities of cash too, which I justify to myself on investment grounds (completely unreasonably).

I have finally concluded that the only investment option available to me with an attractive return is in...

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