A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Monday, 4 April 2016

Hooptedoodle #216 - Donkey Award - The Bank of Scotland

This is not going to be a rant, just a straight description of my recent adventures with the Bank of Scotland. If any of this seems odd or unsatisfactory from a customer’s point of view, I leave a judgement on that to the reader.

Some years ago I disposed of a (very) small business which I owned, and I closed the Bank of Scotland business account which I had opened for it. In fact I had made very little use of this account – the charges for deposits and cheque payments were unattractively high, and the account was really only used on the relatively rare occasions when a customer paid me by cheque – my main clients mostly paid by bank transfer (which was much cheaper) and my smaller customers almost always paid in cash (which, of course, was free).

So I went into the Dunbar High Street branch of Bank of Scotland, sometime around October 2011, handed over my cards and cheque book and paying-in books and returned the (unused) security token which I had been issued, and requested that the account be closed. All the bits and pieces were accepted over the counter, but I was told I would have to write to a particular address in Basingstoke to get the account closed.

OK – I did that. After this I received occasional letters advising me of subsequent changes to interest rates and account terms, but you would expect that – this is a bank, after all, and banks are idiots. In 2013 I was sent a replacement security token, which I promptly returned to the Dunbar branch.

Around February this year I received a letter telling me that the terms of this supposedly dead account were to change; from some date in the near future I would start paying some £8.60 per month just for the privilege of having it – if I were to use it in any way, of course, the charges would be much more punitive. So this time I gave up on the losers in Dunbar, and I went to see my friends in the North Berwick branch of BoS, told them that I thought I had already got rid of this problem, and asked them to sort things out, since I really didn’t want to pay anything for an account which I didn’t want or use, and which I had thought no longer existed.

The lady on the business desk was very helpful – she found my account on the computer files, and told me that they had never closed the account, since it had a positive balance of £2.42. This was a bit of a surprise, since I thought it had been empty when I closed it (or failed to close it, as it appears).

Anyway, now I received £2.42 in my hand, and signed a couple of bits of paper which authorised the bank lady to close the account. Very good – job done.

Not so fast. A letter arrived today to tell me that I now owe them 71 pence, which will be billed to this same account on 17th April. A statement was enclosed, dated 10th March, which shows that I was billed £0.70 for the debit of £2.42 from the account because – well, because that’s the charge for a withdrawal – plus an additional charge of 0.65% of the amount withdrawn – i.e. 1 penny.

Presumably they have been unable to close the account this time because there is a negative balance. Furthermore, apart from the potential monthly account fee of £8.60, I fear that I may be about to be hit with a further charge of £15 for having an unauthorised overdraft of 71 pence.

Whatever else I might have imagined I would be doing tomorrow, I now realise that I will be going back to the Bank of Scotland’s North Berwick branch at exactly 9:30am, and I am sincerely hoping that I will find some grown-ups in. I trust and believe that those lovely people will do what is necessary to prevent any further cost and inconvenience, but if they do not manage it I think I can promise that a rant will follow sometime later.

Just off the top of your heads, can anyone think of a single reason why we should continue to deal with retail banks? I have to confess that I am struggling to come up with anything. 


  1. I think the banks have got things nicely sewn up. If you're employed it's probably the only way to get paid these days. Suspect the same applies to any occupational pension scheme. If you have a mortgage I suspect the lender insists you have a current account - or maybe they haven't got a process that recognises there's any other way of doing things: 'computer says noooooo'.

    My mother seems to manage living in a cash only world. Receiving her state pension via the post office and pays all her bills with cash (though I bet that loop hole gets closed: Gideon's pals need a few extra quid to top up the fees from offshore tax schemes). She does have a bank account but I bet she hasn't used that since the old man died.

  2. I'm afraid the swines are an inevitable evil. My bank (building society actually, so guess who?) has never issued me with a cheque book because, at the time we joined them, they were entering the post nuclear age and galloping straight towards paperless banking. However, in exceptional circumstances, they will write a cheque for me for a fee of £10. Sounds fair enough to me :0/

    A good few years ago I tried to close down the old Post Office Savings account I'd had in the navy, but failed because they'd been tardy adding unpaid interest to the account. I didn't pursue the exercise with any vigour, so each time I rediscovered my passbook I'd eventually get round to making another attempt to close the account. All I ever managed to do was rerun the 'interest' saga, so I eventually binned said passbook, still with, I think, a 17p balance.

    Sheer bloody lunacy.

  3. My wife also has an elderly PO Savings account which refuses to die - it's like a replay of Achilles and the Tortoise - whenever you close it, there is another fraction of a penny interest to be added, so the account can't be closed.

    I duly visited NB BoS branch this morning - they have a new manager - seems more impressive than the last one (who mostly seemed interested in her nails). He tells me that everything is OK and in hand - moreover, he will phone me to confirm when everything done and dusted. Problems are (1) BoS are currently taking 7 to 8 weeks to close accounts - my request was officially received 3rd March, so I have a little time to go in the pipeline (2) the letter I received is dated 10th March - by the time it has sat on a bulk print queue for a while, plus time in a warehouse being packed and prepared for cut-price bulk mailing, it is almost a month out of date.

    The situation is like the stars in the sky - when you look at Ursa Minor, you are seeing it as it was millions of years ago - bank letters are similar.

    The manager assures me there will be no charges to pay, and I can get straight back to him if there are further problems. What else can he say? He must spend his life apologising for cut-price admin, badly analysed systems, negligible customer orientation. Bank managers are getting younger. Not sure how this progresses, but policemen started getting younger decades ago - you know it's getting serious when magistrates and heads of state are getting younger as well.

  4. This is a plea for understanding for bank branch staff.
    For my sins, (which are clearly considerable)I worked for a High Street Bank for 30 years, finally digging a successful escape tunnel to an honest job 10 years ago. Unless things have changed in that time, I can guarantee that the staff you are dealing with are far more frustrated and exasperated by this sort of nonsense than you are, and even more angry at their inability to do anything about it. You will hear the phrase 'I can only apologise ...'; this is true - because they have no control over it and no access to anyone who does. They can only apologise because they can't explain it and have fingers tightly crossed with little confidence that some remote system - either human or computer - will get it right.

    You question can anyone think of a reason why we continue to use retail banks? Nope, got me there.

    1. Chris - no problem with this - I have been married twice, and each of my wives worked at some time for the banks. The customer service staff are not responsible for the state of the banks, but someone certainly is - the banks are in an appalling state, and this is partly execrably bad management and inappropriate automation - I wrote rather evangelically about this in


      and I don't think I have changed my views. Being a member of branch staff is not unlike having been a member of the WW2 Wehrmacht - not everyone was a card-carring Nazi. They, however, are the public face of corrupt, disfunctional organisations which cause a lot of grief, waste a lot of time and do very little to provide small business funding or anything else which is useful and supportive, so - sad though it is - there is no-one else handy to let off steam at.

      I have another letter on my desk telling me that interest rates are coming down again - of course they are - the banks have more savings money than they can use, and much of the traditional scope for making money with it is now classified as illegal.

      This is still not a rant, by the way.

    2. Yes, all true. I'm convinced that the only reason High Street banks retain staff at all these days is to apologise to irate customers; as soon as they've developed an ATM that can do that, the places will be deserted. (Press 1 for cash withdrawal, 2 for a statement, 3 for an insincere apology.)Useful and supportive? I remember that - not cost effective, is it?
      On balance, I'd have been less ashamed to work for the Wehrmacht.

  5. Write to them formally changeing the terms and conditions that exist between you and giving them the statutory 14 days to respond in writing (not 'reply').

    Make the new term somthing reasonable...a pound a day payable by them until they cancel the unwarrented charge and close the account you have now authorised and instructed them to do three times already. It'll be sorted in five minutes. Add a larger sum payable as damages if you have to persue the matter through any legal process.

    H (no spell checker!)

  6. There is a simple answer. Put in a complaint with the Ombudsman.They should already have actually considered it to be a complaint anyway. You will win, you will be credited with £20-£25 compensation', then when they fluff that you should probably be able to get another payment later. It worked for me a few years ago.