If there’s one thing we’ve learned about bank customers it’s this: fees and rewards matter much less than the overall consumer experience.
At least that seems to be the picture created in the UK, where there are low numbers of consumers switching banks, despite the competition regulator making it easy for them to do so, and banks offering large incentives if anyone makes the move to them.
Fees and rewards
In January, it was reported that millions of current (checking) account customers would be hit by higher fees and less favourable rates.
For example, the monthly charges on the Santander 123 account – which is held by 3.6 million people in Britain – would more than double. HSBC reduced interest payments to customers on its range of cash Individual Savings Accounts (ISAs).
Meanwhile, Barclays announced more cash rewards for those who switch to its current account.
In fact, the incentives for switching are on the rise across the industry. Halifax is willing to give customers who switch £185, while First Direct offers £125.
On the face of it, there are plenty of reasons for consumers to switch accounts – but few are bothering.
The number of people who switched their bank account in 2015 fell by more than ten per cent from the year before, according to research published by Current Account Switching Service (CASS). Last year some 1.03 million customers moved their bank account to another provider, versus 1.15 million in 2014.
According to comparison site uSwitch, it’s all down to “consumer apathy”.
Richard Neudegg, head of regulation at Uswitch, said: “These figures show customer apathy towards current account switching remains entrenched. A quicker, more efficient switch alone is not enough to encourage customers to change banks or to improve competition.”
And the base level is already low. Data from BACS showed that in the 12-month period from July 1st 2014 to June 30th 2015 there were 1.10 million switches, versus 1.06 million in the prior 12-month period.
The fact is that even with an incredibly simple switch process people don’t really want to change banks. The UK introduced a seven-day hassle-free system in September 2013 but it doesn’t seem to have made a major difference. BACS admitted it was “a little disappointed” with the lack of uptake. But should we really be surprised that consumers don’t want to switch?
There are several potential factors. One of these is undoubtedly the inherent stickiness of banks, at least in terms of current accounts. Consumers tend to stay with the same provider for years, even if they may turn to others for alternative products like a mortgage or credit card, if the deal appeals.
In Britain, accounts are by and large free – there are only fees on premium current accounts that offer extra benefits like travel insurance, breakdown cover and so on. Because of this, perhaps, there is really little need for most consumers to switch from one provider to another.
What really seems to matter, therefore, is the overall consumer experience. Frustration about service delivery is more likely to annoy and cause someone to switch than anything else. For UK banks at least, the focus needs to be on the consumer experience, and less about headline-grabbing rewards.
Andy Brown, Marketing Director Payments at NCR Corporation, has nearly 30 years’ experience in e-payment systems both from the delivery and support of systems in the Far East and Europe and in the product management and marketing perspectives. Based in the UK, Andy is responsible for the marketing for NCR’s payments solutions.