NatWest, you’ve had three chances – I’m gone!

Friday 21 November, 7.47am: Four pairs of judgemental eyes stare on as I blurt out something about the bank’s system being down, again. Mortified by the public declining of my debit card in a Sainsbury’s petrol station and now running late for work, I make a decision: NatWest – this is the third and final time you’ll let me down.

baseball catcher

Strike one

The first time it happened, back in June 2012 my card was declined while paying for another essential – groceries. But I let it go. Banks can make mistakes, right? It was a technical problem which couldn’t have been predicted so I just paid with a different card.

Others within NatWest’s 7.5million customer base had different issues on that day. Some were unable to see their updated balance, some couldn’t make or receive payments or their direct debits didn’t go out and some couldn’t access the bank’s online services.

For others though, it was a scary few days. Salaries weren’t reaching workers’ accounts – and mortgage payments were being missed!

Strike two

The second technical problem was just a month later in July 2012 when I found myself locked out of online banking. This time I raised an eyebrow. Had the NatWest not learned? Once again, customers had trouble withdrawing cash and, like me, accessing their accounts online.

Was this really another unavoidable mistake? I was annoyed, but there wasn’t a chance it would happen again. Was there?

Strike three

But, sure enough, a third problem with NatWest’s payment systems saw my card declined last week in a Sainsbury’s petrol station. Here’s the tweet I sent and the bank’s reply:

NatWest debit card declined again

But these are just the issues I’ve encountered first-hand. The bank and the group it belongs to (which also owns RBS and Ulster Bank) has been plagued by technical problems since 2012.

  • March 2013: This month saw two incidents. One left customers unable to withdraw cash or make payments for hours. The other locked users out of NatWest’s mobile banking app.
  • December 2013: NatWest’s systems fell down on Cyber Monday – the busiest online shopping day of the year. And then again, eight days later, on December 10.

And this is by no means a comprehensive list of issues its customers have had to deal with.

I hope I’m a fairly patient and forgiving person. But I’ve had my fill and I’m not going to accept it any more.  I’m quitting the bank I’ve held an account with for the past 20 years!

This time next week…

There’s good news too, having decided this.

How to switch your current account in 7 days
Since September 2013, current account customers have been able to switch to a new provider in 7 working days (before then the process could take anything between 18 and 30 working days).

It’s called the Current Account Switch Guarantee and means your new bank also takes care of moving all of your outgoing payments (think direct debits, standing orders etc.) as well as those coming in (like your wages).

What’s more, you get an automatic redirect on your old account for the first 13 months – so even if someone sends money to it, the cash will still find its way to your new account. It’ll even send the new account details to the sender.

The scheme has been popular. Between September 2013 and October this year, 1,203,334 switches were carried out. We took a look at which banks were the big winners and which were being deserted for pastures new. Halifax has benefitted most, while the Co-operative Bank has been hit hardest.

Where to go?

The real story though, is that because more people are switching current accounts, banks and building societies are having to offer more to keep their customers, or acquire new ones.

For example, just recently, Clydesdale Bank started offering £150 cashback to switch to its Current Account Direct for example. With an authorised overdraft rate of 9.9% EAR, it’s an account that could suit me. I am, after all, occasionally overdrawn.

First Direct’s 1st Account also offers a cash incentive (£125 if you apply before December 3 through MoneySuperMarket) for switching and charges no interest on the first £250 of its overdraft.

I’m particularly interested as First Direct is an online bank, and I can’t remember the last time I visited a branch anyway. It’s also known for its award-winning customer service.

I’m still undecided, and have some research to do yet – but I’m determined to give my bank the heave-ho. This means by next weekend I will be a customer with a rival current account provider and free from NatWest’s endless technical problems.
After all, if I’m still with NatWest for the next time there’s a technical problem, I’m going to be pretty disappointed with myself.

In your defence, NatWest…

In NatWest’s defence, I never had a single complaint about the bank up until 2012. Furthermore, its handling of complaints each time this has happened has been pretty great.

(A cynic might say it’s because it’s had so much practice.)

NatWest tweet reply

Nevertheless, farewell for now NatWest. You’re giving me no reasons to stay while other banks are giving me plenty of reasons to leave.

Please note: any rates or deals mentioned in this article were available at the time of writing. Click on a highlighted product and apply direct.

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