Customer Complaints: Does Your Bank Act Like a 3 Year Old?

Part 1:  How children behave

There was a little girl
Who had a little curl
Right in the middle of her forehead
When she was good she was very very good
And when she was bad she was horrid 


I didn’t really understand that nursery rhyme until I had daughters.  Now I have a couple of them and it is frighteningly clear.  The youngest is three years old, she has a mass of curly blonde hair and a cute smile. She is beautiful, most of the time.

But when she is bad, she is horrid.

She refuses to say “Sorry”, even when she has just tried to maim her sister with a Barbie doll.  The only sure fire way to get an apology is to sit her on the “naughty step” for 20 minutes and let her wail, scream and sulk.  Then, and only then, will she admit her failings, but I am not entirely sure she means it.

Part 2:  How banks behave

If you google “complaints data” you will find a raft of web pages.  They all have remarkably similar titles:

When you look at these pages they all tell you how many complaints they have had, what proportion of them were dealt with in 8 weeks and what proportion were upheld (the customer was found to have a valid complaint and was paid compensation).

Are you picking up a pattern yet?

In the UK the Financial Services Authority makes the banks publish these numbers.

Very roughly speaking the UK’s financial institutions deal with 80% of their customer’s complaints in 8 weeks (apparently 2 months isn’t long enough to deal with all complaints) and 50% of the time they find that the customer was right (or the bank was wrong).

That doesn’t sound great, but that isn’t the point of this post.  The really fascinating thing is that after the statistics the companies are allowed to comment.  The comments read a little like this:

“We go to great lengths to treat every complaint as quickly and as fairly as possible.  So you can see how we are doing we have provided a summary”


To put these figures into context we have over 32 million banking accounts and only 4 customers per 1,000 accounts contacted us to complain.”

To put a slightly different spin on those comments:

“I am only telling you this because the FSA makes me sit on the naughty step if I don’t.”


“It didn’t really hurt when I stabbed you in the eye with the Barbie Doll”

It is easy to take a pop at the banks, they are a big, slow moving target, but there are a couple of serious questions:

  1. If you found a bank that apologised for it’s mistakes and did something about them, (rather than ducking the issue), would you move your account to them?
  2. What does the way you deal with your customer’s complaints say about the organisation you work for?

Read another opinion

Image by jemsweb


  1. Hello James
    You make a great point. Financial services is an industry in which there really has been no choice because all the players have operated to the same rules. So whilst the service and value have been and continue to be dismal (from the customer perspective) customers have not bothered switching. Why go to all the hassle of switching (real or perceived) if you end up in the same position!

    Given that scenario the FSA has had to intervene and the banks do the bare minimum to comply. Insiders tell me that the threat of fines was not enough to get the banks to act. The threat of jail for directors was the instrument that got the directors to act to improve processes and start to the minimum they need to do to avoid going to jail.

    Let’s see what new entrants to the market (e.g. Metro Bank, Virgin Bank when it launches) do.


  2. James,

    Thanks for the video showing how young bankers behave when they have their bonus removed.

    Your post also started me wondering whether senior bankers all suffered olders sisters poking them in the eye with Barbie and are now passing that pain on vicariously?

    Maybe the solution is to ensure that demographic is fortified with Ken dollies early enough in life to avoid this sibling trauma which we then all suffer once their inevitable careers take off?


  3. Hi James,
    Speaks volumes as to how much the banks mentioned care about this when you look at how hard it is to find this data from the home page. Two are organised under ‘Contact Us’ and the other under ‘Citizenship’! Really?

    In answer to your first question, yes I think it would make a huge difference and yes I think people would switch.


  4. There’s so much appearing around banking and customer service / complaints recently – really interesting. The big banks often seem to do worst in terms of upheld complaints and customer experience with smaller start-ups and multi-channel providers receiving a lot of praise. Of course mistakes will be made and maybe the bigger your operation the more of those kind of logistical and administrative errors can happen, but your point James about how banks deal with these is the key I think. Is it a numbers game – the more customers you have the less each is worth to you and the less time you have to dedicate to each? But surely as you grow you scale up resources accordingly? It must be more about attitude and organisational culture, if the big players wanted to change things they surely could – in some ways it’s harder for them than smaller outfits, but their size makes them able (in fact critical) to invest in improvements doesn’t it? Especially when they see the results of all these reports?!

    We’re running a #switchbanks campaign which aims to get people encouraging each other to change banking providers if they are unhappy with the service they’re receiving, but also asking for nominations for who to switch to. You can send us your recommendations or stories to or alternatively tweet @CSUKTV using #switchbanks hashtag. Be great to hear some more personal stories & experiences.



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