Santander – the worst bank in the UK, really?

Santander has been getting a lot of flack in the press recently.  In fact the Guardian newspaper wrote the following article: “Is Santander Britain’s worst bank?” The article points out that Santander has the highest rate of complaints (per thousand customers) and that this situation has been going on since about 2007.  Yet, the same article points out that Santander has gained over 1 million customers last year and it has a number of products that are considered to be best-buy products.

At about the same time, I received the following document from Santander.

I started banking with Abbey (one of the banks purchased by Santander) over 20 years ago and on the whole things have worked out pretty well.  Yet, at best, I have had what I would describe as a distant, transactional, relationship with Abbey and then Santander.  After all, despite the advertising, one bank is simply like any other.  They are all concerned with making the most money they can from me and it is up to me to look after myself.

Then this document arrived in the post and frankly I could not believe my eyes.  Santander is being helpful.  It is telling me that I can cut down the amount of interest I pay on my mortgage if I take a number of reasonable actions.  Actions they know that I can take – clearly Santander has done its homework.

With this document I find myself facing  cognitive dissonance: trying to reconcile the view that Santander is supposedly the UK’s worst bank and at the same time it is writing to me to provide advice that will help me and ‘cost’ Santander.

Whilst I have yet to make sense of it, I do know that my attitude towards Santander has changed.  I actually feel gratitude.  Is this the start of an emotional bond?

What is the lesson?

I believe that the fundamental lesson for banks (and all other organisations) that want to create loyalty is to be helpful proactively. Use the information and expertise that you have to create value for your customers.  Most will remember and reciprocate by staying with you longer, recommending you and buying more from you in the longer term.




Author: Maz Iqbal

Experienced management consultant. Passionate about enabling customer-centricity by calling forth the best from those that work in the organisation and the intelligent application of digital technologies. Subject matter expert with regards to customer strategy, customer insight, customer experience (CX), customer relationship management (CRM), and relationship marketing. Working at the intersection of the Customer, the Enterprise (marketing, sales, service), and Technology.

10 thoughts on “Santander – the worst bank in the UK, really?”

  1. I have been with Abbey/Santander for over 25yrs, but NOT for much longer!
    I have so many unresolved issues and problems that even their Customer Complaints Department cannot seem to resolve these issues!!!
    It all started in March 2011 when my wife and I went to our local branch of Santander to open an ISA for my wife & myself for the year 20010/11 and to arrange to use the next years allowance 2011/12. They managed to mess this up big style, so much so we had to return to the local branch 4 times to get it resolved!
    They advised us to change our savings account and our everyday account. This too was well & truly screwed-up! It is that bad that I wrote to the CEO and it has been passed onto another department to resolve and to date(17/5/2011) it has still not been resolved.
    It is incredible that Santander can be so innept and so disorganised, each department does not know what the other is doing and they dont share information and seem to run their own way.
    When I telephoned to complain(over 20 times) to various departments, half of my calls were “dropped” and I was left disconnected!! They people answering the calls were rude, obnoxious, unhelpful and awkward. Call staff must be under pressure to answer a certain number of calls per hour/shift and if the call is difficult or complex “you get cut off and the line goes dead!!!” Im going to be an ‘ex-customer’ of Santander once this is resolved, but somehow I dont hold out much hope!!!
    Jon Spencer…..


    1. Hello Jon
      I am sorry to hear of your bad news. Your experience reminds me of an experience I had some years ago with the Abbey credit card. I was hit with a charge of some USD12.00 about five months after I had transacted with a particular American hotel. I disputed this charge and refused to pay until and unless evidence was provided that it was a valid transaction and I had authorised it.

      Well I was passed from one dept to another and like you I did not get any help. In the meantime I kept getting threatening letters. After all kinds of calls and formal letters I had to write to the Banking Ombudsman and make a formal complaint. That brought matters to an end. I got a written apology and a paltry amount of money with it. I ended up cutting up my credit card in two and cancelling the credit card. I have continued to be a banking customer because that part of Abbey has delivered and never caused me any problems.

      The fact is that the financial services industry is not competitive. It makes it money by exploiting and manipulating customers. That is a fact. And all the big banks run on the same business model and the same level of ethics (none). As customers we continue to fall for the tricks and the banks continue to play the tricks!

      I will be writing a post specifically on the financial services industry in the future so watch out for it.

      Finally, I thank you for taking the time to share your story and I wish you the very best.



  2. santander has not improved in my opinion.
    on citywire victoria bischoff reports santander as 31% less complaints.
    the reason maybe because customer complaints service put so many obstacles in your way
    to stop the complaint going forward,i not surprised complaints have dropped.
    i speak from exprience here,having to report the complaint to the financial ombudsman.
    as i couldn’t even get the complaint to stage one.
    what concerns me is its as easy to do it properly as badly.
    because unresolved complaints cost more in money and time in the long run.


    1. Hello George
      I totally agree with you view that “unresolved complaints cost more money and time in the long run”. That is a common sense view. Yet, there are some indicators that the banks have deliberately made the process hard knowing that many customers will simply give up. How many customers who have complaints end up going through the cumbersome process to end up at the FSA? I suspect a tiny fraction of those who have a genuine complaint.

      As for your experience, it reminds me, now, of an experience I had with the credit card side of Abbey. To get my issue resolved (it was a matter of principle) I had to go through many calls, letters etc over a period of months to get a charge ($11) struck off because it was not valid in my view. Abbey would not budge and kept telling me to sort it out with the retailer. In the process they ended up whacking me with big charges for non-payment of this amount. After six months or so I got utterly fed up and contacted the FSA. Only when it got there did Abbey then apologise and concede defeat. I simply cut up my credit card and closed my credit card account. Who wants to do business with a company like that. I continue my banking arrangements with the Abbey (Santander) because in that area Abbey does a good job and has looked after me.

      All the best George and thank you for adding to the conversation. Please do stop by and add your voice, I’d be happy to hear it.



  3. I have now made the decision to leave Santander also, I was originally an Alliance and Leicester customer and have been with them for over 24 years. I too had a credit card zero, due to a problem in June/July, my credit file was affected by another banking company (which was sorted out in 30 days after going via correct channels), however during the time it was affected, Santander wrote to me to advise me that the APR on my Zero card was being increased from 18.9% to 29.9%, I was given until the 26th October to opt out the increase, the letter pre-stated that this was a result of my credit file being changed. I spend 2 months trying to contact them to talk to a ‘person’ to get this looked at, in that time all I got was computer printed letters stating they were in the rights to update my APR, I was given mis-information, told to write to the underwriters, even told to opt out and then call back after a certain date to opt back in. None of these yielded any results, on later calls I was told these ideas were not allowed, certain calls I was told they had no recollection of that call. and the last letter I got was addressed to me, the letter content was correct, but the card number quoted was NOT my card number! So they had actually printed someone else’s card number (luckily the two middle blocks of numbers were replaced by xxxx so there was no security breach.) Even the Financial Ombudsman has not had a reply to the ticket I raised 2 months ago. They have even stated in letters ‘we tried to contact you but had no reply’. I have wasted 2 months+ trying to resolve this, and I give up. As an Alliance and Leicester customer I had been with them since the 80’s and had excellent service, and whilst this was the credit card section, to me they are all under the same name now, so I expect the same courtesy and personal attention. If my other financial company who fixed my credit file can do this in 30 days and speak to me personally, why can’t they. No verbal communication, no person to chat to, no effort to even investigate or even address my issues. Customer Services is lousy. I cant fault the bank side, but I am afraid I judge them as a company based on their total service and this has failed. After 2 months of chasing them, I emailed, and was told ‘raise a complaint on the web site’, I HAD!, I told them I had, and got another email to say it was passed to someone senior who would contact me, no one did, and the same email said ‘raise a complaint on the web site’ . This is actually the short version of my dealings with them, there is a whole issue I still need to resolve that seems to be related to a revolving loan I had with Cahoot that was migrated into Santander as part of the takeover, whilst my credit file with Experian is now correct, it seems my credit file with Equifax has an issue over some revolving loan I had, since the only loan I had called Revolving was with Cahoot/Santander, I can only assume its that. The only way for me to find out, is to now register with Equifax and see whats happening, additionally the loan which was settled in July 2011, is still not showing settled with Experian, despite the fact I have confirmation letters and a closed statement from Santander. I have repeatedly requested Santander to flag it settled, but after 3 attempts, its has STILL not been updated with Experian. I still have to sort these out at more call expense and hassles/stress, but in the mean time Cya Santander!


  4. As a follow on to my earlier posting, I had a letter today to state that they investigated the case, and when I signed for the card it was explained to me that this was a promotion and only valid until June 2011, this would have been explained to me at the time I got the card (erm, no it wasn’t). They also suggested if I wanted to take this further to raise this with the financial ombudsman. If this information had been made available to me at the start, certainly I would not have wasted months ringing them, but instead gone straight to them and disputed the fact at no time was I advised it was a Promotional APR. I still don’t really believe that (I have my reasons). Additionally at no time in any of the letters from them have they referred to the Financial Ombudsman case number, so I don’t think any letters I had from them are even related to that either. I have now forwarded all the paperwork to them for their adjudicator to investigate. The problem is customers want to feel that they are special and each problem they have is investigate by a person, computer generated letters are not the way to go, they are in some way impersonal, and you never feel like you are talking to someone who is up to date with your case/issues. Each time you call, its a different person, they each have different answers and suggestions and on follow up calls, the new person you speak to, has no reference to this or what was discussed, and in some cases that is disputed, leading to frustration, annoyance and anger.


    1. Hello Chris

      I believe that I get where you are coming from ahd your statement “The problem is customers want to feel that they are special….” gets to the issue. You and I, to ourselves, are the world and we want companies to treat us that way. Furthermore we are social creatures who are most comfortable talking with human beings who can see us and have the savvy to respond flexibly – especially if they can see and feel our ‘pain’. Yet big institutions especially banks are not set up for that. These organistions treat as as numbers rather than fellow human beings – what is missing is empathy and compassion. Furthermore, the banks have done remarkably well by treating us indifferently and making money from our ignorance and laziness so why change now? You are leaving Santander and going to another bank. Someone will be leaving that bank and going to Santander – so from the bank’s point of view the books balance.

      I wish you the best and thank you for sharing your story. My experience is that it is worth pursuing your case to the Financial Ombudsman. A few years back I did have an issue with Abbey (a trifling amount $13 charged to my credit card without my authorisation and I refused to settle it without proof that I had authorised that transaction) and in the end I had to go the Financial Ombudsman. It seemed a lot of work. Yet, in the end I had the satisfaction of winning and then tearing up my Abbey credit card. Having said that I have always been treated well by the banking and mortgage divisions.



  5. Maz – what’s your opinion on Santander long-term? Do you think they’re acting on this wave of customer dissatisfaction? It’s getting to a point that the bad word of mouth is damaging their reputation with Joe Public and I don’t see any marketing strategy designed to counteract it (yet). Or does Santander believe (in a short-termist vision) that they’re ‘getting by’ sufficiently for it not to matter?


    1. Hello and thanks for taking the time to read the blog and ask the question.

      I believe in being straight with people and given that context my answer is that I do not know what Santander is up to, why they are doing whatever they are doing and how much commitment there is to doing right by the customer and repairing their reputation. From where I sit I cannot see a compelling reason for Santander to doing anything drastic quickly: most of the banks sit on their laurels becuase they run an oligoply between themselves. Furthemore, most of us customers sit on our laurels – continue to bank with our existing bank no matter how badly we are treated.

      One aspect of your question caught my attention: “marketing strategy designed to counteract it(yet)”. My point of view is that this is more a leadership, culture and operational issue than a marketing strategy issue. If left to their own devices the marketing function is most likely to come up with a advertising or PR campaign to put over the latest Santander message. What is needed is action not talk. That action starts from the very top. Lets, take a look at Starbucks.

      When Starbucks fell from the stratosphere Howard Schultz (the man who stood for the vision that Starbucks became) stepped out of the Chairman’s seat and the CEO’s seat. He led from the front including replacing many people at the Top who did not want to or could not play in the new story. A story around customer experience – one customer, one cup at a time. Not only did some people have to be replaced, organisational priorities had to be and were changed: from growth no matter what it takes to what the company had originally stood for – great coffee, good customer service, a memorable experience, a third place. Furthermore, the morale and the skill levels of the front line people had to be restored. And so Shultz took the decision to close all of the stores for one day so that all the barista could be educated and trained in how to make the right coffee and create the right experience.

      I wish you well



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