Belfast Telegraph

Mutuals must remove barriers to customers

By Julian Knight

It is the time of the year when I start to look at which cash individual savings account (Isa) to put my hard-earned money into.

Unfortunately, the cupboard is bare this year as far as rates are concerned.

In fact, wherever I look, I can only see returns which are below inflation – which effectively means I am losing money.

Normally by now we see firms beginning to offer more tempting deals, but with the Bank of England printing such huge sums of new cash, it seems that many banks and building societies really don't need our few grand here or there.

But there is something else at play: perhaps certain financial institutions just don't have the technical know-how to actually offer good, easy-access Isas online?

I had some interesting research through from Transform UK which advises on how financial firms deal with customers online. It lambasted Britain's mutual sector for having 'antiquated and badly developed' IT, making it a wearisome experience for savers looking to deposit money online.

In one case, Transform found that an average saver would have to answer 31 questions online before being told to fill out a form and send it in. Contrast this with National Savings, which checks the electoral roll to confirm identity rather than asking people to send in original, sensitive, personal identification.

It seems odd a government body such as National Savings can do this, but mutuals (including building societies and credit unions) need to ask dozens of questions. When you are paying people below inflation in terms of interest rates, then it seems a further insult to drown them in bureaucracy and unnecessary complexity.

I really think Britain's mutual are missing a trick here. If they can't pay the best rate, they ought to at least try and be the most open and welcoming to new money.

Belfast Telegraph

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