My love affair with Santander began many years ago when I started meeting some of their amazing people at the start of my journey of selling them Meniga’s PFM. Over time, many of those people became friends because it’s hard to resist bankers with such astoundingly large hearts. Don’t get me wrong, most banks have a contingent of great minds and fiery hearts, but in Santander the passion seemed to run through the veins of every department, from the digital crusaders to the procurement people. I quickly became a personal fan too, and switched my impossible-to-use-due-to-extreme-passwording (annus domini 2014, so no Touch ID) Lloyds account to a Santander one.
Many of the people I’ve worked with over the last few years have seen me use a folder I was forced to create on my phone to contain all the various Santander apps in one place (affectionately called “FFS Santander!”) as an example of what not to do as a bank, but that wasn’t me “the consumer” moaning, but the front-end strategist disagreeing with the scattered growth. Aside from that, though, as a consumer I had only one major complaint: that of having to call them to let them know I’m out of the country and will be using their card. So once a week, I’d be on the phone – sometimes for ages – to do so (typically on my way to the airport), or they would promptly block me out of funds because yanno, flagging that I’m the epitome of the frequent flyer, seemed to be too much to handle for their systems.
That was the only problem I really had, and if we accept Santander is simply not interested in air crew and the likes, it wasn’t an issue major enough to make me consider switching, chiefly because, as any other consumer, I didn’t think I could get better elsewhere. (Turns out that’s wrong: at least three UK banks let you tell them you’ll be away on-the-go.)
So all in all, Santander and I had settled into the lull of a semi-dysfunctional but comfortable long-term relationship, where the shine of young-love thrills had been replaced by torn corners of my debit card, and I had thought we’d be together till the day that I’ll choose my challenger bank and then amicably part ways. But then this happened …
On my way to Budapest to work with Unicredit a couple of weeks ago, I went through my normal round of Santander calls to ensure they wouldn’t cut me off. I was short for time, so didn’t even do my “you guys really need to sort this” litany, but hurriedly hung up as I passed through security, holding up the queue. I picked up my belongings, and as I ran to the aircraft, I logged into my Metro Bank business account application (which gleefully responded within milliseconds, causing me to fleetingly consider cheating on Santander), and sent my Santander debit account a few thousand pounds for various things. Having seen the confirmation of the transfer, I turned off my phone and settled into my Priority Boarding comforts.
Once at the hotel in Budapest, I decided to carry on with my on-the-move home accounting endeavour, thinking it can easily be done while I reapply make-up and get ready for dinner. In particular, as this should only be a couple of transfers, including a hefty one to the husband-come-PA, because he’s in charge of paying most of the bills, taking cash out for the Monzo-reluctant nanny (another story for another time), and so on.
Half absent-mindedly, I logged into Smartbank, clicked on Transfer, wrote down the amount and made to scroll down through my list of payees to find Husband’s Lloyds. Nothing to scroll down through. Huh? I put down the lipstick, sat down and gave it my full attention. Had they changed the interface and it now needed side scrolling? Had they made the payees’ names white-on-white? All possible scenarios, sadly. Nope. The payees’ field stared at me empty, surprised I quizzed it! Instead of the 6-7 names there all the time, I had nothing at all.
Feeling my blood pressure rising, I decided it’s likely easier to get online on my laptop and set him up as a payee again than try to deal with what has happened, and while I shoot him a WhatsApp asking him for a picture of his Lloyds card (because c’mon, security schecurity, I have bankers waiting with dinner!) I pop open the lid of my laptop and brace myself for the ordeal that’s going to the online bank in Santander while hoping things have miraculously changed since I was last there six months ago.
Nope, still there. The three incomprehensible blood-of-grandmother-type password steps, complete with gratuitous picture they made me choose for “personalisation” reasons, and an online-only password so painful to remember I have it written in my London office on an eternal Post-it. In hindsight, had I asked someone to take a picture of said Post-it and send it to me, I would have been in, and Bob may have been my banking uncle, but instead I risked it and, you guessed it, locked myself out of the online bank on the skippy. It was time for the last resort.“Hi, I need to keep this brief, as I’m calling you from Hungary and I’m in a hurry. You guys ‘vanished’ my payees from the mobile app for no good reas…” “Oh hello. My name is Charlie. I’ll need to walk you through some security first.” “Awesome. Let me save you some time – name is, date of birth is, address is, and tell me what number letters you need.” “2nd, 5th and 6th.” “7, 4, 1.” “Excellent! How can we help you today, Mrs Blomstrom?” “As I said, I got into my mobile app and have no payees, so I can’t…” “Oh I’m sorry to hear that. That’s strange. I will have to move you to the team dealing with the mobile app.” “No, wait! I don’t need that. They can’t magically reinstate them for me! I need to register at least another one tonight. Can I do it with you on the phone, please?” “Oh no, I’m afraid we cannot do that. But you can do it in the onl…” “…online bank. I know. I tried. I didn’t get your impossible online password right, so I locked myself out.” “Oh OK, that’s not ideal. What I can do is send you another temporary password for the online bank.” “Excellent! Email or SMS?” “Oh no, I’m afraid we can’t do that m’am. This will be in the regular mail.” “WHAT?!? Leave alone how ridiculous it is to send a password for online in the mail, that won’t do me any good as I need to transfer money tonight!” “Yes well, let me explain. Once the password is sent in the mail, we can reset it for you from here, so I’m trying to get you in tonight.” “Oookaay … that’s just dumb, but sure, go ahead and send it.” “OK m’am. Please give me your address.” “It’s probably XYZ in the system, but I moved to ABC.” “What?!? You moved and never went to the branch to sort the new address?” “Yes, well I’m sorry. It’s been a busy few weeks. Let’s just change it now.” “I’m sorry, that will not work. You have to go into a branch to do a change of address.” “OK, well never mind. Forget I said that. Send the password to the address you have.” “I can’t do that, m’am, since you just admitted you don’t reside there.” “OK, but you said it doesn’t matter and we can change the password through a reset link!” “Yes, but not if I cannot send the password by mail. And I cannot.” “Are you friggin’ kidding me?! It’s now been three hours of me trying to make one payment!” “I’m sorry, m’am.” “OK listen, what can we actually do? If you can’t set up the payee, can you at least make this one-time transfer?” “Over the phone? No, I’m afraid it has to be on the mobile app or inside the on…” “You must be joking! What am I supposed to do?” “I’m afraid you will have to go to a branch, m’am.” “I’m not even in the country! Are you saying you will keep my money prisoner till I get back because your entire system is crap?!” “No, I am just…” “This is not acceptable! I need a solution! Either you make a transfer or I am done with you guys!” “M’am – shall I patch you through to our complaints department?” “Yes! Wait! No!” “Hello? We understand you’re not happy with the online banking service?” “What? No! That’s not it. Never mind. Done with you people. I want to close my account!” “May I ask why?” “No. I am seriously done. Send me my CDs back done, you can have your leather jacket, done. It’s over. Finito. Kaput.” “Well OK … I’m just asking if I can I help … ” “You cannot. Your back-end sucks so bad that you managed to lose entries in the database, developed online as yet another separate endeavour with no connection to the same security system, and built a login process so painful it makes grown men cry, and topped it all of with extreme phone channel impotence. I am serious, I want to close my account with Santander and switch to a real bank.” “Well if you’re sure, m’am. You can close your account at any of our branches. Would you like me to provide you with a list of the closest ones to you?”
So there you have it. My Disney fairytale ending of switching to the most valiant challenger, or even, if they didn’t prove themselves before Santander caught up, staying with my bank till AI, PSD2 and blockchain did us part, will never be.
And I did go to a branch. I went to several. A Santander one to change my address, otherwise I couldn’t switch, and then a NatWest one (don’t judge!) for a strangely enjoyable long, cathartic chat with my local banker over a cuppa, about how others did me wrong and what a lovely future we’ll have together.
Goodbye, Santander. We can’t stay friends. It wasn’t me, it was you.
– This article is reproduced with kind permission. Some minor changes have been made to reflect BankNXT style considerations. Read more here. Main image: Jesus Sanz, Shutterstock.com