The banks with great customer service

julia kukiewicz
By Julia Kukiewicz

customer service

CURRENT accounts are our financial bedrock, our most used financial products.

So why are we so willing to settle for shoddy service, poorly explained overdraft rates and unfair charges?

Research into the current account market by the Competition and Markets Authority shows that 57% of us have had our current accounts for more than a decade - but only half of us say we're satisfied with the service we receive.

What makes it all the more mystifying is that there are some clear winners and losers in this field: banks and building societies that are well known for having great customer service and those falling way below par.

Current accounts with great customer service

The trouble, of course, is knowing which account really has the best customer service. No bank sticks a "we're only ok" sticker on their deals, after all.

We've ranked them below based on the latest results from three of the biggest customer service surveys out there, from Moneysavingexpert (MSE), Moneywise and Which? as well as complaints data from the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS).

Banks ranked

Says who? Problems?
1. First Direct MSE (1st for great service)
Which? (82%)
Moneywise (2nd for service overall)
Online only
£10 monthly fee unless paying in £1,000/month
2. Metro Bank Which? (73%)
Moneywise (1st for service overall)
Barely any complaints to the FOS
Few branches, concentrated around London and south east England
3. Nationwide MSE (2nd for great service)
Which? (69%)
Moneywise (3rd for service overall)
4. TSB MSE (5th for great service)
Which? (68%)
Moneywise (4th for service overall)
5. Santander MSE (3rd for great service)
Which? (62%)
Moneywise (5th for service overall)
Seventh most complained about to Ombudsman

These general rankings are only of limited use, however.

For specific features to look for in an account or in online banking services click through on the right.

And note that most of these surveys are based on subjective assessments from account holders. A poor score is likely to be indicative of bad service but it's not the final word.

See more on how the research above is carried out below.

Special mentions

Just a few years back Santander had consistently poor scores for their customer service, and of the providers listed above they still get the most complaints made to the FOS. But both Which and MSE have rated them highly for the past two or three years, so they're clearly doing something right.

It used to be that Metro Bank were complete strangers to the FOS's list of complaints data by individual businesses - but now they've started to appear in the twice-yearly table.

They still have a pretty impressive record though: the Ombudsman only include companies that have been the cause of at least 30 complaints in each six month period, and in the data up to the end of 2015, Metro Bank had only managed to provoke 53 complaints in total.

First Direct rarely appear in such tables, but it's worth remembering that any complaints made about them could be cloaked by the fact that they're a part of HSBC - who prompted almost 11,000 complaints over the same period.

And those worth avoiding

Banking and credit card customers of Barclays Bank took the most complaints to the FOS in the six months until the end of 2015.

Customers of NatWest, Lloyds, Bank of Scotland - and HSBC - made the next biggest number of complaints, and all five were in the bottom half of the Which table.

Just outside the top (bottom?) five, in seventh place, are Santander. This shows one of the problems of relying on stats: Santander have seen a massive increase in customer numbers in the past few years, and bigger banks get more complaints.

With the data we have it's difficult to quantify how many customers are simply contented, rather than bouncing-off-the-walls happy.

The MSE poll does attempt to make this distinction. Although we concentrated on people that rated their bank as "great" in the top five above, many banks did very well if we combine their "ok" and "great" scores.

By that measure, the poll showed that 80% of Barclays customers, and more than 85% of Natwest, Lloyds, HSBC and Bank of Scotland customers are satisfied, for example - although the top five in our list all scored more than 93% by that measure.

Surveying the surveys

No survey of customer satisfaction can hope to be completely unbiased and comprehensive which is why we've taken several into account.

The three surveys come from a broad sample of current account customers, as follows:

MSE exclude banks that receive fewer than 100 votes from their poll - so well regarded regional providers and newer banks are far less likely to appear. By comparison, Which? include banks that had just 39 customers among their sample group.

They also quantify satisfaction in different ways: Moneywise ask for the top or most trusted providers; Which? use an overall satisfaction scale and ask how likely members are to recommend their bank to a friend while MSE ask for a "great", "ok" or "poor" rating.

And unless they're shining beacons of customer service, the biggest banks will almost inevitably get the most complaints.

Add to this the fact that the FOS only get involved when people are dissatisfied with the way their bank has attempted to resolve any issues.

Imagine for a moment: there's a bank that is unusually brilliant and has pretty good customer service as well. They don't therefore get that many complaints, but when they do they're abysmal at handling them - with the result that almost all of them end up with the regulator.

It's not highly likely, but it is possible.

We'd expect the general level of complaints to correlate with those being made to the Ombudsman, but there's no guarantee.