The premise: I got a contracting gig.
The daunting task: I needed a business account to be paid into!
And of course, everything that I could do wrong, I did very very very wrong. Three weeks on, I still did not have a business account, but I did have an appointment.. Two further weeks away…
Beware: this is a long story, so I have tried to cut it up into little episodes. The punchline? Oh fine. Go check out Metro bank’s human approach to banking. They’re not like other banks. The tagline is spot on. As for my adventure…
Right away, I walked into nearly every bank branch I could see on the King’s road.
HSBC: strike 1 – walking in
Started with HSBC. A girl behind a podium was talking on the phone. A guy accosted me, I told him I was after a business account, and he asked me to wait in a little seating area, as the girl would book an appointment for me. I sit. I wait. Within 5min, there are 6 people queueing in front of the podium. The girl is still on the phone. I realise that I’d have to wait for all those people to talk to her before I take my turn (despite being there first), and decided to cut my losses, and walk out. Plenty of banks on the high street.
Lloyd’s got a shot, but nobody to talk to
Next up: Lloyd’s TSB. It was right across the street. I walk in. There’s a queue for the counters. NO “business” section that I can tell, no greeter to direct you. About 4 people at desks in the “lobby” area, on the phone, looking at their papers, or talking to each other, clearly absorbed, looking up, seeing me, going back to their discussions. I look around for a couple of minutes. Didn’t even spot a business banking brochure. Walk out.
NatWest didn’t stand a chance
There’s a NatWest, but I decided nearly 7 years ago never to bank with them. They required half a dozen letters to change an address, were incapable of changing an account from “student” to “regular”, and generally were slow and incompetent in doing anything at all.
HSBC: strike 2 – walking in elsewhere
On my way home, I popped into the HSBC across the street from me. Near the back, I was hoping to find the “business” section, and sure enough there were desks, partitions, and a couple of staff at work. I was accosted by a greeter, told him what I was after, and received some depressing information. For one thing, the business manager for the REGION (?) is too busy and not in branch often enough, and definitely not right now. I would need to call (an 0845 service helldesk number) and set an appointment with him. This would be at least a week or two away and of course during business hours. Entirely unhelpful, and nothing I couldn’t do on my own from any phonebox in the UK. I walked out, again.
Barclays: well done – ish. I got an appointment
The funny thing is, I crossed the street, and walked into Barclays. There was a greeter. She told me to queue, and that the person at the till could book an appointment for me. I queued, gave some information, and did in fact get an appointment for late the week after. That should have been good. Except it was in that branch, near my house, and I wasn’t going to take a 3 hr lunch to get this sorted. First contracting job. You don’t do that. I applied online in the interim… Should have worked… But…
A twitter call
That week, I put out a twitter call, mentioning the big banks I was willing to give my money to, to see who would reply. Santander was the most responsive. Lloyd’s sent me a link to a page I couldn’t make enough sense of. HSBC bombarded me with 0845 numbers (not going to happen, loves, not going to happen). And Barclays sent me a link to a nice and tidy page that I knew what to do with. So…
Barclays: online application No.1
That weekend, the bank holiday weekend in fact, (22nd August?) I applied online for a business account with Barclays. I figured if anything, when the appointment rolled up that week, maybe I could take a shortcut and set it up faster by virtue of all the information being in the system already. I got an application code. I waited. More than a week later (Monday?) I got a call from them, telling me “there is a conflict in the information, but we can’t tell you what it is for security reasons, you need to come in”. I could guess what that was, an unchanged address on an old, currently unused, credit card I have with them. I asked how long before an appointment was available, and was advised to just re-apply online, because that should go through faster. As opposed to two weeks away.
HSBC strike 3: You’re OUT
After the call from Barclays, I decided to give HSBC one last shot. If I need an appointment anyway to expedite things, then let’s see when I can get one. I wait a while on hold, and then get through to a loud real-estate-agent kind of guy. He asks me for all sorts of details. Nearly 10min in, I find out the nearest appointment is more than two weeks away. I thank him and hang up. Thank goodness, because today a friend told me that HSBC have a practice of “mothering” your finances if your personal and business accounts are both with them, and occasionally hurting your credit rating. For fun? To lose customers? Who knows. I’ll stay with them for now, because their web banking is the best i’ve seen. But I’m leaving as soon as I find something better.
Barclays: online fail 2
I applied for Barclays banking again, online. (5 Sept). This was on a Thursday. Monday, being a bit stressed about them having messed up once, I called their business line. Ended up spending about 35min on the phone, alternating between music, a lovely person in business operations, and a stressed, call-centre-like script-reading everyone-is-screaming-around-me person, who restarted my application from scratch for the THIRD time on the phone. She booked me an appointment, for 11 days later. Ironically, on the last day of my contract (the one that got me needing a bank account in the first place). She also told me that I had applied for a sole trader account, not a limited company account. Which is odd, as I vividly remember the painful information entry of dates of starting trade, incorporated name, and so on. And a checkbox. I’m sure there was a checkbox. Which means one of two things: either I did this application wrong TWICE. (Both codes i got were of this format) Or their application system is broken.
Metro bank: not like other banks
Today, on my way in to work, I noticed that Metro bank was open. Last week, a waiter in a nearby restaurant recommended them based on opening hours (Sundays! Late evenings!) and other helpful practices. So I walked in. There were 4 staff at the counter. They paused when I walked up. One of them asked me what I needed. I told them I was after a business account, and could I get an appointment. Apparently, you don’t need one! “we’re not like other banks”. I’ll say!! You can walk in, make sure you allow 1 hr to do the paperwork, bring in 3 pieces of documentation, and you’ll have a running account by the end of the day! Genius!
in the race against time…
So right now, I have two options, and it’s a race that Barclays has most likely lost. Sunday, when I get back from a business trip, I’m going to take all those papers and go to Metro Bank, see if I can set up the business account. If I can, I’m going to call Barclays (or tweet them, they are helpful-ish on twitter. Metro Bank are nicer!!) and cancel that month-in-the-making appointment. I hope they ask me why. So I can say: “because you are too 20th Century, mechanised, but SLOW”.
Update: metro bank won. I walked in on that Sunday and got nearly everything sorted. A lot of paper forms to fill by hand. Double proof of address required given a recent move. So i had to come back Monday evening. Overall, it must’ve taken me 2.5hrs to open a bank account. That’s without counting the waiting time! (About 45min each visit). But hey. On the upside. I got a bank account opened before the day of my Barclays appointment!!! So yeah. Go check out Metro bank. And if you’re not convinced? Business accounts have free withdrawals abroad. No more extortionate bank fees for paying for things!!
And for the Social mavens? They do that nicely too. Look, they even pay attention!!