I know, kicking the Co-operative Bank is like being horrible about Princess Catherine, Julie Andrews and Alan Bennett all rolled into one. But there is time for just a little scepticism, and here it is.
The Co-op Bank was the main beneficiary from the Great Banking Collapse in 2008. If you wanted a half-way decent bank, with scale enough to have some branches, and with an ethical core - where else was there to go? I know, there's Triodos (but they don't do business accounts), and Metro (not bad but still to prove themselves when I was looking around), and Ecology Building Society (perhaps a bit too small)....
I dumped HSBC for my current account, because they closed my local branch. I dumped Woolwich because, well, Barclays swallowed them whole and closed them down. So now I have four different Co-op accounts, plus ISAs, plus goodness knows what.
Their big advantage - and it is a big one, and the reason I stay with them - is that they have a human call centre, with real people who have the power to help you, and based somewhere particular (Manchester).
But I have three gripes with the Co-op, and they are irritating me increasingly.
1. Like the old-fashioned burglar banks, Co-op has taken to pretending that I can only have an overdraft limit for a year - and then they charge me £20 for administering its renewal every February. I have never asked them to re-administer it, yet still they do it. There is an infuriating dishonesty about this which enrages me once a year, every February.
2. What I really want from the Co-op, and which I have got from everywhere else I have ever banked with, is monthly bank statements for each account. This turns out to be impossible. When the computer gets to the end of the page, they send it to me. A few days later, I get another page, for no obvious reason, with just a few transactions on. I have asked for monthly statements, because it helps me keep track, but this is apparently impossible. It is also a staggering waste, which probably covers my extra £20 I pay them a year.
3. I also have a Co-op ISA, which I find is invested in many of the least ethical companies, including Big Oil and monopolistic supermarkets, and the most destructive banks too. So I wrote to Co-op Bank asking them if their ethical standards also applied to joint ventures with other financial companies, like their ISAs. I got no reply. I have written twice more to named individuals at their head office. Still no reply. What I don't know is whether they are too embarrassed, too confused or too lazy to reply.
Because of this lack of response, I have not yet asked them the question I really want to ask. Why are some of my transactions re-ordered on the statement so that the biggest debits come first?
Is it, I want to know, that they have become such a Big Bank that they now use the 'high to low transaction re-ordering' software used to maximise banking charges by so many big American banks - because if you put the biggest debits first, there is usually more income from bank charges as a result?
I have no idea whether this is the explanation, but would very much like to know. Because if it is, I'm off. Human call centre or no human call centre...
William Cowper's summerhouse and pet hares
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