Monday, May 12, 2008

A few weeks ago, a Spanish reader wrote to highlight the success of the Santander Bank through its Abbey subsidiary in the UK. I didn’t bother to say then that the issue I have with Spanish banks is not profitability but customer service. So why am I mentioning this now? Because, passing a Santander hoarding this morning, my visiting brother-in-law volunteered there was massive criticism in the UK press of how Abbey was treating customers it had garnered via its exceptionally attractive special offers. What I’ve previously called the traditional Spanish catch ‘em-and then screw ‘em strategy. And this on the same day it’s reported BAA will probably have to sell Heathrow.

Anyway, we were, in fact, en route to the local hospital to have his painfully crocked back attended to and I have to record that the level of service there was exceptionally good. And nearly always provided with traditional Spanish charm. But they don’t need to have attractive introductory offers and then bleed you dry, do they?

Talking of comments to this blog - There was a brief exchange recently about the continuing importance of class in British society, in contrast with Spain. This is an article – albeit from a right-of-centre paper – which argues that the main problem the Labour party now has is that, between them, Mrs Thatcher and New Labour destroyed the class-basis of support for the left-of-centre party in Britain. The author writes - If we are to make sense of our political future, we must come to terms with the enormity of what has happened to Britain since 1979: class divisions, in the old sense, are pretty much dead. Social injustice is not a matter of the privileged classes exploiting the labouring ones. It is now a direct product of the manipulations of political policy - in education, in the tax and benefits system, and in the employment market. This is a truth pretty widely acknowledged by enlightened politicians of all parties. Politics is now an open contest between conflicting solutions to real problems in which parties must convince individual voters of the force of their arguments. We just might be on the verge of a triumph of reason over sentimentality. Would it be an exaggeration to say that Spain has been at this point for a long time? Or at least since 1976?

A note for dog owners: My old border collie started to stagger around last week as if he’d lost the power of coordination. But, after I’d taken off the Preventef flea-and-tick collar I’d recently put on him, the problem cleared up. So, if you have a pet which doesn’t have a drink problem but can’t put two legs in front of the others, you might want to check what chemical it’s exposed to.

The Anglo Galician Association – open to all who speak English – now has a Forum on the web. If you have a query about Galicia, why not register and post it.


Pedro J. said...

I´m a bit confused, In spain if you don´t like your bank or any other company providing you services you can just move to another. I guess in the UK it´s not like that and once you open a bank account or contract a mortgage you are condened to stay for life with that company.

It must be either that or that the Bristh are masochist. If not why Abbey rises it´s market share every month screwing customers like you say when they can move to british banks with great customer service and financial statements as Northen Rock or RBS??

By the way BAA is not forced to sell Heathrow, Which newspaper do you read??

moscow said...

I probably exagerated a bit. Then again, it was the article in the Guardian, not me. I don't know when things started to change in Spain. Some people point to the Second Republic and the ensuing civil war. But you will have to admit it is a tad curious how much the class issue is still at the forefront of political and social discourse in Britain - at least in the press -. If there is no problem, why write about it? Over the last 20 years or so a section of the UK media has specialised in writing articles declaring the death of "class as we knew it". My guess is that they will continue doing so for another twenty years.

Colin said...

Moscow, Yes I totally agree.

Colin said...


Tell me, with which British bank[s] are you condemned to keep your account or mortgage with for life?

As for Abbey, here's an extract from a recent Sunday Times article . . .
"So what exactly is going on at the bank? Is the vast improvement in its cost-income ratio another way of saying that it has ruthlessly cut costs and let customer service go to the wall? Are the staff suffering from morale problems? When is the bank going to start offering a decent level of customer service to all?

All banks have their problems from time to time; but what distinguishes Abbey from the rest is the sheer volume of complaints and the apparent inability to rectify mistakes. "

You can read it all here, if you like:-

Colin said...


And here's an article on BAA for you.

There are lots more, very similar.

Pedro J. said...


I was trying to be sarcastic with my comment. My question is, Why abbey is rising it´s market share when everyone compains about it´s curstomer service?

Why aren´t they losing their customers? why the ones losing customers are the wonderful customer service british banks?

Are the british customer masochism?

And once again no bristh govermnet agency or instition has said it would force ferroviar to sell heathrow. in case they want to break the sem-monopoly BAA jhas in UK they could force BAA to sell some airports but BAA would chose which airports.

Colin said...


It's not hard to attract customers by offering the highest interest rate. Since you cited them as a bad example, you will know that this is exactly what Northern Rock did.

mike the trike said...

Abbey National was a building society before it became a bank and I had my mortgage with them. Good service as a building society but not as a bank and I canceled my account. I had a bank account with Post Office Giro which was taken over by Alliance & Leicester formerly a building society and they screwed me up so badly when I moved to Spain I had to get an offshore account with Barclays. Midland bank was another crooked one as well. I have had a bank account with Caixa Galicia for 40 years and it serves me well.

Pedro J. said...

With a sligly diference, spanish banks can offer the best interest reate without putting in risk your money. Just have a look to the default and solvenxy ratio of spanish banks and compare to UK. you might be really surprised. sorry if a spanish bank give you more interest rate but do not offer you a cup of te when you open a bank account. Maybe in spain we think a bank is just a company to provide financial services....

Colin said...


You don't seem to understand.

No one is denying that the Spanish banking sector takes the country's best brains or that it is stable or
unprofitable. Quite the opposite. It's an impressive money machine.

What we are talking about is how it treats its customers.

Talk of things like a cup of tea do not help your case, I'm afraid.

The Spanish are completely entitled to think the level of service is fine by them. And I am entitled to think it isn't. For years BBVA allocated me a personal adviser in a private little cubicle and the guy was happy to spend an hour chatting to me [without a cup of tea, of course] but the service was crap and I eventually left, whereupon BBVA proved my point by charging me 700 euros simply to move my money from them to Citibank. As the woman at the counter said, 'You must really be unhappy with us to incur this penalty'. Which was probably illegal under EU rules. But highly profitable.

That's the last comment from me on this subject. I'm happy you are happy with your bank.

Jarroyo69 said...

This is the typical story.

1. Colin writes about how bad the Spaniards are, how they mistreat the custormers, how short-sighted they are...

2. Someone like pedro j. argues with intelligence, sense of humour and really knowing what he's talking about.

3. Colin starts to confuse eveything. He even replies to sarcastic statements as if they were writen seriously. Then he puts a lot of links to unrelated websites (they do not contain any information in contradiction with what pedro wrote) to end with something like:

"That's the last comment from me on this subject. I'm happy you are happy with your bank."

Which translates to "I don't argue with people who can prove me wrong, because even if he's right I'm not going to change my mind."

I bet pedro j. could explain to you how the Spanish regulations favoured solvent banks, how even small saving banks like Caixa Galicia have an outstanding rating even in these difficult times and why it is more likely to see episodes like the one with NR in the UK than in Spain.

But that's not what you want to believe so it's better to ignore it.

Colin said...

So why do you bother to keep reading?

Pedro J. said...

Colin, I don´t think the answer you gave jarroyo69 it´s the best way to keep your readers.

Colin said...

You're probably right. But it was very late last night and I was too tired to give my proper response. Which is . . .

My point is that I don't agree that just because a company has a lot of customers and is very profitable and financially sound means that it provides good customer service. Using this test, Telefonica, Carrefour and Corte Ingles would all be companies known for treating their customers well. In this house at least, they aren't.

And that's my second point - one's standards of service are subjective and born of one's personal experiences with a host of suppliers, possibly in different countries.

My third point is that I have no personal experience of Abbey's service but a little research [before I wrote my comment] confirmed that my brother-in-law's contention that it was getting a lot of stick in the UK for treating its new customers badly was correct.

I do have a lot of experience of the service of my UK banks, both personal and business [before I came to Spain]and this has been consistently excellent. And I haven't been unhappy with Citibank or ING since I moved my account from BBVA here in Spain. But other people will have different experiences [like Mike] and will have different views.

That's why I said I wasn't going to make further comments - it's an individual thing and I genuinely am happy for those folk who think Abbey, Telefonica, Carrefour and the Corte Ingles have excellent customer orientation. I don't - in the case of the latter 3 at least. And every time I go back to the UK and shop at Morrissons or Waitrose etc., I am reminded of the differences. Personal experience again. My visiting brother-in-law tells me that Tesco's services is crap. But I wouldn't know. I do know they are the leading supermarket in the UK and that they are very profitable and financially sound. Which takes us back to the beginning.

Anyone who thinks Tesco are wonderful is completely free to write and say so.

And, of course, anyone who disagrees with me is free to say that they like as a comment to this blog. Even if they have no chance of changing my mind . . .

Colin said...

. . . free to say what they like . .

mike the trike said...

I am not certain how much of their personal accounting Spaniards trust to their banks but in the UK many people do the majority of their personal accounting with their bank ie. monthly debits such as mortgage, house and car insurance, taxes to the town hall etc. If you don't get a good service and decide to change banks it is a real nightmare if you don't arrange the change to take place at the correct time. Several people I know have shifted their outgoings month by month to their new bank till the old bank is doing nothing for them then they close the account. Of course if you want to march into the bank and shut it down immediately they will oblige. How easy is it to do in Spain?

Colin said...

Actually, Mike, Citibank did all of this for me when I changed. I had several regular direct debit [domicilio] payments and they handled all the transfers from the BBVA to them. I think I just gave them copies of earlier receipts/ vouchers which contained all the details. That's one thing you're never short of in Spain, bits of paper to give to whoever wants them. Both BBVA and Citibank - and possibly every Spanish bank - mail you a voucher/chit for every single DD transaction - water co, gas co, electricity co, insurance co, medical insurance co, etc. I believe this is to give you the maximum chance of picking up errors/frauds so that you can reverse the payments within the statutory 15[?] days. As I say, everything went very smoothly with Citibank. Until it came to them issuing me with a credit card, when things went very awry and I had to make several visits to the bank and phone calls to sort it out.

Pedro J. said...

I don´t want to argue about this topic any more, but I´m citibank customer as well, and it is true staff is friendly. But it´s IT systems are in the stone age and the online banking looks like designed by 5 years old child. Apart of that the make many mistakes, like charging you fees incorretly. the only reason because I have an account with then as well is because I can withrow money in Vietnam free of charge. But if you want to know more about Citibank nighmares ask to the people working in the Spanish Economic and Commercial offices around the world.... Some of then are really scary.... By the way don´t be surprised if Citibank in Spain is sold to another bank, The jus anounced will sell 500 billions USD in assets worldwide.... Subprime expriments demmand cash.....

Mike, as Collin Said spanish banks are obviously always glad to help you to move your operations to it´s bank.

To finish this topic which is going nowhere, I must say what it might be a good customer service for a spaniard maybe doesn´t mean the same as for a British. Citibank staff is really helpfull but If I need something urgent their crap IT system don´t let then help me. If I need something urgent from Santander or Bankinter thy will do it for me just because they have de capability and ok, maybe they don´t smile as much and give so many explanations as in Citibank. But they are effective and that´s exactly what I need. So it´s probably just a matter of perception.