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Spanish and Italian banks stepped up to support customers – why can't British ones do the same?


Most people dread receiving a phone call from their bank. Usually they only bring bad news, tales of fraud attempts and lost cash. But what if your bank was calling to check that your elderly relatives are coping with lockdown? Or to help you claim benefits after losing your job?

In Britain, banks have been enlisted to offer payment holidays to homeowners who are struggling to repay their mortgage. Financial firms have also waived overdraft charges and acted to help those struggling with credit card debt.

But providers in other countries are going above and beyond to make sure their customers are safe and financially secure.

Here, citizens who have lost their jobs have had to claim government benefits, often for the first time. But this has forced them to navigate the minefield that is Universal Credit on their own.

Elsewhere, banks have stepped in to help. The Commonwealth Bank of Australia has a benefits finder to help customers quickly establish what they can claim, based on their current finances. This has been upgraded as new government support packages have been announced.

In Italy, financial firms have agreed with local authorities to distribute prepaid debit cards to vulnerable citizens. This eliminates the need for the elderly to visit bank branches to claim state benefits. 

The elderly often rely on their local branch for banking services, but also for the human contact with friendly branch staff. This group is particularly vulnerable in the current crisis, given contact with others has been severely limited.

Financial analysts NelsonHall said that Spain’s CaixaBank is calling all customers who are aged over 75 and live alone to check on their wellbeing and offer financial assistance. The Commonwealth Bank is also calling 250,000 to customers who are not frequent users of online and telephone banking.

Even younger people have benefited from enhanced services. China Merchants Bank has upgraded its app to include non-banking services such as food delivery, recipes and online courses.

Official figures released this week showed that more customers are switching to app-only bank Monzo than any of its high street rivals. This shows that customers are looking for something that traditional banks are failing to offer.

Providing more support for customers is a win-win for banks. As well as helping citizens through a difficult time, banks will enjoy greater loyalty from customers they have helped tackle the crisis.

British banks such as NatWest, Royal Bank of Scotland and TSB should be applauded for being the first to offer mortgage breaks to customers, a week before the government instructed the rest of the industry to do so. But all banks should be asking; what more can we do for our customers?

Are you less than impressed with your bank’s customer service? Share your experience in the comments section below.


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