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High street banks sapping enthusiasm from business

High street banks sapping enthusiasm from business

My own experience with three leading high street banks. Their incompetence surprised me.

Published on
November 2016

I recently opened a business bank account with a major high street bank. I was so surprised by the process, that I thought I'd conduct a little experiment... so I applied with two more high street banks.


My first application was to HSBC. I was looking for the path of least resistance. Ok, I was being lazy. I’ve been a personal customer of HSBC for nearly 20 years, and I thought this would save me having to prove my identity. Nothing more to it.

I completed the online application. It took about 30 minutes and included the normal drop-down boxes and inside leg measurements. Nearing the end it sent a message to my personal online banking to verify that I was who I said I was – We were all pleased with the result!

The pretty red progress bar showed we had now reached the “decision” stage. The excitement was building! … and then the excitement quickly faded. I received a nice email saying “We just want to confirm that the account application on behalf of XYZ Limited has been successfully saved”. Apparently if I have forgotten my memorable word, I should call their “trained specialists”. Ok then. Now we wait.

The next day I had a voicemail from HSBC, please call them and quote my 15 digit application reference. Ok then. I called the number. Perhaps they had a query, the website had said “ We may however need to call you when we are reviewing your application”. I can’t get through. In the meantime I’ve received an email “Please do not reply to this email, replies sent to this email address will not be responded to.” Good start, do go on. “We have recently tried to contact you regarding your HSBC business account application.” Yes, yes you did – I tried to call back. “We need to confirm some additional information with you before we can confirm if the account can be opened.” Aha! I thought so, let’s see what they need.

After two attempts and 15 minutes on hold, I speak to a human. He would like to book me in to speak to one of their business advisors to go through my application. No, no, they don’t need any additional information, they haven’t looked at it yet.

The patronising gentleman informs me that “Yes, because you chose to complete the form online, we need to go through your application with you over the phone to make sure it is complete”

  • “Is this a credit decision, because I don’t really need a company credit card, I’ll just settle for a bank account?” I said. I was getting worn down already.
  • “No, this is normal procedure to open a business bank account, we need to go through your application with you over the phone”
  • “How long will the call take?”
  • “About 5 to 10 minutes”
  • “But I’ve spent 20 minutes on the phone to you today…”
  • “I’ll have to arrange for one of our business advisors to call you”
  • "So I've spent 20 minutes on the phone today to book in a 10 minute appointment in a week's time."
  • "Yes"
  • "And your customers are normally happy with this process, are they?". I was getting snippy by now.
  • "Yes". He thought I was being difficult.

I could see I was getting nowhere. Sighing, I agreed for them to call me back… in a week’s time (“We’re getting a lot of people applying for business accounts right now”).

So HSBC are not even going to look at my "online" application until they've had a phone call with me. I've spent 20 minutes on the phone to book in this 5 minute phone call. In the meantime they've delayed my application by a week.

Next week came round. I've now had my 5 minute phone call, and I'm waiting for a decision. I'm on the edge of my seat.

The verdict

This on-boarding process is obviously designed to benefit the bank, not their customers. I wouldn't have my business associated with this level of disorganisation and arrogance. Can you imagine an online retailer phoning up a customer and saying "because you chose to order online, we're going to delay delivery for a week"? They would be out of business very quickly.

And if this is the new business team, just imagine what the business-as-usual team are like! I'll be cancelling my HSBC account as soon as it is set up; it is only morbid curiosity that has stopped me from cancelling the application so far: I want to see how far the incompetence goes!

I cannot wait to see how Lloyds and Barclays compare!


Since writing the above, further information has come to light: Lloyds and Barclays’ processes are even worse.

Barclays required a face-to-face meeting. If this was to sign the application, then that would have been forgivable. Digital signatures have been legally binding in the UK for many years now, but I could have forgiven the reliance on “wet” signatures.

But no, that was not why they needed to see me. They required my attendance so that I could verify that I was, in fact, a Director of the company. Yes, they needed me to provide information that is available for free from Companies House. What evidence would they accept? Perhaps it was more than was freely available? Well, I printed out the form from the Companies House website, and carried it to their branch. That was the evidence that they accepted! They could not have retrieved this themselves, using an internet connection and browser, apparently.

Lloyds Bank, thankfully, didn’t need me to visit a branch. Much to my relief. I completed the application online, and they would print it and send it to me for signature. Inefficient and wasteful, but I could ignore that fact. However, I’m still waiting for that printed form to arrive. It should be with me any day now. At the time of writing, I have been waiting for 126 days. Perhaps they sent it second class.

As it was, HSBC had opened my account, and issued my cards and pins before Barclays had even found time to see me. So, the shock winner of this is… no one. Sadly, they all lost out in this story. Two banks lost out on a customer. One bank gained a customer, but lost any goodwill. And I lost precious time.

Obviously this article represents my own experiences and opinions. Your experience may vary. If you have had a good or bad experience with business banking, please do share it in the comments section below.

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About Middlestone

Middlestone Business Analysis helps small businesses achieve more with their existing resources. We help reorganise operations, automate tasks and install customised processes and systems to keep small businesses organised and to speed up administrative work. To learn more, visit our services page.

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