Express & Star

Mark Andrews – breaking up is never easy, but it's time for change

That's it. It's over. It's been a long, hard slog, but after months of upheaval, the divorce has finally come through. After 30 years, I'm no longer a NatWest customer.

Remember, you still have a choice

Ok, the divorce analogy is probably over-egging the pudding a little. But after four months of wrangling with arcane rules and processes, online application forms, and the usual absurd questions, I can't help but wonder whether dissolving a marriage is, by comparison, a somewhat simpler process than changing your bank account.

The end of my three decades with NatWest came as something of an anti-climax, a robot-generated email that said 'We're sorry that you're leaving us'. Now I realise that an ordinary Joe closing two bank accounts is probably not going to be the No. 1 concern of an international, part-nationalised banking giant, and I'm sure NatWest will get by without my modest cash reserves. But given the frequency with which they used to bombard me with tedious questionnaires every time I tried to use the customer helpline, it would have been nice to have had one last chance to vent my spleen. A chance to tell them how I had remained loyal when they turned their branches into amusement arcades, replacing all those boring, outdated human beings with automated contraptions. How I patiently kept my counsel when the aforementioned lack of staff meant I had to stand for half an hour staring at a diversity poster every time I wanted to pay in a cheque. I even – usually – bit my tongue each time the sole cashier on duty asked me why I didn't use 'the app' instead – I don't think 'because I've got no confidence in how you would respond when the Russian mafia steal all my savings' would have gone down particularly well. But I would have liked the opportunity to tell them that the final straw came when they closed my local branch, with the helpful explanation that most people preferred mobile and online banking because it was 'faster and easier for people to manage their financial lives'.

Still, no point in getting mad, let's just get even. After all, it has never been easier to move your bank account, thanks to the new, seamless switching service, right?

So the day after the announcement of my bank's closure in November, I walked into the branch of a well-known building society which not only boasted about how it was opening rather than shutting branches, but was also offering a £200 reward for opening a new account. Brilliant, so where to I sign up?

"You will need to apply online," said the very polite young man in the building society.

"But I'm standing here in your branch now. The whole point of me being here is because I don't want to go online, and have all my money stolen by Russian gangsters."

No can do, so out I walked and spent the following weeks wrestling with various online forms, which never quite worked properly. And then the Christmas holidays came along, and the £200 offer expired.

Undeterred, I found another bank which still has a presence on my high street, offering a £175 reward for opening a new account. And guess what? That bank's website didn't work properly either. However, it would agree to me opening an account in person – provided I came back again the following week.

Now when I opened my account with NatWest back in 1994, a fella asked me what I wanted the account for, had a quick butcher's at my driving licence, and it was all done and dusted in about 15 minutes. When I added a second account a few years later, there was a half-hearted attempt to flog me a 'gold account' with 'VIP privileges', but I was still able to get it sorted in my lunch break. This time, a very nice lady suggested I came in at 9am 'so there is more time to go through things properly', and I was invited to watch a raft of corporate videos. When I declined the offer of online banking, I was advised: "You might like to reconsider that in future."

I very much doubt that. And if this bank decides to close the branch, I'm ready to go through the whole rigmarole all over again.

Sorry if I'm going all Wolfie Smith, but our banks already wield far too much power, and the trend towards a cashless society is only going to hand them even more. So it is incumbent on us all to remind them that the customer is king, and that it is up to us, not them, to decide which banking methods are 'faster and easier for people to manage their financial lives'.

Power to the people!