In my previous post, I set out the problems I had with Nationwide’s internet banking. In brief: it took me six months to get to the point where I could actually log in and do something with my own money. What I tried to do then was to transfer money into the HSBC account I share with my husband, so that we could pay our (Nationwide) mortgage. As my previous post makes clear, this proved impossible because Nationwide required me to use a card reader to carry out the transfer, and the card reader didn’t work.
So I decided to do the transfer by phone. It seemed a bit retro but the Royal Wedding was fast approaching and I thought I might as well experience a bit of 80s nostalgia. I rang up, gave my details and requested the transfer. No dice. The man I spoke to told me that transfers to non-Nationwide accounts can’t be done over the phone.
At this point I came very close to losing my rag. I couldn’t transfer money out of my account using internet banking, I couldn’t transfer it using phone banking – had Nationwide forgotten it was my money to do what I want with, not theirs to keep? The man on the phone was apologetic but didn’t seem to understand exactly why I was annoyed. He said that if I wanted to make the transfer, I would have to visit the branch and bring various bits of ID with me.
So I visited the branch, passport and utility bills in hand, to ask: “Please please pretty please with a cherry on top will you let me move my money?” No.
The branch refused to let me do the transfer at all, because “we’re not a bank”. And this is when I finally discovered the real problem. The woman behind the desk explained to me that building societies operate according to different rules from banks (which I knew), and this means that they can’t let customers do money transfers in the same way that a bank would (which I most definitely did not know). So although some building society accounts are described as “current accounts”, they operate very differently from banks’ current accounts.
Perhaps it’s common knowledge that building society current accounts don’t work like bank current accounts. But it’s not knowledge that I had, and it certainly was not explained to me when I opened my Nationwide current account. Perhaps this communication failure falls into the category of “things that we thought were too obvious to explain [but weren’t obvious to the customer]”. But perhaps it’s an organisational choice not to make this fact clear. After all, who would knowingly switch to a current account that makes it so difficult to move your own money around?
I chose Nationwide thinking that a building society account would be just like a bank account but with bonus mutual fluffiness. It took me six months to find out that it wasn’t, because the failure of Nationwide’s internet banking acted as a smokescreen for the bigger problem. I thought that poor usability and security theatre were preventing me from using Nationwide’s internet banking, but in reality they were just preventing me from seeing that there is no Nationwide internet banking and there probably never will be.