You ultimately get the reputation you deserve

They say a person or organisation ultimately gets the reputation they deserve. I’d like to think so in the case of Santander UK, whose former chief executive is António Horta-Osório. He’s the one whose enforced absence through ‘overwork’ surprised the City in 2011. At Santander he once presided over the now defunct Abbey and Alliance & Leicester, two formerly staid organisations turned racy retail banks that Santander gobbled up in its quest for UK market scale.

For years Abbey did what many banks believe to be clever marketing; it tempted customers to switch accounts with unsustainable deals, the idea being that once you’ve got them, apathy prevents customers defecting to rivals. You then whack said customers with all sorts of highly profitable fees and tariffs. Result: easy money and huge bonuses all round!

On the lookout for a new business bank account provider, I became one of those moths-to-the-flame customers on the recommendation of former accountants. But I later ditched them after numerous fights over unfair deductions from my account. The final straw was after they took a series of ‘penalty fees’ from my account when I was on holiday. These fees were levied because I was hadn’t moved sufficient funds from one account to another. Fair enough, except that to do this required access to my online bank account, which was unavailable because of unspecified ‘IT system problems’.

I began by contesting the fees with Abbey’s customer service team. They insisted these were fair and said I could have called into a branch or used its call centre banking service to move the funds. I wrote back politely explaining that I was on holiday abroad at the time, and that when an online banking system crashes, every single customer trying to make a transaction flocks to the alternative telephone service resulting in call centre meltdown. I knew this because I’d repeatedly tried calling.

Once again they refused to see events from my perspective so I decided to write to chief executive António Horta-Osório (Abbey was by now part of Santander). I was polite and direct, pointing out why the fees were unfair and inviting him to see common sense. He wrote back telling me that he’d looked into my case, that the fees were justified, and that I shouldn’t write to Santander again on the matter. So I followed his advice and took my complaint instead to the Banking Ombudsmen. It found in my favour and ordered Santander to refund the fees, after which I closed the account.

That was all several years ago and I’d hardly given it another thought until a few days ago, when well-known PR agency founder Nick Band posted the following update on his Twitter feed.

Seems nothing much has changed at Santander despite Horta-Osório jumping ship to rival Lloyds in 2011. Meanwhile, that particular institution is doing better than most, beaten only by Barclays as the UK’s most complained about bank. Just don’t expect Mr Horta-Osório to give a damn.

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