Banking in England

Banks in England are totally broken.

Now, I don't mean in relation to global economics, or some pending financial crisis, I mean in relation to direct customer interactions. See, with a bank in England things are either totally simple, or utterly impossible, and there is never really any middle ground (and the total simple things are actually few and far between). A few examples:

  • Opening a bank account was surprisingly easy. I walked into a branch, they checked my passport. Filled out a couple of forms with me and it was done. I didn’t need a proof of address (they did send my card to an address, so I needed that to be true for my sake) or any other details. Simple.
  • For some reason, despite the bank offering these cards, they gave me a debit card without contactless payment. It's 2015, why would this not be on all the cards?
  • Opening a bank account could have been totally worthless if I had the wrong bank staff member. Apparently if you can’t prove you have a job the only account you can open is a cash account, which means you can only use your banks ATMs, and also can’t use it overseas. However, if you says you are a homemaker, then that counts as a job and you can have better full access accounts.
  • Account security is really good. By default you seem to need a two-factor authentication for most online functions (setting up payments, sending money etc). It is simple to use and works well.
  • Closing a bank account is completely impossible. For some reason you can’t do it online, but more than that, you also can’t find out how to do it online. Better than that, you also can’t do it by going to a branch! All they do is give you a form you have to mail somewhere.
  • Transfers between different banks in the UK happen pretty much instantly. You can send anyone any money you want and they will get it right away.
  • They really want you to have a cheque book. You know, in case you need to pay someone in 1970 for their services.
  • The preferred method of communication is by phone (they tell you to call a number, but the trick is the number will never get picked up), or physical mail (because of the Royal Mail Illuminati, I guess).
  • Actually, the phone thing goes even further - all the staff at the bank who are allowed to answer the phone (I assume this is some kind of special treatment/punishment) take lunch at the same time as each other. This is really useful because generally if you are working you will try and call them when you have lunch, but of course they aren't there.
  • You generally don’t pay fees on accounts, at least as far as I can tell.
  • You generally can’t earn interest at all.

So, yeah, I guess it is nice to earn pounds and have them [presumably] safe in an account, but there are also some annoying downsides.
If I were to give any advise to the banks it would be to improve their online functionality and let people contact and interact with you online.
Advice for consumers is probably expect to be frustrated, but know all the banks are the same. Also, get set up once, right, and then do everything you can to avoid banks.

Also, as a general tip to anyone coming over here, if you have a partner, regardless of the situation I suggest you open a joint account. You don't have to use it, but it will come in handy to have the record should you want to join visas later (not that I am promoting this as some kind of visa fraud solution).
And, when you leave the country, try to not close your account (I imagine this is quite easy, as it is remarkable difficult to close an account), that way you can use it if you visit again (I guess?)

Oh, and while we are talking about the English financial systems - here are some problems with their money:

  • 1p and 2p coins exist! Come on England, get rid of this little coins already (this goes double and tripple for 1 and 2 cent Euro coins which are worth even less)
  • The notes are too big. A £20 note can't fit nicely in a small wallet, and any bigger note feel like it is an actual joke. You also can't really use big bills anywhere as no one trusts, or wants, them.
  • Another problem with the notes - why are they still paper (or paper-like). Make them more durable. I wan't my bills to go through the wash and be OK.