Santander has work to do, admits new chief

Santander's new UK chief executive Ana Patricia Botin admitted today the bank had "a lot of work to do" to improve service standards after recent shocking figures on customer complaints.

In her inaugural public appearance in the UK, Ms Botin told MPs on the Treasury Select Committee that improving customer service was one of her priorities since taking on the top job.

Ms Botin - the UK's first female bank boss - was grilled by MPs after recent data from the Financial Services Authority showed Santander had the highest number of customer complaints of any British bank.

It was also named as the worst bank for customer satisfaction in a recent Which? poll.

Santander's service levels are said to have suffered as the bank seeks to integrate the Alliance & Leicester and Abbey brands, snapped up as part of aggressive expansion moves in recent years.

The bank notched up 216,158 complaints in the first six months of 2010 - the most of any banking brand - according to the FSA.

Ms Botin told MPs the bank's service was "beginning to improve" by addressing underlying issues such as systems and processes, while also hiring 1,000 new staff to handle complaints.

Ms Botin was the latest British bank chief to face MPs on the cross-

party committee as part of its hearing on competition in the retail banking sector.

She confirmed Santander was still in discussions with the Government over lending commitments after it was revealed last week to have pulled out of collective industry talks on bonuses, dubbed Project Merlin.

The Spanish-owned bank is holding unilateral talks about setting its own levels of lending to small businesses, as it is understood the group felt limits on bonuses were not relevant given it has no investment banking arm and pays out far smaller windfalls than rivals.

"Our intention right now is to participate specifically with talks on lending commitments," said Ms Botin.

"We intend to be in Merlin, but in our own way."

She revealed her bonus last year was 1.7 million euro (1.4 million) but declined to reveal her package as UK boss.

Ms Botin became chief executive of Santander on December 1, replacing Antonio Horta-Osorio, who quit to head up Lloyds Banking Group.

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