Rod McPhee: Don’t bank on the adverts

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SO, I called up Natwest to sort out something quite menial...

“We notice you have an overdraft Mr McPhee. That’s quite an expensive way of borrowing, have you thought about a loan?”

“We can’t guarantee you will be accepted,” they continued, “but it does say on my system that we could offer you a rate of 9.9 per cent.”

Now, that’s pretty good in the current climate, so I went into the city centre branch with a view to paying off my credit cards too. The adviser looked at all my circumstances - income, outgoings, total debt - and told me I had a very high chance of getting the loan I wanted.

I explained I would only apply if that was the case because making an application leaves a mark on your credit report, particularly if you’re turned down. He reassured me this would be unlikely.

Ironically, on the day I took the leap the Park Row branch was swamped by film crews making the advert which you can currently see on TV trumpeting Natwest’s new customer-friendly approach.

They call it Helpful Banking.

I say ironic because despite being invited to apply for a loan, being told I would probably get one (partly because I’d been with the bank for 17 years and boasted an unblemished credit report) they did, as I feared, turn me down.

“You have too much access to credit, Mr McPhee.”

“But I told you how much credit card debt I had when I started this, and you invited me to apply to consolidate that debt.”

“Yes, but the worry is that once you pay off your credit cards we have no way of ensuring you won’t go back out and start spending on them again.

“What if I brought in statements showing my accounts were paid off and closed and I cut the cards up in front of you?”

“No, I’m sorry.”

“What if I applied for a smaller amount?”

“I don’t think the amount makes a difference to be honest with you.”

All of which was symptomatic of the gulf between what they would have you believe and what the reality is.

Natwest aren’t the only bank guilty of this, but currently the aforementioned adverts make them the most high profile financial institution which really, really wants to be our friend.

So this week I completely sympathised with the experience of people in Farsley, in west Leeds.

Their high street branch of Natwest has been earmarked for closure despite the fact the bank promises - in those same ads - to keep Natwests open where there is no other bank.

Local councillor Andrew Carter, and former leader of Leeds City Council, tackled them on this and they pointed out there was a Post Office and a building society nearby. Neither, he rightly pointed out, are banks.

The people of Farsley must shake their heads in disbelief when they see those ads appear on their screens.

I’m with them.

Particularly galling is the section of the ad where they pledge to “handle complaints more effectively”.

This isn’t done out of kindness, this is partly because NatWest and its parent company, Royal Bank of Scotland, were recently fined a total of £2.8m by the city regulator, the Financial Services Authority, for “multiple failings” in their previous handling of complaints.

So, perhaps now might be a good time to lodge my own complaint regarding my loan application, except I’m not sure it would come to anything.

Besides I’m not actually struggling with my debts and, aside from the fresh credit report blemish, the whole experience with Natwest hasn’t left me bereft.

It was all just, well, how do you put it? Unhelpful.

Alexandra Shulman. PIC: PA

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