Woolwich changes into Barclays: the “improvements”

Woolwich BarclaysBarclays Bank bought the Woolwich Building Society around seven years ago but really did very little to integrate the two outfits until now. In fact, the only visible changes to date is that the Woolwich stopped issuing credit cards under its own name and various documents started having “a trading name of Barclays Bank” or words to that effect added to them.

The original reason put forward for their purchase was to acquire the technology that Woolwich used to implement its excellent Open Plan account, an account that let you offset any savings that you have against your mortgage. Not really a great move on the whole as the Woolwich technology was extremely primitive even then and, though operational, did silly things like charge you interest when you wrote a cheque against money that you actually had in a linked savings account and then refunding that the following month.

In due course, Barclays ran up a version for themselves and improved the offering from the Woolwich.

However, now they’re finally getting around to fully integrating the Woolwich into Barclays so all existing Woolwich accounts will disappear and be replaced by the corresponding Barclays ones. Snag is, that the Woolwich offered a number of quite sophisticated savings accounts and Barclays only has very simple ones.

Naturally, Barclays is putting this across as a series of “improvements”. They list 10, so let’s look at each one:

1. You’ll have over 30,000 staff waiting to help you including many who are presently serving customers in the Woolwich.

So, you’ll have Barclays staff to look to. OK, more people, so let’s count that as a real improvement 

2. You can use any of the 1,700 or so Barclays branches in the country and any Barclays Hole in the Wall„¢ machines.

Em, you already can so that’s hardly an improvement.

3. You’ll have access to Barclays telephone and online banking*, so it’s easy to manage your money when our branches are closed.

Woolwich already have phone and online banking, so that’s not an improvement.

4. You can get the same tailored service you expect from your Woolwich branch, only more so you can book an appointment with one of our Personal Bankers. And our specialists will help to make sure that all your financial needs are covered.

Actually, you’ve been able to do that for around seven years now.

5. You can choose anything from a wide range of Barclays products and specialist services.

You’ve always been able to do that.

6. You can also arrange your foreign currency and International Money Orders at any Barclays branch, at our Bureaux de Change or by calling the Barclays Travel Line on 0845 600 8090**.

You’ve always been able to do that, though hardly a recommendation given their charges.

7. You will also have peace of mind of knowing that your money remains safe with us. For instance, we offer free security software to active online customers€ .

OK, we’ll give them that one.

8. Barclays has a broader range of products and services so we can help you with your business finances as well as your personal ones.

Actually, it offers a narrower range of products though it does do business finance so let’s count that as a plus.

9. We also do more in the community. Spaces for Sports is just one example we’re investing over £30 million in helping communities to transform their sporting facilities in the UK.

Well, if memory serves, the Woolwich was pretty active in supporting local communities before it was taken over.

10. The same friendly staff will be there, helping us to stay one of the top 20 big companies in Britain to work for.

So, no change is counted as an advantage of the change?

However, what about the accounts that are changing. In fact, almost every single one is being downgraded.

Cardsaver

A very popular account which offers a Visa Electron debit card and pays quite good interest.

This becomes a savings account which offers (on request) a card which will only work in Barclays machines in the UK. Moreover, it will no longer be possible to get counter cheques so if you want to withdraw more than the cash machine limit (reduced from £400 to £300), you’ll need to open a Barclays current account. Oh, and you can’t make deposits in the ATMs any more.

So, this account has been “improved” by removing nearly all the facilities from it for which people selected it.

Open Plan for Savers

I suspect that the Barclays people have completely forgotten about this account.

This was even better in some ways as the Cardsaver account. It gave you on a savings account, a chequebook and full Visa debit card plus the ability to setup up to 12 separate savings accounts within it, each of which could have individual standing orders and direct debits against them.

This becomes a standard savings account which offers (on request) a cash card which will only work in Barclays machines and, again, a reduced limit of £300 per day. Of course, you can’t make deposits in the ATMs either.

If I’m right that they have forgotten about this account, it will cause chaos for those people who have it. All of a sudden their direct debits won’t get paid for a start. If they have remembered about it, I’d say that it could be rather a difficult account to map onto the Barclays range as it offers the equivalent to having up to 12 separate current accounts.

Almost all of the downsides arise from the fact that Woolwich was basically a savings institution when it was taken over whereas Barclays is a commercial bank. The effect of this is that the Woolwich had a much more sophisticated range of savings accounts and it would have been far simpler had Barclays adopted these rather than downgrading the accounts across the board.

After all, when the Halifax bought the Bank of Scotland, the accounts available to everyone in both institutions really did improve. But then, the Halifax was the savings institution and well aware that peoples’ savings needs aren’t met well by the offerings of banks. The Halifax/Bank of Scotland now offers everything that was on offer by both parties and indeed many products have been significantly improved by the takeover.

Barclays is in the process of taking a great step backwards in its offerings.

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