Santander has once again been ranked the worst bank for service by an overwhelming margin, according to a poll of over 9,000 users.

A huge 46% of the nearly 2,000 Santander customers who voted rate its current account service as poor (see the Best Bank Accounts guide).

In a glimmer of hope for bewildered consumers, the bank's service has at least moved from extremely dismal to dismal over the past three months.

Some 62% of the Spanish giant's account holders rated their experience as poor in a similar poll we conducted in August.

Since then, the bank says it has implemented measures to address the shocking way it has treated thousands of angry customers (see the Santander apologises MSE News story).

A key problem over the summer, which may have skewed the higher August figure, was many customers of Santander-owned Alliance & Leicester were locked out of their accounts during the transfer to the Spanish bank – a problem the company insists is now fixed.

How the others fared

Halifax/Bank of Scotland (Hbos) is second worst (26% poor rating) for service on current accounts. The best three, in order, are First Direct, the Co-op and Nationwide Building Society.

Almost nine in ten First Direct customers think the bank's service is great, as do 80% of Co-op account holders and 47% of Nationwide members.

Fewer customers of all providers rate current account service as poor compared to those in August. However, other than HSBC (22% poor rating) replacing Lloyds TSB (21% poor rating) as the third worst bank, the top three and bottom three remain identical.

Interpreting the statistics another way, more HSBC than Lloyds customers rate service as great (38% compared to 36%).

Better performance across the sector

One explanation for the better performance wtinessed across the board (see table table below) may be the way we worded our question.

In August, we asked users to rate current account service generally. This time, we asked for views over the past three months only so we can track performance more closely as we will conduct such polls every quarter.

The table below shows how you voted:

Worst customer service uncovered
% of customers who rate current account service ...
Provider (no. sampled) Poor (Aug. results) OK (Aug) Great (Aug)
Santander (1,983) 46% (62%) 32% (24%) 21% (14%)
Hbos (988) 26% (48%) 40% (33%) 34% (19%)
HSBC (887) 22% (36%) 40% (34%) 38% (30%)
Lloyds TSB (1,151) 21% (41%) 43% (36%) 36% (23%)
Natwest / RBS (1,354) 20% (38%) 38% (33%) 42% (28%)
Barclays (872) 19% (41%) 42% (34%) 39% (25%)
Nationwide (786) 17% (28%) 36% (32%) 47% (39%)
Co-op (458) 6% (10%) 16% (15%) 80% (75%)
First Direct (728) 3% (6%) 9% (9%) 88% (85%)
Total sample: 9,207. Percentages may not reach 100% due to rounding

In-credit vs overdrawn service

We also split the voting depending on whether customers are generally overdrawn or in credit. We found service was generally seen as worse for those overdrawn, probably due to the high charges many providers levy.

For instance, 48% of Hbos customers who are typically overdrawn rate service as poor compared to a much lower 20% of those in credit. The bank has a controversial £1 per day fee for those within their overdraft limit (see the Anger over Hbos charges MSE News story).

However, the split made little difference to Santander's performance which will be worrying for its top brass.

While other customers in credit generally experienced better service from their provider, virtually the same proportion of Santander account holders with a positive balance rate service as poor as those overdrawn.

How service varies depending on balance
% of in credit customers who rate service ... % of overdrawn customers who rate service ...
Provider Poor Great Poor Great
Santander 46% 20% 45% 25%
Hbos 20% 37% 48% 20%
Natwest / RBS 16% 46% 31% 32%
Nationwide 16% 46% 22% 56%
Lloyds TSB 15% 41% 39% 23%
HSBC 14% 41% 45% 31%
Barclays 14% 42% 32% 31%
Co-op 4% 81% 7% 75%
First Direct 2% 89% 6% 84%

Our view

Martin Lewis, creator, says: "We've seen substantial improvements for all banks since the last survey, though Santander still scores very poorly.

"I suspect the improvement is less to do with banks getting their act together and more because we finessed the question to look at performance over the past three months. The real test will be in three months when we do it again.

"What's interesting this time is the split between the views of those overdrawn and in credit.

"One of the biggest examples is for Hbos customers. Last time it looked dreadful overall with a huge 48% of users rating it poor. Now only 20% in credit rate it poor, compared to a huge 48% of overdrawn customers.

"No doubt, this is a reaction to its £1 per day charge, which for some works out to be the equivalent of 1,000%+ APR. Luckily, Hbos is only a best-buy based on rates for those in credit so it's a simple message: don't touch it if you go overdrawn."

Santander's explanation

Steve Williams, Santander director of service quality and complaints, says: "We have been working hard to improve our service since this year's very popular Isa campaign and our integration of Alliance & Leicester.

"We know we have made progress from our own customer satisfaction surveys and are pleased the poll confirms our improvement.

"However, we know we still have more to do, to ensure all of our customers have a good experience, all of the time, when they deal with Santander."

Further reading/Key links

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