I recently left my role as deputy manager of a Santander branch to join the team here at MSE as a money analyst.
I’m a Santander customer myself (at first by obligation, not choice). Shortly after I joined MSE, I ventured into a central London branch to pay money into my dad’s account on his behalf. This was my first experience as a customer and not as a Santander employee.
It left me, well, a bit frustrated.
After a long wait, I finally reached the counter and handed the cheque to the cashier. I didn’t know my dad’s details, so I asked the cashier to look them up on his system.
I received a blunt response: "Sorry, I can’t. The customer needs to be present for me to look up their details."
I understand it’s for security reasons, but I didn’t want to find out my dad’s details. All I wanted to do was put the cheque into his account, and go on my merry way, and I know from working in a branch that you can pay in a cheque on someone else’s behalf.
A few words were exchanged but the cashier still refused, so I left extremely frustrated.
What can branch staff actually do?
Now I have my customer shoes on, I want to share with you what branch employees can and can’t do. The next time you feel your bank’s become a battlefield, you may have a few secret weapons on your side to win the battle.
Bank charges. If you’re a Santander customer, I’ll let you in on a big secret. Branch staff can refund bank charges for you. As long as you’ve never had charges refunded in the past, branch staff can refund ONE statement period’s worth of charges for you, there and then.
Some cashiers have a limit of £50, but they can call over a manager to refund more. If they try to fob you off with a phone line, stand firm and politely ask them to refund the charge themselves. But remember they can only do any one month of charges, so I’d suggest picking the most expensive month.
There’s a long queue – where are the other staff? Often, the most annoying thing about visiting a branch is the long queue. There are only one or two cashiers sitting at the counter, trying to avoid eye contact with you, and the advisers are hiding away in their office. Go and disturb them!
Most advisers sitting at desks aren’t busy. Grab one and ask them to help you. At Santander, and most likely other banks too, advisers are trained to pay in cheques, do money transfers, change addresses and alter mandates – pretty much any transaction apart from dealing with cash.
So instead of waiting in the queue, ask them to help you.
Please, please, please – check your receipts and statements. Branch staff, like anyone, can make mistakes. They often go unnoticed for days, weeks or even months. A cashier may have mis-keyed an account number, accidentally paying cash into the wrong account. Or they might have knocked off a zero on your £500 deposit – giving you a shock a month later.
These mistakes happen, but you can correct them quickly by checking your receipt after every transaction and ensuring you check your statement every month. If you don’t do this, it could cost you.
- Debit card not working? There’ll be a reason… We’ve all had that embarrassing moment. You’re at a restaurant ready to pay, and your card’s declined. You storm into your local branch and vent your frustration. A bemused cashier then searches on the screen and replies: "I’m not sure what is wrong, I’ll get a new card sent to you." And that means you have no card for a week. Stop. Don’t let them cancel your card.
If your card stops working, there’ll be a reason. If the cashier doesn’t know, ask them to do all the necessary searches. They’ll include calling card services and the fraud team. At Santander, the fraud department may have put a "sticky referral" on your card, which means it just wants confirmation from you that the purchase was genuine.
So get the cashier to do this. Often, this is the case and once it’s lifted, your card will be active again. There’s no need to wait 10 days, it just takes a 10-minute phone call. You may find you need a new card after all, but at least try the other options first.
Recurring card payments. These often go unnoticed for months. A company may be regularly taking money from your account, using the card details you once gave it. Cashiers often take the easy way out by cancelling your card and ordering a new one. Or they’ll tell you to phone the company and cancel the payment with them.
But this isn’t the way to do this. Instead, ask the cashier to send a "customer request" to head office. It can cancel the payment and, if appropriate, reclaim the money.
My experience as a Santander customer left me annoyed, but I know a lot of cashiers would do everything they could to help their customers – especially in the branch I helped run.
As I used to work for Santander, I’ve made specific references to it, but these tips can apply to other banks too. So next time, hopefully you won’t leave your bank feeling frustrated.
Do you have any top tips on how to get what you want from your bank branch? Please share your thoughts in the discussion below, or in the forum.