Peter Cochrane's Blog: Locked in at the bank

Why is it so hard to move accounts?

Written in a coffee shop at Wickham Market, Suffolk, and dispatched via a free wi-fi service in Woodbridge a day later.

Go back 40 years and you would find telecoms providers slow to respond to customer and market demands. By modern standards they were sluggish in every aspect of their operations. Like the banks, they served a customer base that was largely lethargic and faced little or no competition.

But back then there were no mobiles. People only had one line at home and office, and for the telecoms provider the world was a safe and stable place.

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Fast-forward to today and we have multiple fixed and mobile networks with twisted pair, coax, optical fibre, wi-fi, and WiMax providing telephone, TV and broadband connectivity, VoIP, quadruple service plays and number portability.

As a result customers are now fickle and quick to move with the technology to those offering the best devices and services. So churn has become a big deal and hanging onto the customers a primary objective.

What a change. And how very different and convenient for us customers and users. But not so the banking industry. Customer lock-in and lethargy are now used to exact stability in a world gradually being flooded with connectivity and accelerating change. Account portability ought to be available, but it isn't.

Moreover, moving bank accounts is so onerous and difficult most people won't consider it. So customers voting with their feet and their money is, relatively speaking, a rarity.

While the technology to allow us to move bank accounts at will on a regular basis is available today, it isn't being made readily accessible for obvious reasons of commercial interest. And until there is far more pressure on the old banking world from the new, nothing will change.

To be blunt, more global internet banking entities are required to invoke significant change in the old institutions and bring them into line with the rest of 21st century humanity.

So when might we enjoy bank account portability in the same way that we have number portability? I reckon we might have to slow-forward another 40 years.

It's going to take a while. But then again, if the mobile industry changes its billing engines into banking engines, it could happen tomorrow.