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June 15, 2022

My worst banking call: swapping Amex for Virgin Money

As I’ve covered retail banking for almost 20 years, I ought to know better. If you have a good product from a reliable provider, stick with it

By Douglas Blakey

It pains me a little to kick what was once and should still be called Clydesdale Bank. I can only comment on the RBI global awards since 2005- they date all the way back to the mid 1980s- but if we recognised the most helpful and trustworthy press office, Clydesdale Bank’s media team in Glasgow would have been regular winners. At the time the Clydesdale/Yorkshire deal with Virgin Money was announced and with it, the decision to brand the new outfit as Virgin Money I lamented on the loss of the Clydesdale brand, which dated back to 1838.

By contrast with an almost 200-year history as Clydesdale Bank, the Virgin brand has been launched and then often dropped across a myriad of diverse outfits such as Virgin Cola, Virgin Cross Country trains, Virgin Mobile Canada, Virgin Trains USA et al.

But the bank argument was that it could best serve its retail and SME customers with advanced digital technology via a brand recognised for its consumer champion credentials. That was the theory-in practice, Virgin Money UK currently ranks the 46th best company out of 46 in the category bank on Trustpilot. Some of the reviews are withering and it scores an average score of 1.2 out of 5. Arguably a more widely respected marker is the twice yearly Ipsos Personal banking service quality. Virgin Money ranks 15th out of 17 brands. I really did not believe Virgin Money could be quite so bad, so switched from a long held Amex BA credit card to a Virgin Money credit card some six months ago. The BA Amex card was great at growing loyalty points-but recent international air travel has been limited. By contrast, Virgin Money offer 5% cashback on rail travel from Scotland to London. I am sorry to report that swapping Amex for Virgin Money is probably the dumbest banking, consumer decision I have made. Virgin offers no web service or chat facility or email option. You can phone Virgin Money – that is it. And as many Trustpilot reviews confirm, good luck to you if you want to speak to someone within say half an hour. Even the Virgin Money website admits call times are currently a challenge.

The Amex app and website just worked. As for the Virgin Money credit card app? There may be a worse banking app out there-if there is-I am glad not to have to rely upon it.

The VM share price is down by 58% since the branding decision was announced. For the year to date, the Virgin Money share price is down by 29%. The bank’s management congratulates itself on repairing the balance sheet and restoring shareholder income but it has serious digital banking and customer service issues to address.

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