The task was, in theory, simple. To register with five banks and building societies a power of attorney granted some years back in my favour by my now 86-year-old father. Until recently, he was perfectly capable of looking after his own financial affairs. The power of attorney was drafted by his solicitor, signed by my father, registered with the Office of the Public Guardian, and then a copy left to gather dust in my father’s desk.
As he is not in the private banking segment of the market, quite why he had money spread across five different banks and building societies is now an unnecessary inconvenience, but that is his business. From a real-life example in customer service, I did at least think it would be interesting to compare how five institutions dealt with the exact same task each had to undertake.

Online not an option with all providers when it comes to PoAs

With my parent now in care and exorbitant care home bills to be paid, it became essential to register the PoA with the various financial institutions. And then manage the accounts to pay said care home.
While not wealthy, each of the accounts had balances well into five figures so it had to be done.
Rather naively, I thought that it might be possible to do all of this online. Not so. The first institution, a building society I checked with, can deal with this either by post or in-branch but not online.

As my mother had a number of questions she wanted to ask about how long everything would take, it seemed a wise call to deal with all five institutions in branch and get it over with in the one day and take her with me.
So, I took a day off some four weeks ago and set off to visit five branches with my mother in tow, armed with the power of attorney and such documentation as we had, such as recent statements. For someone who writes about banks daily but never actually visits a branch for my banking, it was also a good excuse to visit five branches in person.

Soundbite of the day

The banks are not kidding when they say that footfall in the branch has collapsed. Virgin Money offered a coffee, gratefully received. The RBS branch visited, all the time I was inside, had more staff than customers. I do not want to get anyone into trouble so will not say which of the five bank/building societies offered the soundbite of the day: ‘a lot of banking was easier before the powers that be centralised and took away things we could do in the branch and started talking a load of guff about the customer experience. Now things take longer. Some of the bosses haven’t a clue and are not real bankers.’
Nor had I better say which branch I was in when two potential customers came in to ask to open an account-and were told-we do not open accounts in-branch. Do it online. And then told the pair of us-we lose a lot of potential new business as we do not do account opening in branch.

In 4 of the 5 branches, the service was exemplary

As more and more pensioners sadly suffer from dementia, banks are going to get plenty of practice of dealing with customers that have granted powers of attorney. And in four of the five banks, the service was exemplary, courteous and efficient. Four of the five banks/building societies followed up in writing to confirm they had duly registered the PoA.
My mother, who does still bank in-branch, was favourably impressed with four of the five and her various questions were answered patiently and clearly. Four of the five are in turn, receiving favourable word of mouth recommendations from my mother with friends and family.

Service in the fifth branch was another story

There is a but..the fifth?
A bank that I expected to be well-rehearsed and efficient in dealing with PoA chores – well what do I know. I have only covered banking for 20 years. Instead of the courtesy and efficiency of the other four, the fifth whom out of kindness I won’t name here, failed at every turn.
A welcome in-branch? No chance. ‘Must we do this today? It is not a good day, you see, there is a bank holiday coming up, our power of attorney person is off until a week on Thursday-could we come back then?’ When my 84-year-old mother persisted that she was not coming back into the city centre a week on Thursday, with notable ill-grace, the branch exec snatched the power of attorney and said ‘I suppose I will have to scan it then. Wait there. I don’t normally have to do this’.
Some 25 minutes later, she returned with the PoA. All of the other four had taken my personal details, a specimen signature for example, contact details, asked security questions – they actually checked the PoA contained the fullest powers. She did not bother. Just a brusque: ‘someone will be in touch’.

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They were-they were the last of the five institutions to follow up the branch visit. And they followed up to say that the person who scanned the document had omitted to scan all of the pages. So, could we start again? And return to the branch.