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Expert Reviews Money Awards 2022: The best banks in Britain

Cathy Hudson
29 Mar 2022
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We reveal the best banks in Britain in the inaugural Expert Reviews Money Awards

You rely on your bank every day. Whether you’re interacting with it directly to make a payment or withdraw cash, or it’s working in the background to pay your bills or earn you interest, the quality of the service it offers can have a big impact on your life.

A bank or building society with excellent service, well-featured current accounts and a user-friendly website or app can make day-to-day banking a dream. On the other hand, if your bank isn’t up to the mark you could be left feeling frustrated and short-changed.

To help you choose the best bank for you, we’ve surveyed 2,045 adults about their banks to uncover which ones have the happiest customers and reveal those that are best avoided.

We asked whether they would recommend their bank to a friend and to rate its customer service, online banking, banking app, in-branch service and telephone banking.

We’ve also analysed the current accounts offered by the most recommended banks to find out which are the top current account providers, whether you want to earn interest on your money or get a free overdraft. Finally, we looked at complaints made about the banks to the Financial Ombudsman Service.

Read on to find out which banks come out on top in the first-ever Expert Reviews Money Awards.

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Expert Reviews Money Awards 2022: Best banks and building societies

Overall Winner: First Direct

Highly Commended: Nationwide Building Society

Online and telephone bank First Direct withstood tough opposition to claim our award for the best bank overall. It was the bank most likely to be recommended by customers in our survey, with a huge 87% saying they were Very Likely or Fairly Likely to recommend it to others. It was also the winner in every other award category.

Highly Commended provider Nationwide Building Society was the second most likely to be recommended, with 82% saying they were Very or Fairly Likely to recommend it. The next best bank for this, the Co-operative Bank, trailed behind with 68%.

The banks with the least impressed customers were the Royal Bank of Scotland – where only 45% said they were Very or Fairly Likely to recommend it, and 22% said they were Very or Fairly Unlikely to – and HSBC, with 49% Likely and 15% Unlikely.

A bank cannot win one of our awards unless the number of complaints made to the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) and upheld in favour of the customer was below the industry average of 47%, according to the FOS’ most recent half-yearly data, released in September 2021.

Complaint rates for both First Direct (as part of HSBC) and Nationwide were comfortably below this threshold at 42% and 40%. You can see the percentages of complaints upheld for all the banks in our survey at the bottom of the page.

How likely customers are to recommend their bank:

Very likelyFairly likelyNeither likely nor unlikelyFairly unlikelyVery unlikely
Barclays Bank22%37%29%6%3%
Co-operative Bank34%33%20%10%3%
First Direct66%21%8%4%0%
Halifax27%40%25%2%4%
HSBC15%34%34%9%5%
Lloyds Bank30%36%22%5%4%
Nationwide Building Society48%34%14%1%0%
NatWest28%37%24%4%5%
Royal Bank of Scotland16%29%31%12%10%
Santander23%44%24%4%4%
TSB29%23%33%13%0%

*Only banks with at least 50 customers in survey sample included
**Totals may differ slightly compared to the figures throughout the article due to rounding

Best Customer Service: First Direct

Highly Commended: Nationwide Building Society

First Direct customers loved the customer service they received. Almost all of them (97%) rated it as either Very or Quite Good, with three-quarters (77%) saying it was Very Good.

Nationwide wasn’t far behind, with 93% of customers rating its service as Very or Quite Good. The proportion of customers who rated it as merely Quite Good, however, was higher than for First Direct (30% versus 21%).

Other banks offering a good level of customer service with high ratings of Very or Quite Good were the Co-operative Bank (85%), TSB (85%), Lloyds Bank (81%) and NatWest (81%); none came close enough to Nationwide to receive Highly Commended awards, though. The next best were Santander (79%), Halifax (77%) and Barclays Bank (74%).

The worst bank for customer service was the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) with almost two-thirds (62%) of customers rating it as Very or Quite Good. Not many people rated their bank as Very Poor, but RBS had by far the highest proportion of customers rating it as Quite Poor at 14%.

Customer service ratings:

Very goodQuite goodNeither good nor poorQuite poorVery poor
Barclays Bank32%43%21%3%1%
Co-operative Bank46%39%12%3%0%
First Direct77%21%0%1%0%
Halifax38%39%17%4%1%
HSBC24%46%20%7%1%
Lloyds Bank42%39%11%3%1%
Nationwide Building Society63%30%5%0%0%
NatWest41%39%12%3%2%
Royal Bank of Scotland25%37%21%14%0%
Santander34%45%14%3%1%
TSB37%48%13%2%0%

*Only banks with at least 50 customers in survey sample included
**Totals may differ slightly compared to the figures throughout the article due to rounding

Best Online Banking: First Direct

Highly Commended: Nationwide Building Society, Halifax, Lloyds Bank

More people use online banking than their bank’s app, in-branch services and telephone banking according to our survey, so being with a bank that has a reliable and easy-to-use online banking system is essential.

First Direct is the award winner here, with an impressive 94% of customers rating its online banking as Very or Quite Good, including 78% who said it was Very Good.

Nationwide was also highly rated in this category, with some 89% rating it as Very Good or Quite Good, closely followed by Halifax and Lloyds Bank, both at 88%, so all three receive Highly Commended awards.

All the banks in our survey did well for online banking, with the percentage of customers rating them as Very Good or Quite Good all sitting above 80%. NatWest was the next best (86%) followed by Barclays (84%), the Royal Bank of Scotland (83%), the Co-operative Bank (82%), Santander (82%), TSB (82%) and HSBC (81%).

The only bank to receive a significant percentage of poor ratings for its online banking was TSB, where 6% of customers said they thought it was Quite Poor.

Online banking ratings:

Very goodQuite goodNeither good nor poorQuite poorVery poor
Barclays Bank48%36%7%0%0%
Co-operative Bank57%25%7%0%2%
First Direct78%16%4%0%1%
Halifax60%28%5%0%0%
HSBC35%46%7%1%4%
Lloyds Bank57%30%4%1%1%
Nationwide Building Society57%32%3%1%0%
NatWest56%30%5%0%1%
Royal Bank of Scotland42%41%16%0%0%
Santander46%35%9%1%0%
TSB37%45%5%6%0%

*Only banks with at least 50 customers in survey sample included
**Totals may differ slightly compared to the figures throughout the article due to rounding

Best Current Account Provider: First Direct

Highly Commended: Nationwide Building Society

It’s a clean sweep for First Direct as it also wins our award for Best Current Account Provider. As well as being the bank customers are most likely to recommend and coming top for both customer service and online banking, its 1st Account offers a great set of features.

It doesn’t offer credit interest, but it does include a £250 interest-free arranged overdraft if approved, the highest interest-free buffer offered by any free account without a minimum income or savings requirement. And it currently offers one of the most generous switching bonuses. You get £150 if you switch your current account to First Direct and pay in at least £1,000 within the first three months.

Not only that but there’s also 24/7 telephone support with call centres based in the UK. It’s not surprising it was the most highly rated bank for telephone banking in our survey, with 80% of people saying it was very or quite good. That’s almost double the percentage for the next best bank – Lloyds Bank – at 44%.

First Direct’s banking app was also highly rated. Some 78% of customers said it was Very Good or Quite Good, a score beaten only by the Royal Bank of Scotland (81%), Barclays (79%) and NatWest (79%).

First Direct doesn’t have branches, although you can pay in cheques at branches of its parent company HSBC and the Post Office, or use its app to scan them.

The winner of our Highly Commended award, Nationwide Building Society, does have branches, however, and received the highest rating in our survey for its in-branch services with 79% of customers saying it was Very or Quite Good – the next best banks for this were Halifax and NatWest, both with 70%.

Nationwide’s FlexDirect fee-free online current account pays you generous interest of 2% AER (annual equivalent rate) on credit balances of up to £1,500 for a year, followed by 0.25% as long as you’re paying in at least £1,000 per month. You also get an interest-free arranged overdraft for the first year of up to £1,500.

Nationwide is currently also offering a switching bonus of £125 if you’re already a Nationwide member (you have a current account, savings account or mortgage with it) or £100 if you’re not.

Our survey shows that respondents are most likely to be with their bank because they’ve been with it since they were a child rather than choosing it because it offers good service, decent account features or conveniently located branches, with 21% giving this as the main reason. This percentage is even higher for customers of the long-standing big banks – for example, 33% of Lloyds Bank customers gave this as the main reason.

However, this was not the case for First Direct customers, with almost half (46%) choosing it because of its good customer service. For Nationwide, customers said good service and being offered a switching incentive were the main reasons they chose it, at 16% for both, while 18% said they’d been with the building society since they were a child.

The vast majority (78%) of customers of all banks said they had been with their bank for more than five years.

Complaints made to the Financial Ombudsman Service:

New banking and credit casesBanking and credit cases upheld
Bank of Scotland (including Halifax)3,14533%
Barclays Bank5,35136%
Co-operative Bank43142%
HSBC (including First Direct)4,14442%
Lloyds Bank 4,36533%
Nationwide Building Society1,62840%
NatWest3,29341%
Royal Bank of Scotland77438%
Santander2,76741%
TSB1,21528%
Industry average47%

Notes: Data shows complaints to the banking businesses that provide current accounts for the first half of 2021

Methodology

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov PLC. Total sample size was 2,045 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 28 and 31 January 2022. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).

We asked respondents how likely they would be to recommend their main banking provider to others and to rate its overall customer service as well as aspects of its service, including its online banking, banking app, in-branch services and telephone banking.

Only banks where the number of respondents was more than 50 people were included in our results. This means we haven’t been able to report on Bank of Scotland, Metro Bank, Monzo, Revolut, Starling Bank, Tesco Bank, Virgin Money or Yorkshire Building Society.

We also analysed current account offerings to find the best providers as well as factoring in Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) complaints data. To be in the running for an award, banks must have had lower than the industry average percentage of banking and credit complaints upheld in favour of the consumer, according to the FOS’s most recent September 2021 data.

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