I'd always thought that I was happy with my bank. When I opened my HSBC student account in 1998 they gave me a nice big overdraft, a credit card and even £60 in cash. After I graduated they offered me a fantastic rate on a graduate loan and a couple of season tickets for the football. A year or so later, when I started to struggle with the repayments, they helped me consolidate once more - and gave me another season ticket.
They were willing to lend me money that I'd convinced myself would be nigh on impossible to obtain and they even showed me how to budget and manage my personal finances. I didn't spare a thought to where this money was coming from. After all, banks are there to lend you money, aren't they?
Jump forward a few years to when the last general election was approaching and I started taking a serious interest in politics for the first time. I started to garner a vague understanding of the banking crisis, albeit mainly through newspaper headlines and sensationalist media reporting. Friends alerted me to the links between arms dealers and the major banks and as I did my own research I started to see through the spin. The bonus culture in particular sickened me.
Then in August 2011, the news that HSBC was to cut 30,000 jobs despite a rise in pre-tax profits (but still rewarding their bosses with obscene bonuses) was the final straw. I started researching better places to put my money and stumbled across Move Your Money UK on Twitter. I read through the options and finally settled on the Co-operative bank as an alternative. Moving my money was straightforward and the Co-operative even offered to do the legwork in transferring direct debits. In fact it took only a half-hour visit to the branch and in hindsight I wish I had done this earlier.
During this time I also took out a business bank account for my newly-formed social enterprise Sweet Opportunity. I looked at the available options including Triodos and my local credit union, but in the end I decided to set up my business account with the Co-operative Bank too. As well as free business banking for social enterprises, the standard of service thus far has been impeccable.
However, I still had the tricky problem of a £1400 personal overdraft with HSBC, and no regular income with which to pay it off. At this point I remembered something else: Whilst I'd been taking out those post-graduation loans, the sneaky advisor had added Payment Protection Insurance (PPI) without telling me. I read how to reclaim this money (that had been illegally taken from me) on MoneySavingExpert.com. The process is free and you have nothing to lose. The form took around half an hour to complete and once I'd sent it I sat back and waited, bracing myself for an inevitable battle.
Three weeks later a letter dropped through my door. When I opened the envelope my legs gave way with shock. Not only had they approved my claim, but they had taken into account all my previous loans AND applied interest since 2002. In total I was awarded nearly £6000. I immediately contacted the Co-operative Bank to transfer my direct debits over from HSBC.
Not only am I now debt-free for the first time in my life, but my conscience is clear. I've also opened a credit union savings account to make sure that my money is being used in support of the local economy - not funding arms dealers or fat cat bonuses.
The fact that the switch was so simple and that I am still enjoying the same high quality of service that my old bank provided is proof that we can bank ethically without having to compromise the quality of facilities that we receive.
Guy Walsh Enterprise Services –www.aguynamedguy.co.uk
Sweet Opportunity –www.sweetopportunity.co.uk