Banks the world over are scrambling to become larger, according to this interesting survey by The Economist. One reason, writes Robert Cottrell "is the pursuit of economies of scale in areas such as procurement, systems, operations, research and marketing. But the gains from that in the mass production of financial services, though not necessarily illusory, can be elusive."
A case in point: Aftenposten (no) checked out customer service at Norway's biggest bank today. DnB NOR got a decent review; the Aftenposten journalist found them a bit on the slow side, but once he got through to the right person, he found the bank's representative to be pleasant and knowledgeable. Now I've never had an issue with the customer service at this bank, where I've been a customer for more than ten years, but I do have an issue with how Gjensidige NOR has developed since it merged with DnB to become Norway's largest bank. Most notably I have a big issue with how it's now trying to squeeze all of its customers into ready made customer programs which might serve the bank's purposes very well, but is of dubious value to the customer. At a time when consumers have more banking choices than ever (so no need to put up with disagreeable banking experiences), DnB NOR is effectively forcing its customers into a program where the only way to get short term credit is via an expensive Master card you get thrown after you whether you want it or not, and you also end up with a travel insurance which is completely useless if you travel a lot via work and is unable to book your trips with that same Master card. I say 'effectively forcing' because all this and more (like better interests on loans) is yours for a 'small' monthly fee, but to stay outside the program will make banking with DnB NOR ludicrously expensive.
In this way, DnB NOR is rapidly becoming as bad as my English bank by repeating the same errors of costly customer programs, such as NatWest's 'Advantage Gold', and the same incomprehensible slowness in processing payments (and in my book DnB NOR has always compared very favourably to NatWest in the past). Now it seems the tables are turning (I haven't been madly enraged over some stupidity of NatWest's for a long time now, at least a few months, maybe helped by the fact that I closed down my Advantage Gold account and just have a current account there now). For the time being I've chosen to stay with DnB NOR in Norway because I have a very helpful personal consultant there who's known me for years and years, and I have an excellent bank history with them. Perhaps naively, I think that must be worth something – although it seems DnB NOR is moving more and more towards depersonalised systems in which everything is a numbers game and personal track record is worth next to nothing. If that proves the case I'll be better of with internet bank like the much praised Skandia bank, or better still a global bank where I won't need to have one bank for each of the countries I work in.
Note that The Economist concludes its survey with this Catch22 statement: "better banks tend to get bigger, but bigger banks are not necessarily better"