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I have been using this bank for a number of years and have found them incredibly user friendly.
When setting up an account it is all done online, all details are entered and within a few days, the credit agreements are posted out to your address for a signature and then the account(s) is set up a few days later and showing on the net.
There are no high street branches so if you do need to have a bank where you are able to deposit cash then this is not for you, however cheques are easily deposited by posting them and I have never had to wait more than two days for them to show in my account before clearing. I have never had any cheques go missing in the post either.
Saving jar (account) names s can be easily changed and your account can be easily enhanced all by online service. The names are a great idea as it means you can have a pot marked holidays, going out, house etc so it is the equivalent of all of your mums purses in various drawers in her dressing table....or is that just my parents?? It is very helpful that I can see how much is in each jar and so if I'm saving for something specific I don't get confused with other things I'm saving for too.
If you want to speak to customer services you can either phone or send a secure message via their website, which is the option I choose to do. They generally reply within 24 hours and I find that they deal with everything quite promptly. My only complaint would be I recently changed some savings account for a better interest rate and I think IF should have been more pro active and contacted me first to advise me I could get a better rate without me having to start the process.
Overall a great internet bank and have always received excellent customer service.
If you did choose to open an account with Intelligent Finance it shouldn't be viewed as a standalone current account you do need a high street branch account as well. I used to have a current account and a deposit account with this bank, the offer being that as long as you had money on deposit you would earn the same amount of interest on your current account- which was a good deal. But without telling me or to give them the benefit of the doubt, by telling me in small print- this stopped. Once I realised, I closed the savings account and now the benefits of having a cheque account as a back up earning interest are gone. I got my statement this morning and I had earned 2p interest on just under £400- so I think this account is about to get it's marching orders. There are many accounts out there better than this one so I would not recommend it.
**I'm reviewing this bank purely as a saver and my thoughts should be viewed in this light!**
At the beginning of this year I decided that sitting under an umbrella of debts gathered during my time as a student was less than beneficial to both my prospects of ever getting a mortgage and more importantly, my sanity :-)
I turned to Intelligent Finance who were offering a very healthy interest rate on their iSaver product at the time. The interest rate has since fallen, but it remains at a competitive level and is guaranteed to be at least 1% above the base rate until the end of 2009. This suited me ideally, as I hope to be debt free by June.
In addition to this, Internet-only operation of accounts and flexbility were factors that appealed particularly.
Opening my initial iSaver was simple - a quick online form, provision of a few photocopied documents and an electronic transfer from my current account. The whole process took roughly a fortnight.
The account was managed through a cleanly laid out and fairly intuitive interface and I've only had one query about using my account online that I couldn't answer using their online help.
This online 'portal' allows you access to all your savings accounts and since opening the initial one I have opened another couple to help with the budgeting (holidays etc.) Opening additional accounts/'jars' is as simple as completing another simple form online and returning it signed once they post out the paper version. You can also carry out easy transfers between jars and opt to have the account for jar x paid into jar y and so on - really useful for regular savings.
Their customer service is hit and miss, as with all contact centres. I've spoken to some very insincere individuals, but some have been very helpful. To the best of my knowledge I've only ever spoken to Scots, which means that there isn't any real problems with language barriers etc. Oddly enough, their online messaging service for enquiries is great and they reply within one working day to queries. This is the polar opposite to most modern banks, who appear to view e-mails with disgust.
Healthy enough rates in a market that doesn't favour savers
Easy account opening
Easy additional account opening
East account maintenance
Option to choose to have interest paid into one central 'jar'
Queues to speak to someone in the contact centre
Some advisors are less enthusiastic than others
Security process when speaking to advisors can be cumbersome
When I needed a new current account (well my very first one really), I decided to begin my hunt on the internet. Seeing as this was going to be my first proper account and Id never had any form of credit, my credit score was quite low and many of the banks either refused to allow me to open account, or placed huge restrictions on what I would be able to do with it. But this was not the case with Intelligent Finance, they not only allowed me to open a current account, but also allowed me to add a savings account and credit card. Let me tell you I was one happy bunny.
But Im getting ahead of myself, I should really tell you a bit about the bank and application process .
Intelligent Finance (IF) is a telephone/internet only bank, which is an offshoot of The Halifax (Bank of Scotland). As such there are no physical branches, and all applications and subsequent transactions have to be carried out using either the internet or phone. I cant comment on applying by phone (as I opened my account online) but I found the online application process straightforward and relatively pain-free. Before you begin your application its a good idea to have any existing bank and salary/benefit details to hand, as these will be requested along with such standard questions as your name and address. All in all, I believe it took be about ten minutes to fill in all the questions before the application went through a credit check. I was amazed to find that I had passed this check and was instantly offered current, savings and credit card accounts.
The final stage of the application process takes a little longer, and involves waiting for a welcome pack, which contains among other things, the complete terms and conditions and any credit agreements that you may need to sign. Once Id received this pack, I very quickly hunted out the paperwork they required (proof of income/address), signed the forms and sent it back (recorded delivery). My account was then up and running within less than a week, and my paperwork returned within the same timescale, all I had to do is wait for my credit and debit cards to arrive.
Once the account had been opened, I was able to look at the clever part of it in a little more detail. You see this isnt an ordinary bank account, but one that off-sets your money. What this means is that all of your accounts are lumped into one folder (called a plan), and then the clever people at IF will make it work even harder for you. For a start if you open both a current and savings account (within the same plan) then they will pay you the savings interest rate on all your credit balances. The second part of this is a little harder to explain, and works slightly differently depending on whether you pay tax or not, but involves them adding all your credit balances together and then all your debit balances. You can then choose whether you want to pay less interest on money that youve borrowed (by paying none on the amount equivalent to your credit balance), or receive more interest on your savings (by getting the same amount of interest as you are paying on the equivalent of your borrowings). If you want to get a better idea of how this works, check out the IF website where they have a wonderful little demo.
Paying money into the account can be a bother, as there are no physical branches you cant just pay cash in (although you can send them cheques), but there is a way round this (that I find works very well). I simply opened a basic flex account with the Nationwide and set up a direct debit between that and my IF savings account. Now I can transfer money between the two accounts without any hassle (although it does take a couple of days for the transaction to complete). I have a couple of other direct debits set up, and have never had any problems with them, and such payments as child benefit are paid directly into the account (again with no problems).
Getting money out of the account is far simpler, I was issued with a debit card, which originally was of the Switch/Maestro variety but has recently been changed to Visa Electron (Im not sure if this is going to cause any problems, but so far so good). This also functions a £100 cheque guarantee card as well as a cash point card. All new cards being issued are also of the chip and pin variety, which is supposed to help protect me against fraud. I also have a cheque book, for those purchases where Im not that keen on posting my credit/debit card details off.
The credit card, is basically a bog-standard Visa card, and the actual site has recently separated all credit card transactions from the rest of the plan. I believe they are doing an introductory off of 9 months interest free, but otherwise the interest rate and charges seem to be on a par with similar cards offered by other banks. The thing I do like about the credit card is that I was able to choose which day of the month I wanted to be my statement date. This means that if you get paid on a particular day of the month you can choose to have the payment date to suit your circumstances.
Ive never had any problems in accessing my account (either online or by phone) and find that the online pages are almost always up to date. Obviously, if a purchase is made using the credit/debit card it can sometimes take a couple of days to fully appear on the transactions page, but the account available balance always takes these transactions into account. Statements are sent on a monthly basis, are comprehensive and very easy to understand. So all in all I can find out the status of my account any time, day or night without any difficulty.
Although there are no physical branches to go into when there are problems with the account, Ive had no difficulty finding someone to talk to when Ive needed to. If the problem isnt urgent then there is an online form for queries, and Ive found these are answered within 24 hours (during the working week). For the more urgent problems (for example we were burgled and our statements had been rifled) there is a local rate phone number where there is someone to talk to, and I found my problem was dealt with immediately. Something I also found reassuring was that when a large purchase was made with my credit card, the bank actually phoned me up and asked if it was me that made the purchase. Thats customer service and fraud prevention at its very best if you ask me.
Ive now been successfully running this account for just over three years without any major problems. Ive never had any difficulty logging into the site and find moving money around my plan to be very easy. Then there is the amount of interest I receive, lets put it this way, theres a similar balance with both this account and one with the Nationwide, and in just two months I get as much interest with IF as I do in an entire year with the Nationwide. There have however been some recent changes, and Im not 100% convinced theyre for the better (yet). Even saying this I have no hesitation in recommending Intelligent Finance, I have absolutely no regrets in opening my plan and find that my accounts run smoothly and trouble-free.
My main reason for changing to IF was because of the offsetting. It comes across as though it's complicated but it's actually pretty simple really and it DOES save you money :) Well it has saved me money at any rate! The basic idea is this: normally you pay interest on your credit cards, loans, etc., and receive interest on your current account, savings, etc.. With offsetting you don't receive any interest on your savings etc., but use your savings balance to reduce the amount of interest on your credit cards and loans. Here's a small example: Without offsetting --> Interest received on savings of £2,000 monthly = £5.67 Interest paid on loan of £10,000 monthly = £69.17 Each month you're worse off by = £63.50 With offsetting --> No interest received on savings of £2,000 As savings offset against loan you only pay interest on £8,000 = £55.33 Each month you're worse off by = £55.33 So by offsetting you're better off by £8.17 each month! Okay I know that doesn't sound like a lot, but it makes more difference if you have a mortgage or a bigger loan. Especially with a mortgage, you could save a ton of money by offsetting. Another small example: say you have a credit card balance of £1,000 and savings of £1,000 or more. You would pay NO INTEREST AT ALL on your credit card balance! I know everybody's experiences are different, but I am very surprised at the number of low score reviews for Intelligent Finance! I've been with them since May 2003 and I haven't yet experienced a single problem with them. I have a personal loan, credit card, current account and savings account with them. All the accounts were opened quickly with no fuss or problems. I had my direct debits and standing orders transferred to IF from my previous bank, again with no problems at all. All my requests for an increased overdraft, bigger credit limit, etc., hav
e been dealt with instantly and quickly. I've only ever emailed customer service on a couple of occasions, just for general enquires not problems (because I've had NO problems!) and I've always received a quick response. I do nearly all my banking through the online system, but I have used the telephone banking on a couple of occasions and had no problems with it. I've never been locked out of my account, and the only times the web site has been unavailable has been when I've had a bout of insomnia and tried to log on at 3AM in the morning, and the site has been down for upgrades / maintenance. The only thing I would change about IF is the lack of ability to pay in cash and cheques over the counter anywhere. Cheques aren't so much of a problem as you can post them direct to IF, but there's no way to pay in cash. My solution was to open a basic bank account with Nationwide, pay cash into that, then use online banking to transfer it to IF. A shame they don't have the same deal as Smile, where you can pay in cash and cheques for free at the Post Office. One minor bad point and a whole lot of plusses isn't bad though :) The web site is easy to use and understand, setting up standing orders, money transfers, paying bills, etc. etc., is very easy and straightforward. I can't comment on how good the people at the customer service desk are, but that's only because I've never had need to call them, because everything seems to just work the way it should! So I give 'em a thumbs up :)
The title sounds like a review for "ALIEN"; to be honest this as been my experience of INTELLIGENT FINANCE so far. Anyway, let?s try and be objective. I tried to set up accounts with IF over a year ago, it took them so long to respond that I opened a current account with Smile instead. I am attempting to open accounts again at present, basically because they are offering the best rates of interest. The website is fairly easy to use when applying for an account, although a bit slow. The concept of "jars" for each account leaves an impression you would be better off putting your money under the bed! I was frustrated with having to key information in twice for a joint account; a simple "do you both live at the same address?" would have helped. The forms have now arrived and you've guessed it, some of the information is inaccurate. The concept of "offsetting" your savings against your loans seems like a good idea. The only real advantage I can see is if this may save money on your tax bill. (Probably not!) I cannot comment on how good the site is to use, having failed to open an account so far. I will update my opinion if I achieve this milestone. The company is a Halifax/Bank of Scotland Company. As soon as you mention the 'H' word, there seems to be a never ending round of computing and/or keyboard entry errors, in my experience. If only, they could match the infrastructure with the interest rate we would all be happy. Only time will see. Update 24th March 2004 Well we sent away the paperwork and got a note back saying that we hadn't returned the Direct Debit Ma
ndate so they couldn't open the accounts. Having the CAT standard, they need to offer two ways of transferring your money, one way is by cheque (which will cost you an effty £18) or direct debit, which is fair enough. However, the direct debit allows than to take money from your "linked" account, but hold on a minute we would be transferring a lump sum by cheque, so why do we have to have a direct debit? We are too far down the line now and there is very little time to open up an account elsewhere, we will just have to bite the bullet and see. The direct debit mandate form as been sent, I wouldn't like to be in "Customer Services?" if anything goes wrong. Update 31st March 2004 As expected, they not only cashed our initial deposit cheque, but also took money by direct debit. Consequently, the cheques we had ready are now wrong. After a frustrated hour or so of phone calls, this has now been sorted out. But needless to say, we will be looking to move the money at the first sensible opportunity. IF's reaction, a lot of new customers have made the same error when filling out the application form and we are looking to modify the process. A simple note on the web site for clarity might help. Update 13th April 2004 At last, the cheques have cleared. After numerous phone calls and worry. We will now see how easy it is to transfer between ISA's now, but in the meantime I will bide my time.
IF has to be the worst bank on the net. Unfortunately it does have the best value mortgages on or off line though. Let's start with the interface. The login is overly complex, the website is slow, and worst of all - it is totally paranoid. I must have been locked out of my account three times in the last year and I am well used to internet banking and the multiple passwords you need. Compared to other online banks such as smile the functionality is very limited, and even low function online banks like Nationwide work quickly and efficiently with minimal faffing. With IF can only be put into the account by direct debit and if you want to add 'jars' pots where your money is stored, you are going to have to sign a form anyway so you might as well write to the bank. The concept is great but the delivery is weak. Separate jars for the goodies we are saving for are a brilliant idea but slow and unwieldy in practice. Likewise, the offsetting part (forgoing interest on savings in exchange for reduction in debit interest) is also complex and not readily understandable - IF doesn't tell you how much you are saving through offestting for example. All in all IF would be brilliant if the logon was streamline and things were more easily understood inside your accounts. As it is, the financial benefits are certainly not outweighed by the hassle you have to go through to get them.
Like other correspondents I found actually opening an account with IF a staggeringly frustrating and prolonged experience, with endless requests for the same information, and inability to talk to anyone sensible who could go off script. On at least three occasions I was told categorically that one final piece of information was required, only for further correspondence to follow. Having finally overcome these hurdles, I was issued with debit cards that had already expired. Admittedly, replacements arrived within a few days, but how do their systems allow this to happen ? I then requested a quote for a mortgage. The repayments looked suspiciously cheap, and I realised that they must be based on the discounted rate that applies for the first three months only - but this was not made clear, and I could easily have been taken in. The web site I have found to be at best average. It is very frustrating to attempt an action only to be told at the last point that you are not authorised to do it (I tried to change the name of a 'jar' owned by my wife.) This is simply bad design. Now (2nd October 2002) the web site has been down for three days and counting. For an internet-based service this is so far beyond acceptability as to be almost hilarious. Naturally, you can't get through on the 'phone at this time, and when you do, the harrassed-sounding staff have no information. The sheer effort of moving accounts again is leading me to persevere with them, but only very reluctantly. They should try using their own service for a while, sort out the glitches, train or replace the people, and they will have a great business.
Well, I have to say that the idea of what Intelligent Finance had to offer was both appealing and a perfect deal for me. Being able to deal with everything online, having all of my accounts in the same portol and of course their consolodation of interest rates was great - the problems started when cheques written six months ago mysteriously started coming out of my account again a week ago! After speaking with three (yes three - nobody wanted to 'take ownership' of the problem) of their staff, and not receiving call backs, I am still awaiting a manager to call me. I hope that I have just hit a bad bunch of reps with them, and the problem is isolated and one off, but be cautious when joining with them - and make sure you check other people's review first!
I switched from NatWest to IF (Intelligent Finance) a few months ago and well, lets just say not everything went to plan! I filled in my details on their web site, only to get to the last page and find a good old "HTTP Error 500" problems with server. So I rang them to complete my application and they told me everything was OK, I could have the credit card, etc. and a welcome pack was in the post. Weeks past.... So I rang them again. "Where is my welcome pack?" I asked. Only to be told by the operator that my application had been declined - they would not even accept me for a savings account!! I was rather, well angry to say the least! So I phoned back a week later to complain, and was then told I had not been declined! Just put on hold because of a "duplicate" application. Must have been from the web site and then phoning them to apply, even though at the time they told me I was just completing the application I made online. So the welcome pack finally arrived and I signed the papers and sent it off. A few days later a received a second welcome pack. So I phoned them again to ask what I was supposed to do with this one. Apparently because I had adjusted my address on the first welcome pack, they "go through a procedure" and usually a second welcome pack is blocked... but not this time! I was soon realising that this bank was not well organised to say the least. But I stuck with it none the less. Still no smooth sailing though. When I received my credit card, you have to phone a number from a sticker on the back of the card to activate it. But it kept asking for a PIN and I did not have one. So I phoned customer services only to find out it was the wrong number printed on the back of the card! Great. Then came to logging into my online account. I needed a security code or something. Guess what, yep, they never sent one. So on the phone again. Then their au
tomated telephone system went to pot. So when I rang to activate my account with the security code, I kept getting a human operator, who then put me through to the activation line, only to be forwarded back to another human! It was the first time I insisted on speaking to a machine! But all is well now... I have been running my account for several months and so far so good. Just a few teething problems perhaps? I hope so!
My wife and I have now been a year with IF. We have got our mortgage, savings and current account under one roof and really appreciate the single overview. We have been highly impressed by the service, though sometimes it can take a little long to speak to a human person. I do think you have to be reasonable about that as you can't have it all. What I mean is, if you want some of the best rates in the industry than you will have to accept that it is a self service offering. I consider ourselves as demanding customers as we do have other bank accounts across europe. I was pleasantly surprised that IF at least knew how to transfer money abroad as there are many high-street banks who do not realise that there are other countries out there. Everyone is using Swift but it is down to the individuals to understand the concept. I was also impressed that transfers are immediate between the various 'jars'. I have now lived for so long in the UK that I almost accept the 3-5 working days for clearing. Still think it is crazy but at least it is quick with IF. One major gripe is....you cannot pay in cash. I brought in a large amount (several thousands of pounds) but were not able to pay it in. IF suggested to go to one of the clearing houses (Natwest, Barclays, Lloyds TSB or HSBC) but none of them would pay-in cash to IF. I went in to the Halifax and explained the situation. They did explain that they have nothing to do with IF although the group owns them, however they offered me a drink (very good!!) and explained that I can open up a current account and CHAPS the money into my IF account. IF, you are so close to a perfect bank within the silly UK banking system. Just sort out pay-in slips for cash and allow for online SWIFT payments and you have a customer for life.
If you have a loan and a mortgage, and don't pay off the full balance on your credit card every month, it makes sense to be able to off-set credit balances in savings and current accounts against these for a better combined interest rate. However, if you are in credit most of the time, there are other aspects that need to be looked at. The most notable of these is the bank's scale of charges, and they don't usually draw attention to these. In the case of Intelligent Finance I see that if I pay a cheque INTO my account (if I had one with them, which I do not for this reason!) and that cheque bounces, the bank will charge ME £10! Whose side are they on? Not their customer's, it would appear. You don't need that to happen many times to wipe out any advantages you might have gained over combined interest rates. I have quite a lot of small cheques through my account from friends, family and in connection with my job. I have accounts with 3 banks, none of which charges their customer for bouncy third-party cheques, and I have not noticed this particular charge levied anywhere else, either. Intelligent Finance's charges are quite steep generally; you need to think carefully about how you are going to use the accounts. I cannot comment on any other aspects of Intelligent Finance as I have never had an account with them. However, I worked for a high-street bank for 8 years ("NEVER recommend a savings account - we'll have to pay 'em interest!"), I am currently (amongst other things) book keeper for a small business and an hon. treasurer for a charity, and I have an interest in the well-being of my own money!