“ Financial Institution: Natwest / Type: Basic Bank Account „
Although you can get a good idea of a bank's customer service when everything is going right with your account, it's when something goes wrong that they face the real test. Over the last few days, things went very wrong with my Natwest Step account, and it was their reaction that has driven me to write this review. But I'm getting ahead of myself, perhaps I should start at the beginning.
==Why Natwest and their Step account==
When I left my husband, I walked out with literally just the clothes on my back, leaving all my previous bank cards and details in the house with him. I'm not going to go into details, but there was a very good reason for leaving the way I did, and as one final act of revenge he emptied the accounts and single-handedly ruined my credit rating. Before you ask, I couldn't actually do anything to prevent him from doing this as they were joint accounts.
One of the steps to getting my life back together was to open an account in my own name, only because my credit rating was now shot to pieces, I couldn't open a standard current account and was stuck with trying to find a suitable 'basic' bank account. The first such account that I opened was with HSBC, and I had numerous problems with this account, including the fact that I could only withdraw money from ATMs or the Post Office, not the bank itself. Then there was the fact that that particular account didn't come with a debit card, meaning that I couldn't even spend my own money online. The final straw was that say a payment would be requested from the account at 6am, but my funds only went into the account at 7am, well they would refuse the payment.
After enduring this account for several months, I decided that I needed to find a bank that valued my custom just a little more and started the search for a new account. I wasn't looking for anything more than a basic account, that would allow me to pay money in, take money out, set up direct debits and would also give me a debit card. I didn't want an overdraft, credit or even cheque book and after looking through several websites, I decided that the Natwest Step account was perfect for my particular needs.
Although you can open a Step account in branch or over the telephone, I chose to open mine online, seeing as I already had the website open. I found this a fairly simple process that only took me a few minutes, it really was a case of entering fairly standard details before clicking on the apply button. I was given an immediate answer that I would be permitted to open the account and would be receiving a Visa debit card. I then had to wait for the paperwork to arrive through the post, which I would say took about a week.
After filling in the paperwork, I had a choice of either returning it by post or taking it into my local branch. As I also needed to provide two proofs of I.D. I decided not to chance that Royal Mail would actually manage to provide a decent service and took them into the branch. Unlike many standard accounts, the I.D. required was fairly easy to obtain, I didn't have a passport or driving licence (with the correct address in), but was able to supply child tax notification and a statement from my previous bank.
After supplying my I.D. I did have a fairly long wait of about two weeks before my account was set up and I received my debit card, and wasn't contacted within this time. I found this aspect a little disappointing, and was getting a little concerned that the paperwork hadn't been passed on from the branch. But when I phoned them I was assured that everything was in hand and my account was being processed.
==Managing The Account==
Although this is a basic account, I am still able to manage it in branch, over the phone or online. I must say though that I do only tend to manage it online, with the occasional visit to a branch. I was supplied with a paying-in book for putting money into the account, and when this is used the money is immediately available for spending. I also have my child benefit and tax credits paid into this account, and (fingers crossed) I've never had a problem with these going in. Although my payment day is Monday, I generally find that the funds are available after 2am on the previous Saturday.
Although this account doesn't have an overdraft facility, I was supplied with a Visa Debit card, meaning that as long as I have funds in my account, I can use it to buy goods and services both on the High Street and online. For me this is an absolute boon that allows me to take advantage of cheaper prices online. There is one slight problem with the debit card, in that it only works where the card machine has an instant connection with the banks. So, for example, I can't use it to pay for a train ticket from a ticket inspector on the train, even though I have enough available funds in the account.
As well as being a debit card, can also be used in any of the thousands of Link machines to withdraw money. A nice touch is that it can also be used in Post Offices, both to withdraw money and check the balance. I particularly like this feature, as my Post Office is only a two minute walk away, whereas my nearest cash point is half hour further down the road. I can also ask for cash-back when making purchases from a retailer that has that facility.
Direct Debits can also be set up to make regular payments along with standing orders, basically, with this account you get all the facilities of a current account without the overdraft or any risk of getting into debt. It would have been nice if I had received interest on my money, but if I wish I can link a savings account with this account.
As I make online purchases with my debit card, I regularly use the website to keep an eye on my account along with transferring money to my partner's account. The website does seem very secure, with the usual password process where rather than a complete password, you need to enter certain numbers or letters. I like that it will regularly change so while I might be asked for the first, third and fifth letters on one occasion, on the next it might be the third, fourth and eight, with there being no pattern to which figures are asked for. On logging in the last login time is also displayed, so if someone has managed to log into my account, then I'd be able to tell. Natwest also supplies their own security software, Rapport to add to security.
Once online I'm able to check my balance, recent transactions or full statement. I chose not to have paper statements sent to me, but instead I receive an email whenever a new statement is available for me to check online. I'm also able to set up payments online, either as one offs or regular. There's yet another security feature when setting up payments, where I was sent a card reader that generates a code that needs to be entered when setting these payments up. One payment I've set up is to my partner's account, and when I make a payment using this, the money generally hits his account within an hour.
==When Things Go Wrong==
As a recent victim of a well known website being hacked, I had a 'very nasty person' try to take two payments of £15 out of my account. As I check my account at least daily, I immediately noticed these payments and contacted the Natwest via telephone. After confirming that I hadn't made these purchases, I was passed onto a very nice lady at the fraud team. After a short conversation where I confirmed my identity and explained the problem, I was informed that my card had been cancelled and that the payments would be refunded to my account the next day. The next morning I received a letter informing me that there was suspicious activity on my account (so they had noticed it at about the same time I had) asking me to phone them. As for the £30, that was back in my account by 12pm the day after I had reported them, and my new bank card was with me a couple of days later. Yes the attempt at fraud had inconvenienced me, but the combination of my being able to keep an eye on my account online and the Natwest's excellent customer service meant that the inconvenience was minimal.
Although this is a basic account, it is one of the best of it's type. It's an account that is fairly easy to open, even without a passport or driving licence. And it actually has a fair number of features for a basic account. My basic account with a different bank was severely restrictive, with me not even allowed to take my own money out in branch, while with this account I take my money out in so many different ways. In my opinion this is an excellent first account for those trying to take back control of their financial affairs. I don't have the best credit rating (although it could be worse) and yet I had no problem opening the account, and the addition of the Visa Debit Card means that I am able to make purchases online, which I love. I also have nothing but praise for their fraud team, who dealt with my account being compromised in a timely and pleasant manner. And so I'm giving the Natwest Step Account a resounding five stars out of five, because for me it's the perfect account.