First Direct’s crown as the best UK brand for customer service has not only slipped, it has gone crashing to the floor following a shocking lack of sensitivity when dealing with a customer who had been recently bereaved.
The issue was sparked when the widow of one customer wrote to the bank in September last year – one month after her husband had died – notifying First Direct of his passing. The bank immediately froze the account, which held just over £1,000.
The widow then sent the bank extensive documentation, including certified proofs of ID – utility bills, passports – for herself and the other executor of the will, the deceased’s brother, plus a death certificate and grant of probate.
However, by February she had not heard a word so she phoned the bank only to be told it had not received the grant of probate, adding that it could not accept the copy of the widow’s passport because it was too blurry, despite the fact that it had been certified by a solicitor. It demanded that these were resupplied.
First Direct subsequently sent the widow a paying-in book for a savings account in her name, even though she had not requested one. She then tried to contact the bank by phone, only to be told by a contact centre agent that she could not speak to them because they could not verify her identity. As a final resort, she contacted The Sunday Times Money section.
Within three days of being contacted by the newspaper, the bank had closed the account and transferred the money – although that was six months after the widow had first contacted it.
In a statement, First Direct said: “We offer our sincere condolences and would like to apologise for her recent experience with us. It is clear our treatment of [her] has not lived up to the high standards we set ourselves, and we’re extremely sorry to have contributed to her distress at this time.”
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