James Daley

By James Daley

At the end of August, Money Saving Expert published its latest bank account satisfaction survey. Astonishingly, Santander had leapt from bottom of the table to second place in just two years.

It's an incredibly significant result - which has enabled Santander to now boast that it's the most popular bank on the high street (as it is second only to the internet bank First Direct) - annointed by the most influential independent brand in financial services, Money Saving Expert. These scores also sit alongside the listings for Santander's 123 account on Money Supermarket, providing a winning endorsement at the point of sale.

There's no doubt that Santander's 123 account is proving very popular. It's providing very tangible rewards, which its customers like. But many of the legacy issues that have kept Santander at the bottom of the current account tables for several years are still present - and when you remove the scores for the 123 account customers, Santander's ratings are much more modest.

Power and influence

It's great that MSE are now in the business of customer polling. They've got a large, engaged user base. But given their size and influence, they need to be careful to ensure that their results are as robust as possible - and should be wary of using their polling data to indicate that a company has transformed its fortunes in two years.

Although MSE stops people voting twice in its polls from the same IP address, its fairly easy to get around this by using private browsing - and there's no vetting to ensure that people are actually customers of the banks that they vote for.

I'm not suggesting that Santander employees have been busy manipulating Money Saving Expert's polls - but it's certainly a possibility.

How can you be sure you're right?

It's an issue that we struggle with at Fairer Finance as well. We use an independent opinion polling company, Opinium, which has a panel of 40,000 survey respondents that it works with on an ongoing basis. Because we can see how they answer different surveys, it's easier to spot inconsistencies and pick out people who look like they might not be genuine. But it's not full proof.

Across our two survey waves, we now have over 16,000 responses, and with every wave, we hope that our results will become increasingly statistically robust - but we don't take our responsibility lightly. Even as a new company, with a fraction of the influence of Money Saving Expert, it's important to us that our results are as accurate as they can be - regardless of whether that's commercially convenient for us.

We now have almost 2,000 responses from Santander customers, and in our analysis, the bank is still below average for customer satisfaction. It's a result that is consistent with Which?'s findings as well.

We sense check all our results against other customer satisfaction polls wherever possible - and have pulled out one or two companies where the sample size was small and the result just didn't look right.

I'd like to see the industry collaborating to find ways of providing much better data - perhaps providing independently audited random sets of customers into a pool where they could be independently polled. As customer opinions gain ever more importance amongst customers, it's crucial that people can trust the data.