James Daley

By James Daley

There's nothing more effective when it comes to cleaning up a tired and inefficient market, than a shiny new challenger brand with fresh ideas and a new way of thinking. So when TSB's reemergence on Britain's high streets was announced a couple of years ago, I for one was optimistic.

Last summer, the separation formally took place, and while it's still owned by Lloyds Banking Group, it now has its own staff, own office and over 600 of its own branches around the country - not to mention over 4 million customers. So how's it getting on?

If you haven't worked it out from the headline, the short answer is: so far, so what?

Although it's still early days for TSB mark 2, it's done very little to distinguish itself from its competitors - other than claiming that it's doing things differently in its advertising.

Separating two large organisations is not an easy task, and I have some sympathy with TSB when I hear the stories about angry customers who got caught in the crossfire of unexpected consequences. My grandma, who passed away last autumn, was one of them. She'd been a customer of Lloyds her whole life, and then suddenly found that she'd been passed over to TSB at the end of last summer. She lived in a tiny village where she was on first name terms with the manager of the local Lloyds branch. But because she was registered at another Lloyds branch hundreds of miles away, she suddenly found she was no longer a customer of the only bank in her village.

Great rhetoric, where's the substance?

It's easy to see how that kind of stuff happened, and of course it would have been better if TSB had taken greater care to ensure it didn't. But it's not the inevitable cock-ups of a large scale demerger which have left me feeling disappointed.

Instead, it's been the lack of anything to cheer about since TSB officially launched nine months ago. It recently rolled out a new current account, whose unique selling point is that it offers 5% interest. Fine, but not quite as revolutionary as it seems to think it is. Its adverts are all about how great it is because the 5% is for life and not just for a few months. But in just about every other way, the new account looks like every other current account on the market.

A high interest rate will surely be welcome by some customers, but for most people, it's unlikely to amount to any more than £50 a year in interest - which is less than the £60 you'll get from a Halifax reward account.

And on important issues such as transparency and jargon, TSB continues to look just like its lesser competitors. Its current account page boasts about the benefits, but as usual, leaves customers scrabbling around to find details about overdraft charges or other fees attached to the account.

Boast about your credibility once you've earned it

A few weeks ago, I wrote about why I feel that Santander's latest advertising campaign is disingenuous - and it feels as though TSB is falling into the same trap. You can't just claim that you're fair and transparent, you've got to walk the walk as well.

TSB has a unique opportunity to shake up banking. It's got a fresh start - but unlike other challengers, it starts with over 4 million customers already on its books. When are we going to see it start to look like a bank of the future, rather than just hearing it tell us that it is one?