James Daley

By James Daley

It's 18 months since Fairer Finance launched this month - and we're glad to be introducing two new product categories to our ratings tables. Our savings and mortgage tables both went live over the past few days - a new lense on two of the oldest parts of the financial services industry.

Neither savings or mortgages are the most obvious place to apply the Fairer Finance methodology. After all, customer service can be as good as you like, but if a bank's savings or mortgage rates are terrible, then it's still not worth handing your money over.

Deciding the tie-break

However, in today's competitive market, there's usually a wide choice at the top of the rate tables. Right now, there's at least half a dozen banks and building societies offering fixed rate savings bonds paying between 2 and 2.1%. Faced with all that choice - how do you settle the tie break? Competition in the mortgage market is equally fierce.

That's where we think Fairer Finance's ratings will come in useful.

As with all of our ratings, apart from life insurance, we analyse providers on four different metrics. We use our opinion polling partner, Opinium, to find out what customers think of their savings provider - asking them how happy they are overall, but also whether they trust the brand. After that, we take the Financial Ombudsman Service's data to look at their record on complaints handling. And finally, we examine how transparent they are - walking through the buying process, and seeing whether or not they tell us everything that we think a customer needs to know.

Clear and simple

In savings, our transparency analysis looks at a number of different factors. As with all product areas, we do an in-depth analysis of the quality of the terms and conditions - looking at whether they're written in plain English and whether they're laid out in a way that helps customers understand what they're reading. But we also look at how clear banks and building societies are about the Financial Services Compensation Scheme, and what might happen if they were to go bust. Other parts of our analysis include a check to see whether companies are clear about any restrictions about withdrawing your money - and also what happens at the end of any fixed offer period.

In the mortgage market, we look at things such as how clear lenders are about the various fees and charges that are attached to their loans, and how clear they are about the ability to overpay or pay off your loan early.

Overall, we're pleased to see that the building society sector dominates both our savings and mortgage tables  - taking 1st, 2nd and 3rd and 6th place in our savings rankings and 1st, 3rd, 4th and 5th in our mortgages table. But there are some banks near the top of our tables too. As ever, First Direct takes its place in the roll of honour in both sectors. While former building society Birmingham Midshires (now owned by Lloyds Banking Group) also makes it into the gold ribbon winners in savings. Another Lloyds brand - Bank of Scotland - squeaks into our bronze tier of providers in mortgages.

If, like us, you want a banking industry that works harder for its customers, please make use of our tables when you're settling that tie-breaker. If banks start to see that they are losing customers by failing to invest in their service and clarity, it will force them to change tack.

Our ratings are free to use, and from this month, we'll no longer be receiving any money for referring people through to individual companies. We fund the work we do by working with companies to improve their websites and documents - so that we can keep our tables free for everyone.