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An open letter to Sir Richard Branson

Hello Richard,

A lot of newspapers this morning are talking about how you’ve bought Northern Rock for a bargain price at the expense of us taxpayers. We’ll grumble to the chancellor about that. But seeing as you (and some private equity suits) have bought it, we hope some good will come of it.

Richard, this is your chance to shake up retail banking: some of Britain’s most unloved high street brands. Here are some ideas to get you started.

1. Never forget it’s our money. Put yourself in our shoes and do away with all the burdensome rules like £250 daily limit from a cash machine. Start a campaign to get rid of transfers taking up to ‘three working days’.

2. Be so spot-on at customer service that no one will even think of asking you for a customer charter.

3. Better still, publish complaints and tell us how you dealt with them. We’ll make up our own minds.

4. YOU ARE A BANK, not my friend. So no cutesy writing please, it doesn’t suit you. And while we’re at it, no adverts of staff singing. It doesn’t make us think you’re like us, it makes us think you’re trying too hard.

5. Don’t employ someone junior to wear a sash and greet me when I arrive at your bank. Hire people who can actually help me.

6. You’re Virgin. So add panache and get every last detail right. Uniforms as cool as Virgin Atlantic or Eurostar, online banking as easy to use as iTunes. And no plastic pens.

7. But don’t be flash at the expense of good, helpful service. Otherwise you’re Foxtons and everyone will resent that you’ve spent their money on fridges and fizzy pop.

8. Don’t even think of trying to look like a coffee shop. I want banking to be quick. I don’t want to stick around for a latte.

9. Stop relying on your computers and credit agencies to weigh up risk. People are more complicated than algorithms. Get real people to make a call on whether or not customers can get a loan.

10. That way you can be smarter about the products you offer too. You could be the bank that gives better rates to young first time buyers or small businesses, without getting in a subprime-esque mess.

11. Treat us with intelligence. A bonus £5 a month or PizzaExpress vouchers (that I can get from anywhere) make me sceptical, not loyal.

12. How about a current account with the same interest as an instant access savings account?

13. Don’t sell, sell, sell when I’m paying in a cheque. Yes, I have ‘thought about how much I could save from a mortgage instead of renting’, but I’m not going to make a spur-of-the-moment decision there and then.

14. Make the words ‘I’ll need to put you through to our blah-de-blah department’ a thing of the past. Keep your knowledge about customers in one place, from the start.

15. Tell us what you invest our money in – or ask us. And don’t invest more money than you’ve actually got in your bank. We’ve got savvier about banking now and it matters to us.

Above all, don’t just do a whitewash job and stick a Virgin logo on a bog standard bank. Ok, so private equity people aren’t known for thinking long term, but learn from what happened when you first took over Virgin Trains and how you turned it around when you started investing in better trains and service.

Richard, this could be our last chance to shake up retail banking. So don’t blow it.

Fingers crossed,

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