Santander’s new UK chief executive Ana Patricia Botin admitted the bank has “a lot of work to do” to improve service standards after recent shocking figures on customer complaints.
In her inaugural public appearance in the UK, Ms Botin told MPs on the Treasury Select Committee that improving customer service was one of her priorities since taking on the top job.
Ms Botin – the UK’s first female bank boss – was grilled by MPs after recent data from the Financial Services Authority showed Santander had the highest number of customer complaints of any British bank.
It was also named as the worst bank for customer satisfaction in a recent Which? poll.
Santander’s service levels are said to have suffered as the bank seeks to integrate the Alliance & Leicester and Abbey brands, snapped up as part of aggressive expansion moves in recent years. The bank notched up 216,158 complaints in the first six months of 2010 – the most of any banking brand – according to the FSA.
Ms Botin told MPs the bank’s service was “beginning to improve” by addressing underlying issues such as systems and processes, while also hiring 1,000 new staff to handle complaints. Ms Botin was the latest British bank chief to face MPs on the cross-party committee as part of its hearing on competition in the retail banking sector.
MPs also questioned Ms Botin on lending to small businesses – a hot topic in the sector as the Government continues to thrash out a deal to rein in pay and secure promises on higher lending levels.
Santander is hoping to become a major competitor in the UK small business market, but Ms Botin confirmed it was a challenge for all banks, with less favourable lending rates and caution over risk.
“It’s the hardest thing we have to do – we have got to get the person dealing with an entrepreneur and understanding their business.”
She added: “It’s one of our priorities to become not only a larger player, but a better player.”