I’ve been partner in a small Limited Liability Partnership in the UK since 2009, and since the start getting our banking right has been a bit of a headache. We have a low turnover, but issue between 50 and 70 invoices a year, and many of those are paid from Eurozone countries. Both Jan and I, the partners in the company, travel a lot and are hence heavily reliant on distance banking – we cannot get to branches.
What do we need
Two accounts – one for Sterling, one for Euro, and a simple way to transfer between the two accounts. Payments are predominantly into the Euro account. Transfers out of either account to the Eurozone are rare, but to other Sterling accounts are common. In addition we accept payments via PayPal, and may use TransferWise more intensely in future, but those are separate issues.
What we have
For ethical reasons we have so far had business banking with the Co-operative Bank. We need to leave Co-op not due to the scandals that have beset the bank, but because the distance banking they offer is awful – the Sterling online banking is as bad now as in 2009, and to check balances and make transfers from the Euro account I have to call them. 15 mins on the phone to them this week was the final straw.
What we can’t go for
Some UK banks – Nationwide (I bank with them personally), Halifax, First Direct and Smile (they are Co-op anyway) do not offer business banking. Handelsbanken is too reliant on branches.
Reliant on the telephone
Three banks – Barclays, Lloyds and Bank of Scotland – fall into the same category as Co-op, in that they offer Euro accounts, and the websites about the accounts talk of ‘easy’ transfer between Euro and Sterling accounts, but careful reading of the Barclays website, and calls made to Lloyds and Bank of Scotland to confirm it, shows that all of these banks still require you to make a call to check a balance or make a transfer from a Euro account. Going for any of these would hence be no step forward in comparison to Co-op.
Which leads me to… RBS/NatWest, or HSBC
Each of these banks offers simple Euro accounts for businesses, and the ability to check the balance of this account in the online banking, and to transfer from Euro to Sterling accounts online. The services offered by RBS and NatWest are identical as far as I can tell, and the details are here. Details of HSBC’s offerings are here. The devil then is in the detail – to access RBS’s Euro account online you need to add the Bankline online banking service, at a cost of £11 / month, while HSBC has a charge of £5 / month to keep the Euro account open, and a £1 charge per incoming SEPA transfer. Also both RBS (with alleged efforts to close businesses) and HSBC (money laundering) are rather questionable from an ethical stand point. Of the two I am leaning towards HSBC at the moment.
Thanks to numerous people on Twitter for help with this blog entry, not least NatWest’s social media team, and @sirius7dk, @siepert, @JamesWillby, and @MrChrisAdams who pointed me towards this amusing exposé by Phil Gyford of how hard it is to open an account with any of the above. @emrys_s asked me to write up my conclusions, so here you go Emrys!
Immediately after posting this entry, a friend has directed me towards the Cater Allen Reserve Account. This will be assessed along with the HSBC and RBS/NatWest options.