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30 Nov 2019

Britain's best bank accounts revealed - and those you should avoid

Starling Bank joins our Recommended Providers as Tesco Bank takes a dive

First Direct is back on top while digital challenger bank Starling has been named a Which? Recommended Provider for the first time, following the latest current account survey from Which? Money.

Every year, we ask thousands of customers to rate their bank or building society to generate the Which? customer score.

We also ask them to score 10 different elements of each banking brand's service, from the handling of complaints to the quality of in-branch and online banking facilities.

In September, 4,216 people told us about their current account providers. Their scores are combined with our expertise to select our Which? Recommended Providers - the brands that offer great products as well as superior customer service.

The full list can be found in our guide to the best and worst banks.

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Four Which? Recommended Providers

This year, we have selected four Recommended Providers, all with a customer score over 70% and an above-average product score, based on our analysis of their standard current accounts.

After being toppled by challenger bank Monzo last year, First Direct has reclaimed the top spot with a Which? customer score of 84%, while app-only bank Starling (83%) came a close second.

Customers ranked both brands particularly highly for their customer service, communication, transparency of charges and mobile banking.

Neither bank has a presence on the high street (although First Direct can use branches of parent bank HSBC for basic transactions) so customers must use online banking or, in the case of Starling, a smartphone banking app to manage their accounts.

However, our final two Recommended Providers suggest that many people still value traditional face-to-face banking, particularly when digital services fail. Official figures show that banks reported the equivalent of five IT glitches a week between October 2018 and September 2019.

Nationwide (78%) and M&S Bank (76%) both achieved impressive customer scores and have the lowest rates of bank branch closures across the UK, alongside Metro Bank.

Here's how our four Recommended Providers compare:

Worst-rated banking brands

Two of the worst performers in our survey are part of the same banking group: Ulster Bank (55%) and Royal Bank of Scotland (62%).

Customers gave both banks two stars for complaints-handling and branch banking service. With no interest, cashback or other rewards available, Ulster Bank also received a lowly one star for benefits.

RBS customers have been hit hardest by branch closures, with three in four branches closed between January 2015 and August 2019.

Meanwhile,Tesco Bank (60%) has come crashing down the table in this latest survey, landing it second from bottom in our table, having featured in the top six in 2018.

Existing customers saw their in-credit interest rate drop from 3% to 1% in June 2019 - which may explain a two-star rating for account benefits - but the supermarket bank also earned an average three stars for overall customer service, telephone banking, and branch banking (in this case, Tesco Stores that offer a customer service desk).

Why isn't Monzo a Recommended Provider?

Monzo customers continue to rave about the digital mobile-only bank. It achieved a customer score of 82% in our latest survey and came third overall.

It also earned five stars for overall customer service, the application process, communication, transparency of charges, and its mobile banking app.

However, Which? is no longer formally recommending banks that aren't signed up to the 'Authorised Push Payment Scam Code' which launched on 28 May 2019.

Several major banks are yet to sign up to the voluntary code, including Monzo, although it told us that it's planning to sign up by March 2020.

The APP code forces banks to better protect their customers from bank transfer scams - where a criminal tricks you into sending money to their bank account - and reimburse them if they fall short of these standards.

If banks are blameless, victims should still be reimbursed from a communal pool, although the long-term funding for this is still being decided (you can read about this in our news story).