Bereaved families face significant delays and costly admin errors when settling their loves ones’ finances, according to new research from Which?
Published this week, the study reveals a litany of failures by high street banks when closing the accounts of people who have passed away.
In a survey of 1,600 members, the consumer rights watchdog found that many respondents dealt with “severe” delays, poor communication and a lack of knowledge during the probate process.
Jenny Ross, Which? Money editor, said: “Our research has exposed unacceptable mistakes by banks cropping up again and again during the probate process, leaving bereaved customers even more distressed and potentially out of pocket because of avoidable errors and delays.
“Banks must ensure they treat executors with compassion by communicating sensitively and making sure their processes are as efficient as possible.”
Failing bereaved families
Dozens of survey respondents described how banks lost death certificates and even failed to close the accounts of dead relatives. Other bereaved families had to chase banks repeatedly to get them to close their loved ones’ accounts.
In one particular incident, a respondent revealed she had to pay £4,000 in funeral fees after HSBC lost her late father’s death certificate. To add insult to injury, the bank’s bereavement team also failed to send her forms to close her father’s stocks and shares ISA.
She was later offered compensation, flowers and a backdated payment of investment, including the interest lost.
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In response to the research, HSBC confirmed it has since “taken steps to help ensure the experience with us going forward is a better one”. HSBC customers are now able to directly report a bereavement via the bank’s website and submit documentation electronically.
In another case, two grieving siblings were forced to wait 10 weeks to access funds following their mother’s death. On this occasion, they were given conflicting information and NatWest failed to notify its own bereavement department of the death.
Which? said the issues experienced by many customers exacerbate what is already a stressful and difficult situation for families and people acting as an executor. Furthermore, the coronavirus pandemic appears to have made the problem worse.
One-in-six people said they navigated the process of closing a loved one’s account for more than three months before the first lockdown. Since the onset of Britain’s lockdown measures, that number has risen to more than one-third (37%).
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Similarly, before the pandemic only 3% of people said it was ‘very difficult’ to contact a provider, but that figure increased to one-in-six (16%) for those who settled their loved one’s finances during and after lockdown.
The research revealed providers with the lowest levels of overall satisfaction among executors were Barclays and HSBC. Conversely, providers with the most satisfied customers during the probate process were Post Office Money, Nationwide and Santander.
“Not fit for purpose”
Nick Cousins, CEO and founder of Glasgow-based technology startup, Exizent, said the research should encourage financial institutions to streamline and modernise an often laborious process for all parties involved.
By harnessing data and adopting new technologies, banks have the opportunity to enhance the probate process and better-serve their customers.
“Sadly, the probate process has not been fit for purpose for some time, and our own research shows that even the legal professionals working in the area agree, with the vast majority saying they feel the process does not work as it should, admitting the time it takes to complete probate is unacceptable,” he said.
Founded in 2018, Exizent aims to transform how the legal and financial services sectors process bereavement. The company’s platform connects data, services and the network of people involved when someone dies to make the probate process quicker and more efficient.
Research conducted by Exizent found a key issue with the probate process is administration. Many legal professionals conceded that communication and time delays with financial institutions is a significant problem.
“It needn’t be this way,” Cousins said. “There is a huge opportunity to harness the technology and data already available to create a better system so that loved ones are not faced with huge delays at what is already a hugely difficult time.”