Moving a charity's accounts to a new bank: how hard can it be?

It's now just over a year since I took over as joint treasurer of Saint Columba's. And much as my mum (a church treasurer herself for many years) predicted, the first year was the worst.

One of the most tedious bits proved to be moving the church's accounts to a new bank. CAF specialise in banking for charities and nonprofit organisations, and after years of shoddy service from our current bankers, we were ready to bail out.

I won't name the current bankers, but let's call them LlBarcBCWestFax.

Moving our savings was relatively easy - just get the right signatures on a letter authorizing the closure of the account, and asking for the funds to be transferred by BACS to CAF. Sadly, LlBarcBCWestFax's crack team of account closure specialists managed to ignore my explicit instructions and issue a five-figure cheque, which they posted to the church (addressed to 'The Directors'!). I found it there after an increasingly anxious few days wondering where the money was.

That was easy, though, compared to moving the current account. Having chased up everyone paying money into it and asked them to move their standing orders elsewhere, we were left with the small matter of 25 direct debits needing switching. No problem, allegedly - CAF supplied a form to fill in asking for them to be moved, and we duly sent it off back to CAF. They in turn made a request to LlBarcBCWestFax, and two weeks later, I got a list of direct debits in the post on which I was asked to highlight the ones to move.

Could have sworn I ticked the box on the original form saying 'all of them'. Never mind, let's play the game. Highlighted and sent off.

Two weeks later, things started to move. Out of 25 organisations - ranging from ex-national monopolies to smaller operators, one managed to send a letter saying 'thanks for moving your direct debit - it's business as usual'. 20 sent letters saying "sorry to hear you've cancelled your direct debit", followed two days later by "glad to hear you've set up a new direct debit!".

And the other four? Three of them failed miserably to enact the switch and insisted on all sorts of paperwork with the signatures of all people on the bank account being sent. Seeing as the others managed it, I can only put this down to incompetence (one of these suppliers has been running a commercial all over the place lately, and the mere sound of their jingle has me wanting to kick something).

And finally, the one supplier who, two months after the switch, still hasn't done it? Our ISP. Turns out that all banks are equal, but some are more equal than others when it comes to direct debits. Our ISP "can't do direct debits from CAF". I haven't managed to get a straight answer on why this is, but it looks like our LlBarcBCWestFax current account will survive into 2011. Sigh.

The one positive note in all of this has been CAF's responsiveness as I've chased up issues with them. Being able to phone them and get straight through to an intelligent person who gives me a straight answer is exactly why we took on the challenge of making the switch in the first place. And unlike LlBarcBCWestFax, they don't charge £12 for cancelling a cheque...