Northern Rock: the World’s Worst Website

This letter was written in May 2004, long before Northern Rock collapsed.  Needless to say, they never had the courtesy to reply in writing but I got to know the poor sods in the Northern Rock Geek Department quite well as they called me many times to get things sorted out.  They shared my view of their website which eventually was completely redesigned and worked reasonably well.  The letter is severely abridged – indeed the first two pages are missing altogether – so as to omit all the personal financial information.

Northern Rock plc
Northern Rock House
Newcastle upon Tyne

Dear Customer Relations,

Do you Realise that you have Possibly the Worst Corporate Website in the World?

My Meeting at the Northern Rock branch lasted less than two miutes.  I wished to discuss alternative savings accounts into which to relocate the funds that would constitute my fighting capital ( I thought that putting the money in a Northern Rock account might mitigate in my favour when discussing the extent of buy-to-let facility I was seeking).  I was advised that the only account which met all my needs was the Online Tracker which, as its name implies, cannot be opened in the branch but only at a computer keyboard (or so the theory goes anyway).

The computer keyboard is where things really started to go pear-shaped because not disheartened by my failure to progress one iota as a result of my visit, I duly entered the living hell known as the Northern Rock website.

Now, I should point out at this juncture that whilst I can not be described as either Geek or Nerd when it comes to computers, I have nonetheless used them almost daily since they were first invented.  I am computer literate and know my URL’s from my ISP’s.  I therefore navigated with relative safety to that part of the site dedicated to the Online Tracker.  When I tried to apply online however, the website promptly disappeared up its own virtual backside.  That is to say, every time I got to the bit where you press “PRESS HERE TO APPLY ONLINE”, I was immediately jettisoned to the place where I started.

After a long session of freestyle swearing as I circulated back and forth and everywhere but where I actually wanted to go, I resorted to the nerdy paragraphs which inform you of the shortcomings of the website (in other words, the “why our website isn’t working for you” bit).

My first discovery is that your site doesn’t work with a ‘clean’ Windows XP installation (remember, this was 2004).  It is there in black and white.  You have a website that doesn’t work with the world’s largest and utterly industry standard computer operating systemThe website of the UK’s ninth largest bank goes tits-up on every single new computer sold in the world today.  I defy anyone to find a more mind-blowing example of commercial stupidity.  An online account that doesn’t work on ANY new computer.  Sorry to go on about it but this makes setting yourself on fire look like a sensible pastime.

Anyway, there is a cure (there shouldn’t have to be, but there is – unless you’re an Apple Mac user in which case you have to keep your money under your bed).  The only problem is that it doesn’t always work.  Even if it does, there are other hurdles to overcome.

Most sensible computer users these days use security software to protect it from viruses and worms and other malicious interference.  A common feature is pop-up advert blocking which denies screen space to those infuriating adverts that constantly obscure whatever it is that you’re trying to look at.   Sadly, your website is so badly written that most computers think it is an advert and block it automatically.

Not wanting to be defeated, I duly downloaded the piece of software that allows the site to function properly on Windows XP and I also disabled my firewall (opening the machine to external attack) and switched off the ad-blocking.  Back up its virtual backside went the website.

Now by this time I was getting cross.  Actually, there was a stream of invective that would have been a long series of beeps on any adult TV channel.  I wrote an email to your Geek Department.  I think the word ‘crap’ was used rather a lot.  After the weekend, they came back to me and advised me to do everything I had already done.  Chocolate teapots sprang to mind.  I sent another frustrated reply.  Next day, one of the Geeks undertook in his email to call me at the office during the day.  Needless to say, I wasn’t there.

Which brings us to today.  I conceived a cunning plan.  I would bring home my office laptop and log it onto my home network and restart the process.  True to form, the website sought out its virtual behind once more and so I repeated the steps to overcome the inherent inadequacies of the site.  To my delight and amazement, less than an hour after beginning, the website actually started the application procedure.  There I was, whooping and a hollering around our kitchen table like an idiot just because the stupid website had actually done what it was supposed to do!

Alas my delight was short-lived.  After completing most of the questions, I arrived at the screen which asks for details of a bank account into which any interest from the new account would be transferred.  I entered the sort code for my branch in East Yorkshire and the website filled in the address for me.  Very clever.  Except that the address was in Manchester.  I checked the sort code (not that I needed to, I’ve banked there for 20 years).  It was correct. Unfortunately, the smart-arsed little website point blank refused to allow me manually to amend the address.

There wasn’t much point in proceeding if all my interest was going to be paid to somebody else’s bank so I finally gave up the fight and switched off (but not before I sent off a rude little note to my pals in your Geek Department telling them the sort code that they had mis-prgrammed – which was very nice of me in the circumstances, I thought).

I think I tried rather hard to open an account.  I can’t help wondering how many people must have given up in desperation long before I admitted defeat.

For your benefit, and that of your Park Place branch and your Geek Department, my mobile telephone number is at the bottom of this letter (unless that is, it has been mysteriously transferred to some guy in Manchester).

Yours etc,



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