A little over twenty-five years ago, I opened up my first bank account. Naturally, I opened that account with the same bank that my parents used, and I became a "Griffin Saver" with the Midland Bank. As a sweetener for the deal, the bank gave me a rather natty little bag and a small dictionary. I'm not sure that this account ever handled anything more than the odd bit of birthday money, but I think that the bank more than recouped their investment as I have never quite got around to moving my bank account since. Oh sure, I'm not a Griffin Saver any more. When I was 13 years old I was automatically shifted into a "Live Cash" account, and then a few years later, when I was a student, they moved me on again into something called an "Orchard" account. I moved my account holding branch a couple of times, first from Milton Keynes to the branch on the University of Warwick campus, and then from there to the branch on High Street in York. That second move was a bit of a hassle, so I've never bothered to move it since. At some point the Midland Bank became HSBC, but apart from issuing me with a different cheque book, it's all been much of a muchness.... except of course that account now handles a bit more money.
I've got other bank accounts now, of course. I've got a savings account, a cash ISA, some assorted building society accounts and investments, a joint account with my wife... that kind of stuff.... but essentially the account that used to hold my pocket money is now the same account that receives my salary every month, and it's the account I use on a day-to-day basis. HSBC have always kind of abstractly annoyed me (why advertise yourself as the world's local bank if you then charge me for taking money out of an HSBC branch in any other country but Britain? How exactly is your international presence helping me?) The interest rates are derisory and the service pretty poor and I keep meaning to move... I really do...but I never quite get around to it. It's clearly less hassle to stay put than to move.
Until, that is, the bank lost my mortgage payment.
With the help and sage guidance of LB, we shifted our mortgage in January into one of those offset things. This meant that I now needed to set up a standing order payment from my current account so that it now went into a savings account offset against the mortgage. Fair enough. I set that up so that the first payment would go out on 8th February. I did this over the internet, as usual, and once it was set up, I didn't give it a second thought.
A couple of weeks after the first payment was supposed to have been made, C. started chasing me to set up the mortgage payment as it hadn't arrived in the account. I checked my current account, and was a little dismayed to see that the payment had certainly been deducted from my account on time...... but clearly hadn't arrived. And so began the dismal process of trying to find out where my money had gone.
The HSBC call centre is in India. Now, I have absolutely no problem at all with call centres that are based in India or indeed anywhere else outside of the UK (and in fact, I find the adverts for banks in this country - I'm looking at you NatWest - that make snide, racist remarks about foreign call centres to be insulting. There are crap call centres in the UK too, you know). What I do have a problem with is call centres that are utterly unable or unwilling to help the poor customers who ring through needing some help or guidance. For about a month, all I could get out of the HSBC call centre was the news that they could confirm, in fact, that the money had left my account. This much I knew. What they could not or would not confirm for me was where exactly this money had gone. I received no fewer than two letters confirming the departure of this money from my account on the 8th February. The letters were identical in every respect, except for the small detail that they each listed a different destination account. Now, in my books, as soon as a bank confirms that the same payment has gone to two different places, THEY LOSE. Not according to the bank. Both destination accounts belonged to me (one was the mortgage account that I had originally set up to receive the money and the other was the offset savings account attached to the mortgage account), neither account had received the money. HSBC didn't seem to care, all they cared about was that the money had left my account. They didn't care where it had gone, and they cared even less about what I thought about that.
I waved the banking code at them, telling them that it was the responsibility of the sending bank to account for the money, but it made no difference. I was given some vague assurances that they would put a trace on the transfer, but I was rather afraid that all this would mean would be a third letter telling me that the money had left my current account. In the end, I rang them up to complain. It's another option off those endless telephone systems, and this time I pressed it. It sent my call to the same place, and I dealt with a person. She was clearly working in the same department as everyone else, she was equally unable to help and, crucially, she told me that I couldn't actually complain.
"What do you mean I can't complain? Why not?"
"Because we're investigating the payment at the moment."
"And I can't complain until that's complete?"
"No. You can't complain until that process has finished."
"But I want to complain about everything that's happened up to this point"
It turned out that I could actually pop into a branch and complain if I really wanted.
So I did.
I spoke to the manager of my local branch here. It didn't really help: she was actually a little bit terse with me, and although she logged my grievances again, when I asked her if that meant my complaint was now in the system, she said,
"Oh, we don't like to call them complaints."
What? Like a train isn't late until it's more than an hour late, a complaint isn't a complaint until a certain amount of time has passed or a certain amount of money has been lost?
"Ah, but standing order payments aren't like Direct Debit payments. They don't have the same kind of guarantees from the bank once you set them up."
"So even if I set up a payment and enter all of the correct bank account information, if the money gets lost, it's not your fault?"
"That's right. We've got a customer who lost £20,000 like that!"
Is that supposed to be of comfort to me? I'm sure she's wrong too. Surely it's not true that the bank has no responsibility for my money under those circumstances?
Anyway. C. had actually discovered where the money had got to by this point - the bank had managed to transfer it to our joint account. I decided not to tell HSBC, but to see if they found the money on their own.
I got another call a few days later. They were now able to tell me that the money had gone to the joint account. Apparently this was obvious from my account records, although not so obvious that any of their employees had thought to mention it to me at any point.
"You must have entered those account details when you set up the payment"
"Well, I didn't."
"You must have."
"Alright, if I did, then how come you sent me a letter confirming you'd made the payment to my mortgage account? You can only have known about that account if I'd entered the details on a standing order."
"You must have mentioned it on a phone call to us"
"You must have."
"Do you have call records?"
"I want you to dig up the record of the call where I gave you those bank details."
"We can do that."
"And I also want to know why it's taken you two months to tell me where this money has gone, only for you now to tell me that it's as clear as day on my records that I entered the details of my joint account."
"We're sorry for the inconvenience. We may be able to give you £20 of compensation for that"
"Good. You do that."
...and so on.
HSBC simply will not admit that they got things wrong. I suppose the most important thing here is that I have found the money, but it has taught me several crucial lessons about HSBC: that they do not care about me as a customer; that they did not care where my money had gone, only that they had paid it out of my current account; that they will not admit fault; that they do not equip their call centre staff to help customers who ring them asking for anything more complicated than a balance; that I really need to change banks.
It's taken me 25 years, but I've finally got over the inertia that has seen me keep my main bank account with HSBC. As soon as I get my compensation from them, I'm closing my account and taking all my business somewhere else. C. has already done the same (and let's face it, her business is worth a lot more than mine). Fuck them.
If it helps, I'll return the dictionary too.
The morale of this story? DON'T BANK WITH HSBC.
D'you hear me google? HSBC ARE INCOMPETENT. HSBC HATE CUSTOMERS.
End of rant. It's a long and boring story, I know, but if it's any consolation to those of you who have made it this far.... I feel a little bit better now.
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