Trompe le Monde: A Round the World Tour Diary

An online travel diary so people can keep up to date with what I'm doing and where I'm going.

Location: Home, United Kingdom

You all know who I am, I assume.

Friday, February 25, 2005

HSBC - The World's Local Bank. My Arse.


When I was still a uni student (seems like so long ago), I had a switch card. Said card expired, and my bank, HSBC, helpfully sent me another one. Unhelpfully, however, rather than sending it to the Warwick University branch of HSBC they instead posted it to the Coventry branch. When I realised this (they also sent the letter telling me about it to my home address in Bognor) I went along to tell the Warwick branch what had happened. They assured me it would be fine, and told me that via their internal mail system the card should be transferred to the correct place in a day.

It took a week to arrive in total, considerably longer than it would have taken for them to post the thing, or in fact for me to walk to Coventry and collect it.

The same thing then happened when my credit card (a different piece of plastic) expired. I never bothered to collect it: to this day, I have no credit card.

Left Thailand with no problems, got the plane fine, arrived in Sydney. But you know all this already. What you don't know is that from the moment I touched down in Australia, my ATM card (the very one from the above prologue) refused to work. Rather than giving me money, machines gave me receipt slips with "You have not been charged for this transaction" and "Call your bank" written on them. Oh dear. I have thus been living off my (very kind) mate Trev's money for the last few days.

"Call your bank", I thought, "I'll do better than that - I'll go and see them in person!". There are loads of HSBC branches throughout Sydney. Except no, I won't go and see my bank. Because my bank is the UK version of HSBC. All the Australian branch could tell me was that the transactions were being cancelled at the UK end, and I'd have to call them. No, the Aus lot couldn't get in touch with the UK lot for me, don't be ridiculous.

So I bought a phonecard, got the blasted thing to work after some trials, and rang the HSBC number. I got through to the switchboard for the UK Branch of HSBC, located, of course, in India. Hey - if this had happened a few months ago I could have visited in person! The guy took all my details, listened to my problem and then transferred me to a Scotsman named Mark. To whom I had to repeat the above information.

Those who know me well may be surprised to hear that throughout this phone exchange I remained calm. Actually, anyone reading this may be surprised when they find out what's coming. But I maintain (from experience of being on the other side of these situations) that if you're polite and friendly the faceless operative is far more likely to try to help you than if you rant and rave, no matter how tempting that may be.

Once Mark had got the gist of my case, he inquired whether I'd been sent a new card in the post in the past few weeks. As a matter of fact, Mum and Dad had contacted me not too long ago worrying about the expiry date on my card, since another lump of plastic had been sent me. I had reassured them at the time, and now I told Mark, that my card didn't run out until October of this year. Mark, though, knew different. You see, that didn't matter - my card had been automatically cancelled thirty days after they sent the other one out, and (and here was the rub) could not be turned back on. Even though there was no possible way I could access my new "chip and pin" card.

I inquired of Mark just what I was supposed to do for money. He in turn inquired of me whether there wasn't in fact anyone at home who could send the card to me. I wasn't exactly enamoured of this solution, seeing as firstly I'm not especially keen on the security aspect of sending my chip and pin card together with its pin across half the world to me, and secondly it's the bank's mistake, so why should my parents should be inconvenienced? (I obviously didn't raise the second point, as the answer "because we're a bank, and that's what we do - we couldn't give a crap about your measly savings" would have presumably been forthcoming).

Instead I suggested that they could save me the security risk by sending a replacement card to an Australian branch of HSBC using their internal mail. But Mark had other plans. That couldn't be done, he explained because of the security risk - I might not be me, and I couldn't prove I was me over the phone. Why couldn't I? Because I didn't have my new card.


Since HSBC could be of no use to me, I bid Mark good day, and racked my brains for a better solution than relying on international post to send the key to all of my money across half the world to a man with no fixed address.

My mate Si has recently gone home for personal reasons, and so the best solution I can currently come up with is that my parents somehow get the card to him and he gives it to me when next we meet. A solution fraught with difficulty, and one meaning that the bank that has got me in to this situation will not be helping one jot to get me out. All I can say is that it's a bloody good job I'm not out here alone.

If anyone can think of any other way around the problem, let me know. Oh, and if you have any accounts with HSBC, take my advice. Get out while you still can!

The World's Local Bank indeed...


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