Monday, 3 August 2009

Another Bunch of Total Bankers

Apollo 15 launch medium distanceImage via Wikipedia

I can’t say that my 15-year relationship with my bank has been a happy one. Strangely enough, things were better back in the days when they used to have Bedouin guards at the door of the Bur Dubai branch and when you had to visit the branch for every transaction. That’s perhaps because life was different then and it was expected that any transaction would necessitate your physical presence, in banking, business and government.

The advent of automation has brought an end to all that, saving us all hours of unproductive and needless hanging around and meetings – now we can buy things, process things and generally get things done online. This is particularly true of banking, where telephone banking and Internet banking both mean that contact with the bank’s staff is reduced to an absolute minimum.

I, for one, am delighted at that because every single encounter with the morons has my blood pressure in the stratosphere faster than an Apollo mission that’s late for tea.

Sadly, many banks in the UAE appear to make broadly the same mistake. These days, when people seek to escalate to a human being, it is usually because there is some exception to the normal routine, a need to talk to someone who can go beyond the ordinary and actually help to find an intelligent solution to a problem that goes beyond the 'system'. If we could sort it out using the system, we wouldn’t be on the ‘phone or, God forbid, dragging our sorry butts into the confusing and vaguely dehumanising environment of the branch. So offering customers a disempowered goon who merely looks at the same information that’s available to us all on our own screens at home and sits grinning like a mildly embarrassed macaque really isn’t going to cut the mustard.

This has always escaped banks in general and, I feel, my bank in particular. The bank makes getting through to an actual, identifiable person in the branch really quite difficult. And when you do, they are uniquely unqualified and unable to help in any way whatsoever. Their job titles are inversely linked to their capability to do anything if my Status Account Special Customer Service Miracle Worker and Glorious Helper are anything to go by. Worse, some clot in management has dictated that they should end every call with “Is there anything else I can do to help you?” Given that most of my calls are frustrating exercises in migraine-inducing head banging that do not actually offer me any solution to my initial problem, this sign-off is ever-increasingly in danger of having me committed for some awful crime of passion.

I’m even starting to get a Pavlovian reaction to the sound of tapping keyboards. I break out into a sweat, knowing what I’m about to hear: “That’s not possible, sir. Is there anything else I can do for you today?”

HSBC has recently taken to gleefully refusing to honour my cheques, for instance. Given that I have written hundreds of cheques over my fifteen long years with them, you’d think that I had been injured in my right hand or had some other major life change that would explain why my signature is suddenly so different, but no – it’s the same old signature. Adding insult to injury, it’s quite a distinctive signature, a megalomaniacal scrawl that makes scrip-writing doctors pause to admire its complete lack of similarity to anything that could approximate to a reading of my name. But I like it and it has always been so. I’d post an example for you to see, but that would be silly in these criminal times. You’ll just have to take my word for it: I have the signature of a madman and it is uniquely, utterly and compellingly distinctive.

When the bank returned my cheque to the AC maintenance company, we bit the bullet and set off for the branch, our packed lunches in little chequered cloth bundles strung on the end of beanpoles. We knew it was going to be a long haul and we were right. The solution, after much frustration, keyboard tapping and idiotic grinning, was to rescan my signature. Super. Done.

Finding that they’ve done it again, only this time to Emirates Post for the renewal of our PO Box, was mildly disconcerting. Emirates Post, of course, takes six months to process the returned cheque and tells you there is a problem by blocking the PO Box rather than actually communicating with you in any way. But I was amazed that nobody had actually told me they'd refused a cheque months ago.

I called to ask why the bank has now taken to multiply dishonouring my cheques without any reference to me. I did take the opportunity to point out that honouring a customer’s cheque was perhaps the most basic of banking services and that maybe a bank that couldn’t get that first step right shouldn’t even be trying the more complicated stuff.

“We tried to contact you,” said the gurgling nincompoop on the line.

This was an interesting tactic. I have never in my life received a missed call from the bank – and my mobile is on 24x7. What’s more, you can get in touch with me via voice, SMS, voicemail, landline, faxline, email – I access my home and work email at all times, sadly even on the mobile now - or even using the awkward and badly implemented Internet banking email box system. I roam. I’m not even going to start on the number of online tools and forums you can catch me on. Let’s just say that if you want to get in touch, I am pretty much infinitely contactable. In fact some people have complained that they can’t actually avoid me.

I asked who tried to contact me, when and through which method. “We don’t know,” said the ‘poop. So how did he know they had tried to contact me?

Silence.

I shall draw a merciful veil over the rest of the call. But I am now stuck with a bank that blocks my Visa card following everyday transactions with vendors I use frequently, fails to make transfers as instructed, charging me for the consequent exchange losses, and now dishonours my cheques without notice or reference to me.

None of that would be a problem if they had someone that could undo the damage, a sort of SuperBanker. But they don’t, they just have disempowered nincompoops who lie rather than actually go to the effort of tracking down a problem. Because customer service is the very least of the bank’s concerns – the least of its investments and the business process it gives least consideration and resource to managing. And you have to admit, when a highly profitable global organisation’s customer service is infuriatingly process driven, badly managed and inept at every level, the cause of universal howls of frustrated complaint from the vast majority of its customers, you’d be forgiven for thinking that perhaps we’ve all got it wrong. Perhaps the secret to being a great business is actually to set out to royally piss off your customers as a business strategy! Maybe McKinsey or someone has told them to do it and so that’s what they’re actually doing – actually investing in annoying customers.

If so, they’re damn good at it.
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20 comments:

Oussama said...

Well, change the damn bank and get the agony over and done with.
What I hate the most is phone banking that has a number to press for evrey conceivable issue except what I actually need. Then getting an agent to talk to is like pulling teeth. So I suppose this is progress a sign of the times

Mita said...

So much for the world's local bank, eh? Did you mean to replace the "B" with a "W" in the title perhaps?

the real nick said...

Feel better now?

If it's any consolation, Lloyds is no better than that.

Desert Scorpion said...

Alex couldnt agree more!!!

Have had all the above happen to me as well! Just returned back from the UK where everyone (except one) retailer flatly refused my Visa card as it doesn't have a chip in it!

alexander... said...

Oussama - I TRIED to change. To Lloyds. And they messed up setting up the account so much I gave up!

My UK Lloyds account brilliantly/effortlessly managed, BTW. It's the UAE stuff that's driving me bonkers...

hemlock said...

i'm so sorry to hear of your ordeal.
as a banker (on the other side of the equation), i can safely tell you this:
small is beautiful. for a bank like HSBC, you are a commodity. when your account goes, there will be a hundred others to replace you.

on the other hand, you have smaller banks (like the one i work for) where when a f*ck-up happens, we (the RMs) rattle the entire chain of operations, and ensure mistakes are not repeated. (there's always room for new ones).

i appreciate your desire for human contact. at the same time, automated systems and limited access for bank staff ensures your money is protected. systems dependent on people are vulnerable to manipulation.

if only we lived in a world where bankers were honest (and competent). and the media didnt lie.

Matt said...

I was back in Oz earlier this year and realised I'd forgotten my HSBC pin number. So I rang HSBC in Aust and informed them of my issue and requested a replacement card be sent to me.

They said they couldn't because my acct was based in the UAE and the two countries weren't connected to each other.

After much back and forth, I uttered a few expletives before commenting "you're not really the worlds local bank are you?"

They don't work anywhere.

I don't think they got the irony.

ghoonk said...

Wait till you guys try Standard Chartered. I used to think that HSBC was bad, but compared to SCB, HSBC looks like a proper bank.

I have tried on 6 occasions so far to establish a banking relationship with SCB. Calls, emails and even catching one of the SCB account managers who come to my office to set up accounts for newcomers. For the last 4 months, short of scrawling my contact information on the front door of the bank, I've not had anyone follow-up with me on setting up the account or cards.

If their pre-sales is this bad, I dread to think what their after-sales service would be like.

Siwash said...

Great post! You have identified the problem which is the non-empowerment of employees in the UAE and following the policy blindly without any opportunity to exercise initiative. Only when corporations (and banks) really take this upon themselves will they have a comparative advantage. Compared to the US, all banks in the UAE leave a lot to be desired after living here for over 11 years. Changing banks is not a solution!

Phillipa said...

I laughed and laughed at this ... and then the tears came as I recalled a recent fiasco with my bank that issued a card to me with my name spelled incorrectly. Three replacement cards, numerous phonecalls and seven visits to the branch later I now have a card with my name spelled correctly.

Paul O' Kirwan said...

Unfortunately there does not seem to be a better option to move accounts to in the UAE. EBI have this stupid system where we both have access to the accounts online but 'telephone banking is not allowed' as we have a joint account.
I contrast this with the excellent service provided by Thomas Cook etc as exchange houses. A pleasure to do business with.

Lisa said...

I'm trying to get HSBC to reverse 2 fraudulent credit card transactions for over 2 months, I'm sick of telling that "No I did authorise these transactions" and "No I do not know the person" (the transactions were for Emirates Airlines and they have the name used) I've worked in finance for over 20 years so I know the responsibility is on the merchant to produce proof of transaction. This is the first time in one of the many countries I've lived in that a disputed CC transaction hasn't been instantly reversed.

alexander... said...

Good luck, Lisa! When the Dubai e-payment website charged me three times for Salik, I escalated (by fax, as per their stipulation) to HSBC Visa - and never, ever heard back from them despite chasing the issue.

In the end, months later, I had used the significant amount of money credited to salik by them in error (Dhs500) and so gave up chasing.

I hate to think what'd happen in the case of a real and significant credit card fraud!

Doug said...

If you're really having issues with fraudulent transactions and charges with HSBC, let me remind you of one beautiful, wonderful fact.

They're registered under the Jersey financial services commission.

Which means they're subject to UK legal proceedings.

Which means that if you threaten them with legal action in the UK, they cave VERY quickly because several of their practices are considered dubious at best under UK financial regulations and they would lose.

Anonymous said...

I have on good authority (from a veteran banker, GM level) that banks such as Lloyds TSB are only here for 'questionable' reasons. They are not after SME's, etc but rather, offshoring and money laundering. Having dealt with them, I can only say that it makes sense, seeing how much they care for their supposed target audience.

However, as far as HSBC are concerned -- they are pure evil. I mean, they appear to train their staff to BECOME evil. I have never seen this anywhere else. Even Lloyds TSB isn't that.. there staff are nothing but courteous and polite (and grossly incompetent).

Bank with a local bank. Seriously.

Anonymous said...

I banked with HSBC for a year before moving on for sanity's sake. I've moved to RBS where my credit cards do come with a Chip but some dumba** decided that customers can't change the PINs on their cards form the ones issued by the bank...so much for that.

But RBS is a world apart from HSBC (I don not work for them!) even to the point of doublechecking large transactions with the customer.

HSBC in this part of the world is terrible and you know what? They don't care. They don't care about this post or any of the tweets of blog posts that came before this. As far as they're concerned you're just a little person and even if a bunch of little people got together and did something they still wouldn't care. That's just the way they are.

Move on McNabb. I did and its been good for my soul.

ghoonk said...

Is there ANY bank here that's up to international standards? Citibank?

A Blessing in Tragedy said...

And just what is an "international standard" in banking? my worse banking experiences were actually in the US. Bank of American is only second in bad service to Wells Fargo.

Your issues arise from 2 things:

1. HSBC doesnt have the capacity to serve the clients they have. They have about 5 branches around the UAE. Not nearly enough to do anything. A bank like NBAD for example has over 100. So the waiting times are longer at HSBC, the service is more lets move the sheep as fast as we can rather than lets figure it out.

2. Your 2 or 3 accounts and your salary isnt worth much to the bank. A bank makes most of it's money from corporate accounts, be them govt or others. You just arent worth much to that bank.

This is all from a banker's perspective. As a branch manager I try, I really do try to keep my branch moving and try to serve the lcients right the 1st time. Because unlike most I understand that doint it right the 1st time, much life car maintenance, means that person wont be back again, and thus the load on my team is made a bit lighter.

But most people dont think like that. They want to finish fast to go home.

That being said, when a retail customer cant be satisfied, it really doesnt annoy me in the least because his 50 or 80K salary is nothing compared to the millions in the corporate accounts.

Sad but true.

In the end though, it is all about who your account/relationship manager is. I have a few who make me proud, and sadly and happily, they will be on to better things soon. and some who are the reason I drink so much coffee.

HSBC, with their limited network and staff, and their view of you as just another one of the sheep, probably havent even assigned you a RM. Again, more employees makes the work go smoothly.

I like how you are frustrated with a small UK based bank and moved to... another small UK based bank.

The HSBC here has little if anything to do with the HSBC elsewhere. It is infact a separate entity.

These slip ups happen at our large branches, but not our medium one, and even less so at the small ones. why? simple. personal contact and time. Large branches in a network of 5 have no time.

ghoonk said...

Man, that's depressing.

Graeme Baker said...

reminds me of this:

http://dhabi.blogspot.com/2008/12/bank-job.html

and also that, despite cancelling my account in person two days before i left the uae (which took two and a half hours), it then transpired a month later that i had NOT closed the account, despite having the paperwork as proof, and had been accruing charges.

the other side issue to this was, of course, my previous employer refusing to pay me two months of owed salary because the account was in arrears.

imagine trying to deal with the uae hsbc from new zealand.

it was a f*cking nightmare.

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