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So you log into internet banking with a user ID and then enter a memorable piece of information and the six digit code generated by your HSBC secure key gadget. The memorable piece of information consists of a number of pre-set daft questions like who's your favourite dog or name the fifteenth star out from Betelgeuse if you're travelling clockwise around Orion's Belt. Logging on yesterday, Sarah found the system had simply stopped letting her in at this stage of the process. No error message or any other indication that something was up, the screen just refreshed and took her back to its initial state. We checked and double checked, she was typing everything properly but it simply wasn't working.
The fear that gripped me was immediate and overwhelming. I started to gabble at her. Try standing on your head. Drink a glass of water. Anything but force me to call their call centre. But it was clear there was nothing else for it. My hand shaking, I made the call.
The usual appalling IP line, the usual strongly accented CallBot on the other end of it. Perhaps we had been mis-typing the memorable information. Had we forgotten it? It was perhaps a network problem. How the hell can typing an ID into a webpage be a network problem? You might as well blame the state of our custard. Go on, try that. It's a custard problem. Makes as much sense, doesn't it?
A number of calls follow, an hour of frustration and walking through the same script with a number of different people. Reset your memorable information, that'll do it. Okay, off we go to do that. We decide to re-enter the same memorable information as that's what Sarah's been using these last few years and she remembers it.
No. You can't do that. You can't have new memorable information that's the same as the old memorable information. So we're inputting the memorable information correctly then. Do we accept this? Yes, sir, I understand. You clearly have a custard problem and the solution is to reset your memorable information and password. Wearily, we reset the memorable information and password. Still doesn't work.
Someone at HSBC has been watching The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. You know, the scene where they give Judy Dench a job humanising the call centre people who spam the UK with constant double glazing cold calls. The CallBots are now programmed to say human-like things such as 'How are you today Mr Alexander?'
Given I have just spent twenty minutes being poked with sharp sticks by your witless colleagues and am in a state of fundamental frustration being denied access to my bank account for no apparent reason, how do you think I am today, you artless, bloated drone?
Some things never change, though. There's that same insistence on assuming you are the issue, not HSBC. 'So you appear to have forgotten your memorable information, Mr Alexander.' is part of the affirmation phase of the script. Because of the appalling quality of the line, it becomes 'Snarble afquack I am pooble pickled aardvark goosp fellate.' and has to be repeated a number of times as does, cathartically, my response that I have forgotten nothing the problem is entirely of their making and if the Americans needed any help in making their government even more broken than it currently is all they'd have to do is call into HSBC and ask for assistance with the simplest of issues.
At one state someone suggests using another browser. It's insane. A form is refusing to populate and verify correctly input information and the solution is to use another browser? After protesting, we do. Same issue. And then, three hours of forehead-slapping frustration later, someone else suggests using another PC. Which, against all possible sense works. Why? Because Sarah's downloaded a browser plug-in from some educational company a couple of days ago and HSBC's security has detected it, doesn't like it and so won't let you past its log-in screen.
No error message, no hint why it's not working. Nobody telling the call centre that a failed log-in at this stage could be triggered by another level of unseen security that blocks certain classes of browser add-in. No note anywhere on the system that log-in issues could be caused by untrusted add-ins. So the CallBots just lead you through the reset password script until you explode like a frog with a compressed air line up its backside.
Every time I fly through Heathrow, I see the HSBC ads all over the airport - you know the ones that talk about the future of the world being understood by HSBC? It's got to the point where Sarah has to restrain me, marching me ranting past the offending drivel before security pick me up.
Why not change? Because I am constantly assured the others are just as woeful. If anyone wants to earnestly recommend their UAE based bank to me in the comments, I certainly will. Up until now, nobody has ever been able to make such an unqualified recommendation. Which is, let's face it, pretty tragic...