How Do You Solve A Problem Like The British High Street Banks?

The banking monopolies here in the UK really bug me.  It’s like mobile phone companies – whichever one you go to they screw you if not one way then another.

Not satisifed with causing the near meltdown of the global Western economy, nor forcing the government to invest TRILLIONS (a figure few can actually get their head around) into bailing them out, they don’t even offer a good service to us lowly customers; not even if you pay £12  a month for the privelgage of being an “HSBC Advance” customer, whatever this actually means.

I can’t blame the banks entirely of course.  The government were weak in dealing with the banks through weak leadership of their own and the fear of meltdown the banks themselves made great efforts to fuel. Additionally, with a heritage of depth and length in making money from money, it’s little wonder that those who work in the banking institutions and certainly those at the top of these pyramids of management are neither phased or bothered by a steadfast focus on profit above all else. CSR is part of the rich mix of brand positioning required in todays complex world, not something which is volunteered and placed a the centre of any business strategy for making profit while doing good.

This comment feeds into the wider issue of capitalism itself and this post is not the forum for that discussion.

I went to Metro bank in London Holborn a weeks back (November 11th 2010 to be precise) my hapenning to be nearby on their opening day (I was hanging around waiting for the nearby RBS to open at 9.30am, to do some business banking) so I wandered in and checked them out, as they had opened at 8.30am – as the rest of the business world.

Nothing really struck me as new – apart from a rather punchy colour scheme.

Love Your Bank? ..little chance

If they really want to differentiate, the online offering of high street banks is one are they could focus on. I have both RBS and HSBC online accounts and both are literally flaberghastingly awful, although HSBC’s recent updates are a small step forward. The last company I founded, Rummble, had some flaws in it’s products and of course our small team of five did our best to fix them; but we don’t have trillons of tax payers money to play with of RBS, or the profit of billions like HSBC.

If a new bank wants to differentiate, an awesome online and mobile banking system would be a great start.

Appendix of Problems

So here in swift review are the most glaringly obvious flaws of banking online:

  • I dont want to install some badly written banking firewall software so stop asking me to
  • Cut and past doesnt work properly
  • You can only show upto 100 transactions in the transactions view list – What, so if I have a busy account I cant display them? No, you cant. You have to do seperate searches in the same month
  • My monthly statement shows international transfers as “INTL” and a reference number. The transaction list shows the actual recipient. WHY? This is unhelpful and makes no sense and makes reconciliation difficult also.
  • Transactions list. You can only query 60 days back. Why? “You have to look in the previous statements” Why?  …see above problem
  • CVS export doesnt work properly and is in a stupid format; with everything in one column for transactions, no running balance and even then there are errors with things in the wrong column
  • On the RBS  site you can’t change the reference when you do a transfer – you have to re-create the recipient using the security card thing JUST to change the reference used in a transfer. Why?

Just a few on my grips, alongside the overall nightmare which is banking with the worlds local bank when travelling; see my last post for that saga.


HSBC – Not The Worlds Local Bank

It’s simple. HSBC call themselves “the worlds local bank” but they are anything but.

For the second time in a few years HSBC has f**ked up my holiday by cancelling a wrong card, mis-informing me and then being unable to do anything about it.

How is RBS able to deliver a card to me in 72hrs yet HSBC the ‘worlds local bank’ unable to do it AT ALL. I even pay for an “advance” service. Apparently, even as a “premium” customer you’d still not get a new card in a timely manner, they can only send them to your home address or to a branch – and it takes 7-10 days.

Why is it that one of the globes largest, most profitable banking groups is unable to deliver a new card to a customer within a timely manner? especially when Royal Bank of Scotland managed it within 48 hours?

There have been all manner of reasons I’ve been given – last time I was even told “it’s illegal to send a VISA card to another address, it’s not HSBC’s  fault it’s VISAs” (evidently from RBS, that is a lie).

So I was told it was impossible. Then I called again, this time it suddenly WAS possible, but provided that I had manager authorisation… but it would still take 5 days.

Western Union

They finally suggested a Western Union transfer. I then went on a wild goose chase to a Post Office in France, which didn’t exist, as HSBC gave me the wrong details.  Western Union called and said the nearest place was 50km away. With no money and it now being already 5pm, that was not an option. Eventually I then went to another post office, having found it via my pigeon French, but it was not possible to get the cash.

HSBC had suggested that might be the case, due to French post offices apparently not liking to accept transfers from business (?). In addition, even if they DID, the Western Union system had been broken all day today and yesterday in this area apparently, so I could not even get a friend to do a personal transfer.

More wasted time. We’re up to 7 hours thus far, having missed yet another day’s skiing – and the costs associated with doing so.

VISA Emergency Cash Delivery

After more calls, I finally spoke to someone at HSBC who seemed to have a brain, and give a sh*t about my situation. Let’s call him “Ben”.

Ben said he would organise an emergency VISA cash delivery – this involved yet more telephone calls. VISA called me and I spent another 20 minutes organising it giving details. She gave me a reference number. They said they would liaise with the bank and call back.

3 hours later, no call. It’s now 8pm. The number the VISA girl gave me does not work, so I check their website. The UK number repetedly cuts me off thru the automated process. I call the USA. They trasnfer me and after 20 minutes I speak to someone finally. The reference number I was given is wrong. Thankfully, we guess the mistake and I get the right number.

VISA inform me that they dont have authorisation from HSBC. More waiting. I also am told that when they do get authorisation, it wont be a cash delivery, but it will be a Western Union transfer.

This whole experience becomes more and more surreal and ridiculous.

I get transferred twice in HSBC and speak to a “Karen”. She informs me HSBC has no request from VISA. She say’s she’ll look into it. She also says that it won’t be cash but an emergency card.

The Emergency Card

Where did this emergency card appear from? Only 24 hours ago, it was not possible to get one. Now my 500 euros emergency cash, is a card. “Karen” say’s she’ll sort it out and call me back. At 8pm, the prospect of eating in the next 12 hours, looks like zero.

I’m still without money in France and as I write this, pretty damn hungry as I haven’t eaten all day. I’m cold and fed-up.

Parity of Conduct

When we make a mistake, such as go overdrawn when unauthorised, the banks slap up with a charge. Yet when the banks make a mistake or are negligent, ruin my holiday, use up my time, cost me money via calls, lost events not to mention the stress and discomfort (I had to walk 5km up a mountain in -5 centigrade in the dark, after my card stopped working). I twisted my back and knee walking on the ice, the accident also reigniting the sternum injury I had from two years ago, as the violent twist put a great strain on my ribs.


Is HSBC going to pay me for that personal injury or the affect it will have on the rest of my ski holiday? Were it not for their negligence I would not have been walking up an icy road, in pitch dark, in freezing conditions to get back to my accommodation – French drivers by all accounts don’t pick up hitchhikers.

HSBC are terrible internationally; simple as that.

I will be writing to claim compensation for this injury, trauma and stress. I’ll update this post with their response.

Right now, I’m going to open a new bank account elsewhere.