• Sun
  • Dec 28, 2014
  • Updated: 3:08pm
Lai See
PUBLISHED : Friday, 14 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 14 June, 2013, 3:49am

Customers say HSBC has turned the clock back 20 years


Howard Winn has been with the South China Morning Post for two and half years after previous stints as business editor and deputy editor of The Standard, and business editor of Asia Times. His writing has also been published in the Far Eastern Economic Review, the Wall Street Journal, and the International Herald Tribune. He writes the Lai See column which focuses on the lighter side of business.

We continue to receive complaints about HSBC's new ATM card, which, because it no longer uses the Plus payment network, has left many customers marooned in foreign parts with no access to cash. The HSBC card now uses UnionPay, which is operated by the Bank of China and appears to have limited use outside Asia.

HSBC has apologised but has offered only vague assurances that it is working to fix the problem. It suggests that people link their accounts to their credit cards, although some are finding themselves with large fees as the transactions are charged to the credit card rather than the bank account. Some have recovered these fees from HSBC.

Customers say they were never informed about the changes. But having seen that its customers are getting stranded overseas with no cash, HSBC still has done nothing to warn about the problem and advise on making alternative arrangements as the holiday season gets under way. Maybe HSBC did not relish the prospect of having to write a letter saying in effect, "We have screwed up big time. Your best solution is to use a different bank."

Many of the complaints we have received end with the customers saying this has finally pushed them to leave the bank. HSBC appears to have adopted the ostrich option in the hope that if it holds the position long enough, the problem will go away.

One irate customer writes: "I arrived in Europe for a three-week trip through Holland, Sweden and the UK, standing at Schiphol airport with luggage and a 3-year-old, and €80 (HK$828) in my pocket. You could always travel light on cash because the HSBC ATM card gave access to local currency from any ATM in every country. But no longer. I tried every brand of ATM at Schiphol without luck. 24 hours later and I'm struggling to get the cash needed."

He ends with what has become a familiar refrain. "After 30 years with HSBC, I will now have to find myself another bank." He adds that the bank's service has moved from being one of the best in this respect to one of the worst. "They have turned the clock back 20 years, to when we had to go to the bank and buy foreign currency before travelling, and carrying the cash we needed for the entire trip."

Are you listening, HSBC?


Irony at Raiffeisen reception

Those that attended the reception thrown by the Austria-based Raiffeisen Bank International to mark the opening of its first branch in Hong Kong came away slightly bemused by the proceedings. The welcome speech was given by Herbert Stepic, who was announced by the master of ceremonies as the chief executive. However, Stepic had resigned from the bank with immediate effect on May 24 for personal reasons. This was after his name showed up in the notorious Offshore Leaks databank. He had held holding companies, one in Hong Kong and the other in the British Virgin Islands for buying three flats in Singapore. Stepic says these funds had been taxed. The matter was investigated and the bank accepted his resignation. A steep fall for the European Banker of the Year in 2006.

Many at the reception were surprised by Stepic's appearance. As one guest said: "Perhaps the bank thought we were all unaware of his problems."

During his speech, Stepic, apparently not appreciating the irony of his situation, stated emphatically that Raiffeisen did not engage in what he described as "hanky-panky" business. Guest speaker Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah added to the sense of unreality by stressing Hong Kong had strong anti-money laundering laws.


Nice work

You may be surprised to know that the mainland's threat to impose anti-dumping taxes on wine does not bother exporters of fine wines unduly. They are more concerned, according to the magazine Decanter, by the way in which the mainland's hygiene department operates. The department has the right to remove two bottles per case to determine if the wine is fit for consumption. This, the magazine says, is a bigger threat for importers of small-volume high-end wines than a tax that may not materialise. Because of a 48 per cent tax on wine, most fine wine destined for the mainland is exported to tax-free Hong Kong, which then makes its way up north, often circumventing customs altogether.


Have you got any stories that Lai See should know about? E-mail them to howard.winn@scmp.com


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This article is now closed to comments

I am totally disgusted with HSBC.I went to their headquarters in Central and asked a floor manager if the new ATM card would work in Russia and Italy. It took her 30 minutes to come back to me with a list of affiliated Banks in Moscow and Italy. When i pointed out that a friend who is currently in Italy couldn't withdraw cash from those same banks, she replied that those banks haven't upgraded their ATM yet. So, what is the point of compiling that list if the card still doesn't work? I will be travelling for 3 months...and now i have to carry a large amount of cash, a very risky option, because nobody can tell me exactly which cashpoints accept the new card and which don't. I never had this problem with the PLUS network. I am furious and determined to switch bank as soon as i return to HK.
What I fail to understand is why, after such frequent negative comments, there has been no response fromHSBC, who are usually so quick to get out a comment. Is Gareth Hewitt on holiday?
Also, is this not an issue that either the HKMA or the FinancialSecretary should be taking up? Presumably when their staff travel to Europe and the US, they no longer take an HSBC ATM card with them.
a move to lose customers?
re: HSBC
I wonder if the UnionPay switch was to court favor with the Bank of China for greater access to the mainland market. I suggest your distraught readers try Standard Chartered. I switched several years ago after HSBC shut down their Malaysian fund without notice resulting in a complete loss of my investment.
John Adams
It's rather ironic that HSBC terms itself the "world's local bank "
Sometimes top managers do make THE most stupid decisions
This a case in point
What HSBC is doing here is insane. I was in Jakarta last week and tried to withdraw cash. The ATM card was spewed out. Called the hotline (given that I had no local currency) and was told that it works only on Union pay network.....I would expect this from some local bank in Asia. Not world's local bank. Looking at moving all my money to some other bank, which offers the flexibility to withdraw money from any ATM globally.
It's hard to comprehend the lack of customer care by HSBC (and also Hang Seng by the way). I don't care whether it's a way for the bank to save themselves money or a way of kissing up to BOC - it's plain wrong. I'm switching banks before I travel this summer - to a more global bank.
You don't even have to leave HK to experience this problem - try using your new HSBC card at the only ATM on Park Island!
There are several issues here.
1) Last time I checked, the Plus network has been the global standard for some time. Union Pay is a newcomer with clearly inferior coverage. How come it seems like HSBC is charging the same fee for an "upgrade" to an inferior service?
2) It seems reasonable to expect that any change in the service level would have been clearly communicated to customers.
3) Surely the cost of adding, as opposed to switching to, Union Pay could not have been worth the damage to customer goodwill?
The PLUS system doesn't just work better overseas, it also works better that Union Pay (CUP) in China. Using my HSBC Union Pay ATM card cannot withdraw money from my HKD savings account. My HSBC Visa card on the PLUS system can withdraw money from the same HSBC savings account at the same machine at the Lo Wu Bank of China branch less than a minute later. Some machines in China are connected to both networks and it appears that PLUS seems more reliable. I can't speak for CIRRUS as I haven't used it.
I also formally complained in February to HSBC having been stranded abroad with out cash and the lack of warning/information from them. Their response: Sorry that I experienced inconvenience and next time just go to a different country. But they will discuss with UnionPay to extend their network.
Ie from HSBCs perspective they are just providing clients with UnionPays services, which is used by many HK banks and it is up to you to familiarise yourself with UnionPay. For this reason they don't seem to feel this as an HSBC issue and therefore that they have no duty of care towards their clients in this matter.
HSBC Bye bye...
No negative comments because many customers still expect global services, whereas HSBC is taking local HK banks as its benchmark. From HSBCs perspective it is probably doing a great job and doesnt understand why it is being singled out.
I think this was a deliberately calculated move by HSBC.


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