Wealth Blog

Bank help one card short of a full deck

PUBLISHED : Monday, 08 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 08 April, 2013, 5:22am

It seemed simple. Pop into HSBC on a visit to England - it is the "world's local bank" - and check my account. I poked my card into an ATM in Taunton, a town in the southwest. I got my balance, but no option for a mini-statement to show recent transactions. Inside, the helpful branch manager, Ivan, ushered me to a different ATM. Still only the balance.

The machine initially offered me cash. Important to remember this - my PIN number was working when I entered the bank. Ivan suggested a quick call to Hong Kong from the "premier suite", which he said had the branch's only international phone line. It took 15 minutes to work.

Remember, this was not me calling cold from a mountain top, but an HSBC branch manager calling the mother ship. Someone in the Hong Kong Premier Telephone Banking Centre answered and hung up, three times. It was clearly Ivan's first experience of HSBC's phone banking.

"Sorry, I'm learning something here," he said, trying to be upbeat.

Finally, Benny at HSBC Premier telephone banking answered and got my account number correct at the fourth attempt.

"Please input your phone banking PIN," he said.

I replied I didn't do phone banking. Benny said he could not identify me, then. Ivan grabbed the phone and explained identification was already done.

Punch in your ATM PIN, then, said Benny. Four times he said it was invalid. This was the same PIN that had offered cash 20 minutes earlier. How could it suddenly be invalid? I'm sorry, said Ivan, squirming.

Benny reluctantly put me onto his superior, Ivy Cheung, who refused to accept it was really me. Ivan was by now incandescent. He seized the phone and begged Ivy to assist.

"How can I help the customer? Her request is very simple," he implored. "What is wrong with the phone banking system? Security has been cleared."

But Ivy kept repeating the mantra "invalid PIN".

"I will speak to someone centrally," Ivan said.

On the way out, he stopped me at the ATM, saying: "I'm a fatalist and this is 2013, so let's just try the machine and check that your card still works." Try withdrawing a little bit of cash, he said. "I just wonder if they've done something silly with your card."

Ivan's premonition was right. The ATM spat out the card.

Later, Terry, claiming to be my relationship manager in Hong Kong, rang, telling me this was my fault for going overseas without getting an overseas pin. Overseas PIN? I went to Shanghai in early March, no overseas PIN needed.

"Since March 1 you need to register for an overseas pin."

News to me.

"It's OK, you can reset your PIN for overseas now," said Terry hastily.

Reset? I'd never changed it. Aha. So it would seem the Premier Phone Banking Centre had indeed managed to invalidate my PIN.

"Just input in your old PIN now, that will do," said Terry.

Amazingly, the card worked.

I went back to Taunton HSBC to thank Ivan. He gave me an Easter egg to say sorry. A Flake one - what else? Compliments of HSBC.


For more details on indiscriminate discretionary spending, see Anna’s wealth blog at scmp.com/wealthblog