It seemed simple. Pop into HSBC on a visit to England – it’s “The world’s local bank,” - and check my account. I poked my HSBC card into the Taunton HSBC ATM and got my balance, but no option for mini-statement to show recent transactions. Inside the helpful branch manager, Ivan, ushered me to a different machine – but still only the balance. The machine offered me cash. Important to remember this – my pin number was definitely working when I entered the bank. Ivan suggested a quick call to Hong Kong from the “Premier Suite”, which he said housed the branches only international phone line. It took 15 minutes to get it to work.
Remember this was not me calling cold from a mountain top, but an HSBC branch manager calling the mother ship. Someone in 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 given me a balance and 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 gave up. Ivan really wanted to help. “Can I go the extra mile? I will speak to someone centrally.” 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. “Its’ OK, you can “re-set” your pin for overseas now,” said Terry hastily. ”Re-set?” But I 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. Nice try guys. Amazingly, the card now works again. I went back to Taunton HSBC to thank Ivan. He gave me an Easter egg to say sorry. What else, but a "Flake" one. Compliments of HSBC.