Wealth Blog

HSBC finally reinstate Plus ATM card, but the hassle doesn't end

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 October, 2013, 11:05am
UPDATED : Friday, 25 October, 2013, 8:58pm

After more than six months of customer hassle and grief, the World’s Local Bank has backed down and reissued Plus system ATM cards after the UnionPay disaster. But not to everyone.

You will remember some bright spark at the bank ditched the previous Plus and Cirrus ATM systems in favour of the China-based and cheaper clearing system UnionPay. This has meant a summer of frustration as travelling customers discovered that very few countries in the world had “upgraded” as HSBC calls it, their ATMs to take these UnionPay chip cards. HSBC said there were only 10 countries, which included France, New Zealand, Ireland and the Netherlands, where UnionPay cards don’t work, but my experience and reader feedback suggests you can add scores more, such as the UK and Australia.  Basically, UnionPay is a China-based system which works well in – China.  Plus and Cirrus system ATM cards work pretty much anywhere.

Six months of inconvenience

HSBC then tried to backpedal out of the mess by allowing customers to withdraw cash without charge via credit card, but that just led to some people being charged  anyway and having to reclaim the charges. Yet more hassle. And not everyone has an HSBC credit card.  I don’t. The bank’s best suggestion of all was that customers should overcome the problem by travelling with more cash.

The Plus ATM card returns

Now, finally, HSBC has decided to reinstate Plus ATM cards.  A helpful lady called May Fung, manager customer relations, wrote to tell me I could apply for this additional Plus card. I rang her up.  Do I have to fill out a complicated form? No, just one page, she said, adding she would email it to me. I said please do not email anything to me. Life is too short to de-code HSBC’s “secure” emails. Please send it snail mail. She giggled nervously.  Once I have wasted time filling in the form for my new Plus card, I can go to the bank to collect it, six days later.

Why separate cards?

So, why do we need a second card, why not just issue one ATM for both clearing systems, like before? That's not possible, apparently.  The new Plus card has current account as primary account, savings account second, but it’s vice versa on the UnionPay card, so two cards are needed.

So let’s get this right. HSBC customers used to have one ATM card that worked perfectly well in most countries.  That was replaced by a card that works hardly anywhere outside Hong Kong and China. Now they have replaced one of the old type, but it’s an extra card and you must jump through hoops to get it.

So if you are a travelling HSBC customer who needs reliable access to cash on the road and has not received a letter from the bank,  you need to go to the HSBC website or your branch and apply for the new (old) Plus system ATM card.  Well done HSBC. I hope the genius whose idea this was got suitably rewarded.


This blog was updated at 7.45 pm on Oct. 25, 2013 to clarify that HSBC's policy, according to its web site, is that existing UnionPay chip card customers can apply for an additional PLUS ATM card, not just those customers who complained, as stated in an earlier version.