After a summer of complaints from frustrated and often angry customers unable to withdraw cash overseas with the new UnionPay ATM cards, HSBC has finally relented. They will soon re-introduce ATM cards using the international Plus network. When asked if she was sure this was a Visa Plus ATM card, not a credit card, the spokeswoman said definitely yes. “We are working to offer a second ATM card, i.e. Visa, for customers who need to use another international network, i.e. Plus. This should be ready in a few months.”
This news will bring a sigh of relief to HSBC customers who are caught cash-less overseas because their new HSBC ATM cards linked to the China-based UnionPay bank clearing system are much less widely accepted than the former Cirrus and Plus. UnionPay gives HSBC greater access in China and charges cheaper fees than Plus and Cirrus. The bank claims it’s because they were obliged by HKMA rules and greater customer protection, to introduce chip technology cards. One glance at one of the Cathy Pacific blogs shows this explanation does not convince the scores of pilots stranded overseas unable to withdraw cash in recent months.
The 10 no-UnionPay countries
The problem, as HSBC eventually admitted, is that UnionPay has not yet reached several countries. These nine are: Argentina, Brazil, France, Greece, Malta, Mexico, New Zealand, Panama and Turkey.
The Netherlands is also currently not covered by UnionPay’s ATM network, so I make that 10 countries. I’m repeating this again, dear readers, because even if you go to an HSBC branch in these places, you will not be able to extract your cash with your card, even if you have been good customers and registered your card before you set off. That’s another new requirement “for your protection.”
Here’s a typical letter from a frazzled HSBC customer. “I read your articles on HSBC overseas cash withdrawals as I am currently having many of the problems you describe. Unfortunately, I am in one of the nine countries listed (Brazil) where HSBC don't think anyone would fancy withdrawing their money from an HSBC ATM. Thank you for writing about all the more frustrating by the whole "world's local bank" nonsense!”
Remember to link before you fly
So in the meantime, until the new Plus Visa cards are minted, what do you do? In a jolly letter to customers, HSBC suggested you take more cash with you on foreign trips this summer. Thanks guys.
Here is what they also advise. Customers travelling to the Netherlands or other markets that are not covered by the UnionPay network should link their bank account(s) to their HSBC Visa/MasterCard if they want to use the ATM service of the PLUS/Cirrus network where available. The key words here are “where available.”
“Customers can link their accounts to their credit cards - and “where the withdrawal is unsuccessful, we would refund the cash advance fee in interim.” Remember that. Readers warn though: stay alert at the foreign ATM machine, because often it debits the credit card before you even have time to notice there was no savings account option and cancel. Not all ATMs give you the option. When you get back to Hong Kong, they promise to refund the charges if no choice to use your savings account was offered. You have the hassle of trudging to the bank of course, and one lady who did so after a trip to the Netherlands had a tussle with HSBC when she actually tried to do it, but finally succeeded. So stick to your guns.
This is it, in a nutshell. To start with, tell HSBC you will go overseas so you are actually allowed to withdraw cash at all. You can do this at a local ATM. Then go to the bank and link your credit card – this means you have to get one - to your savings account. Then, in theory, if you wind up somewhere your HSBC ATM doesn’t work, you can get cash via your credit card, which is still linked to the old networks. You may, or may not, have to pay a (refundable) fee, depending whether the ATM allows you to get cash from your savings account with a credit card. But this is all temporary, because soon, normality will return, in the shape of a new Plus ATM Visa card. For which you will no doubt have to pay a handling fee.
Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But be warned. Those CX pilots and many other customers say that even in countries where UnionPay-friendly banks are supposed to abound, they are like hens’ teeth. You’re OK with actual HSBC branches in places like Canada, England and Australia, but even in these big countries, don’t rely on getting cash if you stray too far from a branch of the mother ship. If in doubt, open another account. With a bank that still uses the international Cirrus and Plus networks. Don’t be surprised if you find a queue.