• Tue
  • Dec 23, 2014
  • Updated: 6:56am


The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation was founded in Hong Kong on March 3, 1865, and in Shanghai one month later. In 1980, HSBC acquired 51 per cent of Marine Midland Bank, buying the rest in 1987. HSBC Holdings was established in Britain in 1991 as the parent of The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation ahead of its purchase of the UK-based Midland Bank and the impending 1997 transfer of sovereignty of Hong Kong from Britain to China. 


HSBC cards no longer work in many overseas ATMs

Customers going abroad complain of trouble getting hold of their money and blame bank's decision to link up to a single global network

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 12 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 12 May, 2013, 6:28am

HSBC customers have complained the bank has made it more difficult to draw out money abroad.

Many on business trips or holidays have said they were unable to get their hands on their cash from ATM machines.

That's because the bank has switched to chip-embedded cards that connect to a single global payment network.

Previously, access was provided to the Link or Plus networks. Plus is owned by Visa and claims to have access to 1 million ATMs in 170 countries. But HSBC has chosen China's UnionPay as its network provider for the new chip cards.

One Hong Kong resident told the Sunday Morning Post: "Since the issuing of new cards, I have been in London, Istanbul, Tokyo, Morocco, Vancouver, Vienna and Paris.

"I had no joy getting cash in any of them. It always said card error, card invalid, or simply spit the card back out with no explanation."

HSBC did not reply when asked whether changing from Plus and Link would mean customers would have access to fewer banks worldwide.

The Monetary Authority has instructed all banks in Hong Kong to adopt the chip-based technology for ATM cards.

The new cards have an embedded microchip on the face, but retain the magnetic stripe on the back. The new technology is designed to make it harder for criminals to use stolen data to manufacture fake cards.

But in adopting the technology, several major banks forced customers onto the UnionPay network this year, instead of the Plus system.

The UnionPay network was launched on the mainland in 2002 and is operated under the supervision of the People's Bank of China. UnionPay cards are accepted at merchants and ATMs in 141 countries.

But Hongkongers say UnionPay is a poor substitute for Plus and Link, as it is not recognised by as many banks worldwide.

UnionPay-friendly terminals outside Asia can be difficult to find. Even if you do locate one, it may not have been updated to handle the new cards.

HSBC said customers would encounter problems if they had not yet activated their ATM overseas cash withdrawal limit - a new procedure put in place by the bank to improve security.

But customers said it was the change from using the Plus and Link networks to UnionPay that was causing the problems. An Australian resident in Hong Kong said only National Bank, Citibank and HSBC would accept the card in his home country.

An industry source said HSBC put the networks out to tender and decided which one to use based on the best deal.

An HSBC spokesman said: "For security reasons, we are allowed to link to only one pay system - we use UnionPay."

He added that ATM card customers can withdraw cash from all HSBC ATMs in the world - except in Argentina, Brazil, France, Greece, Malta, New Zealand, Panama and Turkey - as well as from ATMs covered by the UnionPay network.

The bank aims to complete the card replacement process by the end of March next year.

A Monetary Authority spokesman said it was a purely commercial decision for a bank to choose which network they used.


For unlimited access to:

SCMP.com SCMP Tablet Edition SCMP Mobile Edition 10-year news archive



This article is now closed to comments

The old HSBC ATM card is connected to both Plus and UnionPay. Why was it possible to link to 2 networks before but not now?
A Hong Konger
I faced major problems with using the Union Pay system in various countries after HSBC made Union Pay it's exclusive method of cash withdrawal after ETC. The decision was an extremely short sighted and stupid one by HSBC to opt only for Union Pay, I find it highly irresponsible of HSBC to puts it's customers at risk by leaving them unable to access their funds in many locations around the world, to say nothing of forcing it's customers to use a BoC supervised porthole, something many in HK might find objectionable.
See the following website to locate Union Pay cash withdrawal machines: ****cn.unionpay.com/AtmEnglishFront_Search.html, you can for example withdraw your money in Afghanistan, Congo, Djibouti and 34 similar holiday destinations. Regretfully, United Kingdom, Germany or the USA did not make it to their list of importance countries to service.
Since it is in any case neither advantageous, nor advisable from a risk perspective to only have one bank 'relationship' - whatever that meant anyhow - so, I am glad that my alternative bank to HSBC still has PLUS and CIRRUS. Up to HSBC to provide competitive services!
Why stick with HSBC?
"Your Citibank ATM card allows you access and withdraw cash free of charge at over 1,000,000 Citibank, PLUS, STAR and NYCE network ATMs in more than 160 countries worldwide."
In London I could only get cash at HSBC cash machines. Called HSBC preferred banking but the service desk denied there is any problem and I should have no issue with overseas withdrawals. I transferred half of my cash to a European bank with Maestro network: I spread the risk, can pin anywhere and save on FX.
In January 2013 I was in Mexico. I could not withdraw money with the new HSBC card at all, not even from the HSBC ATMs. HSBC ATMs refused the HSBC Premier card with: "Your card cannot be processed. Please take your card". So much about World's Local Bank.
I faced no problems with Visa E-Plus/Electron issued from a small bank in Slovenia, a tiny state of 2mil population, in Mexico, Peru, Cuba, Tanzania, Palau to name a few. I was even able to withdraw from HSBC ATMs.
HSBC is making it harder to want to keep banking with them. I wonder what would possess them to make such a foolish decision to change to Union Pay at this stage in time. I could see it if Union Pay was established and the customers could access their accounts in other countries.
I currently work in Slovakia where there is no HSBC presence (they pulled out last year) and no ATM support for China UnionPay. Yet previously I could use my HSBC ATM card at almost all of the ATMs here - most support Plus! It's the same story in other European countries. What was HSBC thinking? Answer: CUP offers a cheaper switching service - let's not worry about customer convenience, eh? So, since the cards were replaced in March, I now have an alternative bank ATM card which does support Plus and am seriously considering switching all of my banking business away from HSBC.
Recently I was in Indonesia and was left without the ability to get cash out due to this (un announced) change. We tried 5 ATMS at the Jakarta airport. I eventually had to use another credit card I had (from Australia) and get a cash withdrawal. The new HSBC card no longer works with Plus,Maestro or Cirrus networks!!!!
Now In Australia I am having the same problem! THereare only a small handful of HSBC ATMS. I have reverted to using my other credit cards and getting expensive cash wthdrawals. For a bank that prides itself as being 'global' this really was a stupd move and has the potential to put people in dangerous situations when the're stuck in a strange country with no access to their cash. I'll be switching banks as soon as I'm back in HK.
Carioca no Coracao
this article refers to ATM cards issued by HSBC - Hong Kong. HSBC-USA issues ATM cards with Cirrus network. having said that, i no longer use HSBC ATM card (and Credit card) due to the 3% "foreign transaction fee". HSBC is so scummy that instead of declaring the fee on the bank statement, they embed the fee in the FX rate so customers won't realize a fee was charged! i am now using ATM cards that explicitly have disclosure in the service contract that "no foreign transaction fee" and that the card can be used at any banks' ATM for free. HSBC = HongKong Scummy Bank Corp.
So my bank throws my ATM card off the only ATM network worth being on, and to add insult to injury, I have to read about it in the newspaper. Does HSBC have any communication strategy at all? Instead of sending me all the junk letters with loan offers and credit card deals, could they not have sent me one email to inform me of this potentially very inconvenient change? A new low.
I also got caught in a country without Unionpay or HSBC presence.
Fair enough that HSBC makes changes to their services, just very disappointing that HSBC does not clearly and transparently inform clients of these changes which are material if you travel regularly.
Their card change announcement even starts off by reassuringly stating that clients will enjoy the same ATM services as before. This hardly encourages a dig into the rest of the announcement to find out what the changes to the global ATM network are.
December 6, 2012 · by badcanto · in Politics
In 2011, Hong Kong Monetary Authority announced that all ATM magnetic strip cards are going to be replaced by chip cards to increase security. As new ATM chip cards are being rolled out, netizens have noticed that the symbol of Visa Plus/Mastercard’s Cirrus is gone and only that of China UnionPay remains. Besides worrying about privacy and security problems of China UnionPay, netizens also see this as a sign that Beijing has absolute control over their bank accounts.
Visa Plus is gone in new Hong Kong ATM chip cards (Upper). Source
Visa Plus and Mastercard’s Cirrus are ditched in Hong Kong ATM chip cards. Source: HSBC
Netizens’ Comments
1. Smart identity card is to monitor what you have done, what you have applied, what you have signed up, your ISP and telephone accounts etc.
2. Octopus card is to monitor to where you have been and what you have bought.
3. ATM chip card is to monitor your account activity.
I don’t discuss with conspiracy theory. Think for yourself.
膠人: I am from Macao (and a bank staff). Macao ATM cards are also going to be changed to China UnionPay chip cards. It is really fantastic. If the Communist Party is in trouble, everyone will be forced to be “patriotic”.
俠: Point 1, that is to prevent Mainlanders from transferring money to overseas
Interesting to note is that my HSBC Visa still uses the PLUS network. But drawing cash with a VISA will incur higher bank fees!
HSBC = fees and charges, fees and charges, fees and charges, fees and charges, fees and charges, fees and charges, fees and charges, fees and charges, fees and charges, ...............
Re mschmidthk, yes, I encountered that problem too (of the credit card defaulting to do a cash advance. I finally went to an HSBC staff member in Hong Kong at a 'Premier' banking location and he showed me, using their ATM, how to set up your HSBC Visa Card so that you can withdraw cash from your current or savings account (it isn't that obvious).
Thailand is a mess too. I even took the final resort of going to the corporate HQ of HSBC in Bangkok, but alas no ATM there. My heart was starting to beat rather rapidly, when in the end the slightly bemused but friendly local HSBC manager accompanied me on a five minute stroll through the shopping mall to a stand alone ATM of Bangkok Bank nearby. He then stood next to me as I made my cash withdrawal at this Bangkok Bank ATM. What a crazy state of affairs. On the way there he told me that HSBC closed down their retail operations in Thailand last year to cut save money as a result of the financial crisis. Apparently, he said that there are no HSBC ATMs in the whole of Thailand now, as well as in Taiwan, Korea and Japan, which have also suffered from the same cut-backs.
Glad to see this is finally getting some publicity. I guess this is just the tip of a huge iceberg - just imagine the storm of complaints HSBC is going to get when the summer vacation period really gets underway!
@Greenwash: I tried linking my accounts to my HSBC Visa credit card too. It only seems to work with overseas HSBC ATMs. All others I've tried don't support account selection with a credit card - they just default to credit cash advance :-(
I got stuck in the Philippines just a week and a half ago with no access to money and no idea why my card wasn't working - even at HSBC ATM machines. It's terrible. Enough to make me switch banks.
I am properly outraged by this. I couldn't get money from ATMs in Greece a few weeks ago and I was travelling on my own - that's just not safe! Luckily I had a UK ATM card with me but I have had a Hong Kong HSBC account for 18 years and I shouldn't have to use a UK ATM card that I only keep for emergencies. I am going to Colombia in the summer - that should be fun. I am seriously considering changing banks.
It's pretty clear that's the goal: HSBC WANTS you to switch banks so that they can move away from retail banking. Their contempt for retail banking customers is on display.
"HSBC did not reply when asked whether changing from Plus and Link would mean customers would have access to fewer banks worldwide."
...why not? Did they not hear? We're they too busy on candy crush? Are they angry with you? What is the answer?
"HSBC said customers would encounter problems if they had not yet activated their ATM overseas cash withdrawal limit - a new procedure put in place by the bank to improve security." ...that is both beside the point and misleading. Overseas withdrawals always had a limit. They just reset everyone's limit. This article is about HSBC switching to a single network, to the massive detriment of customers overseas. In Laos, union pay machines were about one in ten I would say.
But come on, lets have more juice to this story. The last line is like a tantalizing teaser to a sequel... Did the MA encourage banks to go to one provider? Are they partly to blame? Are HSBC really restricted to using one provider for security reasons as per their spokespersons comment?
Please I know it's a Sunday but please finish the story
Are HSBC actually going to do anything re this. Is the not a PR Nightmare for The World's Local Bank.
HSBC- The letters stand for "Having Simple Become Complicated" - This is a case of an allegedly international bank dictating to its customers what they can and cant do. It is absolute rubbish that new chip cards do not work overseas as one would and should expect, and woeful that HSBC right royally stuff up such a simple expectation from and for its customers. Note this only seems to be an issue in HK, so that alone speaks volumes for the lack and senior management skill and direction. I am glad the SCMP ran the story they did, hope they keep up, perhaps some public pressure will make the powers that be at HSBC realise want a bunch of wally's they really are!
Months ago I asked HSBC in HK where - other than at HSBC branches - I could withdraw cash in London, Basically, where are the UnionPay ATMs as the UK is not listed on it's website 'ATM search'. They wouldn't listen to the question properly and told me to 'call the UK'. Eventually they patched me through to some poor guy at HSBC London who apologetically admitted he'd never heard of UnionPay. Guess it's switch banks or back to the days of traveler's cheques....
A Hong Konger
You should be aware of the fees:
1.) Withdrawal using Union Pay:
HK$20 per withdrawal
Standard HSBC exchange rate (or so HSBC claims)
2.) Withdrawal using Credit Card:
5% Fee (3% handling fee + 2% cash advance fee) + 1.95% exchange rate on top of standard HSBC exchange rate in HSBC's favour (obviously).
Minimum fee for cash advance from credit card: HK$55
This was explained to me by HSBC phone banking.
Yes, I'm well aware of the extortionate fees associated with credit card cash advances. But the point of this thread is that you can avoid them by using the card as a debit card (linking it to your checking and savings accounts, as discussed above).
Dear mschmidthk, Yes, I encountered that problem too. Even once my accounts were linked to my credit card, I had to get the default language changed from Chinese and then I had to go to an HSBC ATM with an HSBC bank staff to show me how to change the default account for my Credit Card. I am normally very good at ATMs, internet, etc. This procedure wasn't obvious.
Clearly some of the most misleading advertising of all time. Isn't it fun to walk in to an HSBC branch as a Premiere member in Brazil, the UK or the US and have the branch manager look at you like you banked with another company and that you should contact someone in HK to help you!
An HSBC spokesman said: "For security reasons, we are allowed to link to only one pay system - we use UnionPay."
Hey genius, for absolute 100% security, why don't you just make cards not work at any ATM. Ever. Problem solved.
I was in Thailand with a bunch of people last week, we all had HSBC cards. Tried over half a dozen machines. No joy. In the end, someone with a UK bank card had to get cash for all of us. Absolutely, utterly useless.
"The World's Local Bank" eh?
I have complained to HSBC about this. China UnionPay is really only in Greater China. Having a 'few' ATMS you can use in the rest of Asia is not at all workable; HSBC branches are few and far between in most countries. UnionPay is basically non-existent in the rest of the World.
I have now linked up my HSBC Visa Card, which has the Plus network on it, to my HSBC bank accounts. But I am going to set up a bank account with another bank just to be safe. Also, UnionPay is owned by China's commercial banks, i.e. the government. Not good in terms of privacy and confidentiality. A very foolish move by HSBC.
"He added that ATM card customers can withdraw cash from all HSBC ATMs in the world - except in Argentina, Brazil, France, Greece, Malta, New Zealand, Panama and Turkey - as well as from ATMs covered by the UnionPay network."
But :"HSBC said customers would encounter problems if they had not yet activated their ATM overseas cash withdrawal limit - a new procedure put in place by the bank to improve security."
is true, and we need to finish this procedure before trip.
So, commercial society -- commercial decision... nth to blame, it will happen in every bank, and it's happening... we can just follow the instructions... (rules of game)
HSBC is pure garbage. Long queues. Terrible customer service. And now it uses an ATM network with really poor coverage. Truly the world's local bank.....
What's the problem? Just go to an HSBC ATM
Might help to check your cards before you go overseas as well.
We are short of real news today.
Thanks Greenwash, I'll try that when I'm back in HK :-)
Nightmare. Not working in Ireland either. forced to use HSBC Master Card and was charged fees, that I hope to get back. Bring back LINK. - derek
@drakokc: just to clarify, the overseas limit is a separate issue which confuses the matter further. If you do not reset this you cannot use the ATM machines abroad at all. The change of network means that even if you have reset this limit you can still not use ATMs which you used to. I have been to two airports in different countries which have neither unionpay or hsbc atms, where I previously had no problems at all getting money.
HSBC really is complete garbage.


SCMP.com Account