Thus one just refuses to go away. All because HSBC binned the global Cirrus and Plus ATM clearing systems for the cheaper (for them) Chiba-based UnionPay system. UnionPay may one day become as widely accepted as the other two, but the signs are that this may take some time. Check your HSBC ATM card - chances are it says UnionPay on the back, where is used to have Cirrus and Plus. I suspect the unlucky folks at the World's Local Bank who have to implement the new UnionPay chip card clearing system wish the whole thing would just vanish.
It all started when, according to HSBC's latest email missive to ATM cardholders; they undertook to replace magnetic strip ATM cards with ATM chip cards, to "strengthen security controls for ATM services, as mandated by the Hong Kong Monetary Authority".
This is one of those wonderful statements that sound infallible, until you think about it. If the HKMA really did this, how come the other banks don't seem obliged to follow suit? Citibank has not contacted me to bring me the same news. Or sent me a new card. But then neither did HSBC until this column and the Post's print version started to record the experiences of exasperated HSBC cardholders, who suddenly found themselves cashless overseas when their ATM cards were rejected.
This new email makes it all sound hunky dory. Sure, your new UnionPay HSBC ATM card will work in many countries, in HSBC and Hang Seng Bank machines. It fails to mention any other banks - many of which accepted the old Cirrus and Plus cards. So good news, you can use your new UnionPay card in two banks in several countries - but not Argentina, Brazil, France, Greece, Malta, Mexico, New Zealand, Panama or Turkey. That's correct, as it stands, you can't withdraw your own money from an HSBC machine in Paris.
HSBC remains upbeat about all this, pointing out that if you still want to use the numerous Cirrus and Plus machines, you can do so, by linking your HSBC credit card, which is still Cirrus compatible, with your new chip card. Fine in theory, but there's no mention that you will probably be charged for this withdrawal as a credit card cash advance. That happened to a reader who followed the helpful advice of HSBC Hong Kong before she set off to Holland.
Your card's in the mail
The latest HSBC email says the new UnionPay cards "will be" mailed to customers from "October 2012 to December 2013."
Will be? At this rate, people have been receiving new cards for ages, and if they were like me and had no clue that UnionPay is far less widely accepted than Cirrus, until they tried to use the card overseas. If they did so since March, they would also have discovered the Local Bank had reset their overseas withdrawal limit to zero. Since March. Unless you had known to tell them your travel plans in advance. But If you are worried about overseas emergencies, before you go "You may wish to prepare enough cash in local currencies," the bank advises. I kid you not, that is their advice.
This week finds me in Malaysia, and I may have uncovered another potential can of UnionPay worms. HSBC Kuala Lumpur staff were fascinated to hear of, and see the new UnionPay cards - because they don't have them. Or even know about them. Inquiries revealed they were to be rolled out in Malaysia "sometime next year." So when my KL friend visited Hong Kong and poked her HSBC ATM card in the ATM at Hong Kong airport, which is of course now a UnionPay machine...it gave her no cash and ate her card. No one from HSBC answered the emergency hotline phone, so she was stuck.
I asked HSBC HQ to explain the plight of all these potential people coming to Hong Kong only to find out their Malaysia HSBC cards no longer works. Will it be the same for HSBC users from other countries which still use the old Cirrus and Plus cards? No answer today. Maybe tomorrow. In the meantime, wherever you are, take the bank's advice: best prepare some cash in local currencies to take with you overseas. Isn't that what we used to do, before plastic was invented?