HSBC: Firing the world’s most incompetent bank

Dear reader, I’m going to beg your indulgence as I take a brief editorial detour from my normal writing about new media, journalism and innovation. I promise I won’t make a habit of it.

But, hey, blogging is about personal expression, and I need to vent about my former bank, HSBC. I promise to return to return to our regularly scheduled blogging after this.

Sorry it’s so long, but HSBC is just that crap. Skip to the bullet points, and if you’ve experienced horrible service with HSBC (or another bank), feel free to share. Retail banking customers deserve better than we’re getting, and it’s time for our governments to not just bail out banks but also to work with consumers to ensure we’re well served. Many banks are not just too big to fail but also simply too incompetent to survive.

To relevant regulators, I ask that you start doing your job and look out for retail customers too. Retail banking may not be a high margin business, but like or not, people need banking services. It’s long past time to clean up this industry.

Again, if this story or even parts of it are familiar, share this and share your stories. A little social media action might help. We need retail banking reform now.

Dear HSBC CEO Mr Stuart Gulliver:

I thought about sending this letter to relevant banking regulators, but I don’t have faith that they’d actually do anything so I thought that this public letter might be more effective.

HSBC, you’re fired. I wish I had the power to fire you, the CEO, personally and not just the divisions of your bank that I had the infuriating misfortune to bank with since 2005. I would have fired you long ago, but you know that switching costs are high. I actually thought about buying some HSBC stock and leading a shareholder revolt, but after my experience as your customer, I see you as a very bad investment. Besides, I’ve got better things to do with my time and my money.

Why am I firing you? Where to begin. If it were one branch of your global empire that was totally incompetent, I might write it off, but no, my experiences with HSBC UK, HSBC Expat and HSBC US (or what is left of it) were so uniformly bad that I came to believe that you have serious systemic service and security issues at your retail banking and credit card divisions. On that point, I’m not joking at all. I am completely serious.

I’ll try to make this brief, but it’s hard to summarise all of the crap I put up as one of your customers.

• Moving to the UK in 2005 for what I thought would be a brief work assignment, I opened up an HSBC US account. Things started off well enough, although as I would come to find out, the whole “world’s local bank” looks good on the ads at the airports but is actually nonsense.
• In 2006, I opened up an HSBC Offshore (now Expat) account because I needed an account quickly and needed multi-currency services. I had the money to open the account, and the minimum balance to avoid paying fees was better than your competitors. Then it started to go all wrong.
• You sent me my first credit card and cancelled it a few weeks later. You said that I must have used it online on an insecure site. Nope, and then when I asked how a card could have been compromised so quickly, your staff said it was “a known Milanese fraudster”.
• Several months after opening the account, you sent your customers a letter saying that “in order to serve you better” we’re jacking up the minimum balance required to avoid fees. You didn’t increase it a few thousand pounds, which would have been high. You didn’t double it. No, you increased the minimum fee-free balance 5 times to £25,000. The better service never materialised. As a matter of fact, over the next several years, your service got worse and your fees just got higher. I don’t mind paying fees, but I do expect good service in return. You didn’t hold up your end of the customer contract.
• In 2008, I was in the US on business, and my PayPal account was compromised. PayPal immediately snapped into action calling me on a Saturday. The thieves rang up purchases of $1800 in less than 24 hours. I called HSBC alerting you of the fraud and asking what I could do. The answer? Nothing unless I came into a branch. The nearest branch was a seven hour drive away. On Monday, I watched helplessly as my bank account was drained. You then you slapped an overdraft fee on me. World’s local bank my backside. Weeks later when I was near a branch, I demanded a refund of the overdraft fee. You gave me one, but I should have fired you then and there.
PayPal was excellent, and having been a customer of theirs for several years, they waived the fee for a security token to help me prevent this from happening in the future because I had been with them for years. That’s customer service and a business repaying customer loyalty. You didn’t help me solve my problems at all.
• In 2011, I was woken up in the middle of the night in Australia on business. I had an automatic payment scheme setup on my HSBC UK credit card to pay for my storage space in the US. For some reason, that stopped. Fortunately, Public Storage rang me, and I was able to process a one off payment. I still don’t know what happened.
• In 2012, HSBC’s incompetence was on full display. In January, my employer was unable to pay my wages. To be fair to HSBC, my employer’s bank, Lloyds, was pretty useless too, but HSBC really took the biscuit. You screwed up changing your sort code to the new faster payments system, and my employer couldn’t pay me. You didn’t inform your customers. Why not? You were so kind to allow my employer to pay me via free SWIFT transfers. Normally, you charged £20 a crack for that service. For emphasis, your screw up meant I didn’t get paid for a month. Most people don’t have that luxury.
• Despite the fact that I’ve travelled 310 days out of the last three years, for some reason, HSBC UK started blocking my credit card when I travelled outside the UK, even when I called or left instructions on the website. HSBC blocked my card after a flight to Dubai because the WiFi company on the flight had a US billing address, and I had only said I was travelling to Dubai and Indonesia. You’ve got those cute ads with the kids taking multiple currencies at their lemonade stand, but yet, you’re thrown by a US company providing WiFi on an Emirates flight? The reality doesn’t quite live up to your ads, does it now?
• Last summer, HSBC UK blocked my credit card while I was on a business trip to New York. I’m a US citizen. I travel there at least once a year, and I had an HSBC US account at the time. What would be suspicious about that?
• As my credit card was blocked, I then had to use my debit card, which was compromised. WalMart alerted you to the fraud, and you blocked the payment or so I was told. You might want to change the script that your foreign call centres use. They didn’t tell me that £400 would go out of my account for up to eight weeks until I called them up and asked them about it. I had totally lost my patience with you and your bank.

Saving the worst for last

By this time, I had already decided to fire you. I was tired of paying your exorbitant fees, which by this time seemed a perverse way of rewarding you for being utterly useless. Moreover, your serial incompetence and poor security were too much of a risk to my personal finances.

I did some research, and Citibank had a managed transfer service. They brought the switching costs down, and I couldn’t risk banking with you anymore. However, you still had a few opportunities to shine as the masters of suck, and you didn’t miss a single one.

It took me months to fire you. Citibank worked with me, and you did not. I had more communication from Citibank in the first month of being their customer than I did in years of being a customer of HSBC. HSBC Expat didn’t even mention that Citibank had requested information on my direct deposits and transfers. As a security issue, I would have expected that much.

When I was in the US on business, I fortunately was in one of the last remaining cities where HSBC US has a physical branch so I could close my account. I went to the branch, and you were going to charge me $12 for a cashier’s cheque. It shouldn’t be standard procedure to charge for a cashier’s cheque when closing an account. Lovely, I have to pay you to get my money so I did the very insecure thing and withdrew the cash. Fortunately, the Citibank branch was just across the street.

But wait for it, your worst is yet to come. Several years ago, my HSBC US credit card was compromised. Sigh, who runs your security operations? A known Milanese fraudster? The card was cancelled, but for some reason, it had a one cent balance. I had tried to pay it off several times, but you only allow payments of one dollar or more online. Knowing HSBC’s level of stupidity, I had the foresight to bring a penny to the branch with me when I closed my bank account. The teller struggled a bit with what to do because the credit card account was closed. Bless her. She tried to sort it out and meekly asked if I had a penny.

I tried to cancel the credit card too, but I was told that I couldn’t do that at a branch. Face palm. Was the mystery one penny balance sorted? Hardly. I now have a one cent outstanding balance on the old card and a one cent credit on my existing card. I’ll give you points for consistency, the consistency of never missing an opportunity to screw up. Seriously, this is a global financial institution?

Sir, I wouldn’t trust you or your managers to run that little girl’s lemonade stand in your ads. Let’s make a deal. You got an $11.1 m bonus last year. Flip me that penny, and we’ll call it even.

Your utterly incompetent service and your farcical security has cost me time and money. I’ve got a choice in banking, and you have come up wanting over and over and over again. You left me with no choice. You. Are. Fired.

Sincerely, your former customer,

Kevin Anderson