Tomorrow I’m off on holiday to Singapore again, this time for a couple of weeks and taking my wife with me. We might go up to Malaysia for a few days in the second week to get some snorkelling in, but we’re undecided on that.
One thing I am not undecided on is that when I am in Singapore I will attempt to do what I should have done several years ago: leave that pathetic excuse for a bank called Barclays and join HSBC, whose offshore banking service would have to be pretty damned poor to be worse than Barclays’. Sometimes I wonder if they’ve staffed their customer service department with Sakhalin Islanders. Since I emigrated in June 2003 and was able to conduct all my financial affairs through the Isle of Man and out of range of Gordon Brown’s fat, greedy mitts, I have unfortunately been a customer, or dupe, of Barclays Private Clients International.
Since June 2003 up until today, Barclays have done the following, which is not an exhaustive list:
1. Sent an unsigned debit card addressed in its entirety to: “Timothy Newman, Dubai”. Like I’m the Sheikh, or something.
2. Sent several PIN numbers for my online banking service to the Middle East, none of which worked. It took a couple of months before I could access my account.
3. Kept an old online banking service account live when it should have been closed. It was possible to make payments from my current account using the old online account for at least a year.
4. Sent a debit card to Dubai which was cancelled before it ever arrived.
5. Operated a helpline dedicated to its international customers around UK office hours.
6. Charged me $55 per time to transfer $815 from a Barclays USD account on the Isle of Man to a Friends Provident USD account on the Isle of Man. Barclays considers this an international transaction, and charges accordingly.
7. Failed to act on an instruction to cancel a standing order for 4 months, helping themselves to over $200 of transaction fees in the process. After several hours of international calls to Barclays, they agreed to pay this back. After several more hours of international calls to Barclays, they actually did so.
8. Blocked an ATM card without warning on numerous occasions after falsely saying they’d tried to call me to ask if the card was being used fraudulently.
9. Told me that there is nothing they can do to avoid a card being blocked when used abroad, even if I have called them up to tell them I am going to be using the card abroad.
10. Told me that it is “impossible” for the daily withdrawal limit on my ATM card to be set to exceed £300.
11. Stated that they would be in breach of the law if they were to fax me copies of my own bank statements. This is a lie: other banks manage it without being prosecuted.
12. Chastised me for not warning them that I was using my card in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, 8 months after that had been my residential and correspondence address on record with Barclays.
13. Sent me umpteen computer-generated apology letters encouraging me to give them more feedback without providing an email address or fax number. The only way to give them feedback is to make a lengthy international phone call which will be dealt with by the very people you are complaining about, or to write a letter and post it across the world. They end the letter by telling you that if they don’t hear back from you within two months, they will assume you are satisfied. I’ll try this approach to my clients and see how far it gets me.
14. Demonstrated that the bank is run for the sake of their employees, not the customers. Umpteen obstacles have been put in place to prevent the employees having to do anything which might involve thinking, effort, or leaving their computer/phone terminal. Most requests are met with a whining jobsworth saying “I’m sorry sir, but we can’t do that, our policy doesn’t allow it”, as if the policy is imposed on Barclays by some higher being without their consent.
15. Failed to call me back on all but one occasion that I asked, a failure rate of about 96%.
16. Cost me several hundred dollars in international phone calls trying to persuade Barclays’ staff to solve routine problems or getting them to undo major problems of their own making. Requests to have some of this expenditure refunded were simply ignored.
17. Set up their telephone banking system such that the account management, debit card management, and credit card management are in three different places managed by three different groups.
18. Demonstrated beyond doubt that they are either utterly incapable of running an international banking service, or they simply don’t want to.
ABN AMRO customers are going to be in for a nasty shock if the Barclays takeover goes ahead. Barclays should prepare itself for a barrage of calls from grumpy Dutchmen.
I can’t understand Barclays. I don’t know much about how banks profile their customers, but at a guess I’d say I’m one worth looking after. I’m working in the oil and gas industry, not known for its meagre salaries, and at age 29 made it to General Manager of the Sakhalin region of a services company. I don’t have a mortgage yet, but it should be obvious that I will within the next few years, not to mention a requirement for all sorts of other investment vehicles, insurances, and financial products Barclays claim they offer. And I send a not insignificant amount of cash by way of my salary each month into their vaults, which is looking good to increase handsomely and continue for the next couple of decades. What’s more, I am surrounded by fairly wealthy expatriates most of whom do their banking offshore, not to mention that I manage a few of these and will likely manage a whole load more in the future and will be in a position to advise on a lot of the financial decisions they make. In short, if Barclays don’t consider me a customer worth looking after, what type of customer are they after? I don’t think they have a clue.
So I’m off to Singapore, the reknowned hot bed of capitalism, to do that most capitalist of things: booting an incompetent supplier off the job for ever. Now I don’t know if HSBC will be any better, but as I said, I doubt they could be any worse. We shall see.