Buying Beds in France

We are in the process of buying an apartment in the French Alps, and in anticipation of getting the keys sometime in late February I visited an outlet of one of France’s largest bed suppliers.  The conversation went something like this:

Me: Hello, I’ve chosen two very nice beds for a total of 3,000 Euro and I would like to place the order right now. But can they be delivered in 3 weeks?

Salesman: 3 weeks?! Merde, that is too short! We don’t have the stock!

Me: Okay. So when?

Salesman: I don’t know. Maybe 5 or 8 weeks.

Me: Okay. Not ideal, but this is France and not the USA, so I guess I’ll just have to wait. So, see that bed there? Two of them, please.

Salesman: Oh, that one? Oh, that is an extra delay. We have problems getting that one.

Me: When?

Salesman: I don’t know…we would need to see. It is complicated.

Me: Okay, whatever. Complicated. As is everything here, it seems. So can we at least agree that it can be delivered on a certain date once we know it is available?

Salesman: Sure, yes.

Me: On a Saturday?

Salesman: Mais, merde, non! C’est compliqué! We have the transporter, and many deliveries, and you are not in Paris but a province, and….well, it’s complicated.

Me: So here I am with 3,000 Euros ready so spend *right now* on a product you have right there, and you can’t tell me when it will be delivered, you can’t deliver it on a Saturday, and everything is too complicated?

Salesman: Bienvenue en France, m’sieur.

To be fair, the salesman looked about two stages away from full-on suicide, and I did feel sorry for him.  And I did place the order, because there was a sale on and anywhere else would have given me the same story as it was exactly the same when I bought a sofa last spring.  On that occasion I ended up buying the one in the shop in order to avoid a 12 week wait.  Only you must pay the full amount up-front, naturellement.

The bed salesman called me back a couple of days later.  He surprised me by telling me they’d managed to find some in stock (seriously, this nationwide company is unable to check stock in real time from its sales outlets; they need to send a special request and wait a day or two) and could deliver them whenever I wanted.  But only on Mondays or Wednesdays.  Why only those days?  Because “you don’t live near Paris” and “the transporter needs to do other deliveries” and “it’s complicated”.  Bienvenue en France, indeed.

I am comforted by the knowledge that it would be no different in the UK.

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Why Competition is Good

Today I went into HSBC bank in Melbourne to open a bank account of the most basic kind on offer.  I didn’t expect much, having tried two or three times before to do the same thing in the UK, without success.  On those previous occasions, they raised objections within a minute or two of my saying what I wanted, and proceeded to reel off a load of bureaucratic hoops I’d need to jump through before they’d make any effort themselves.

Sure enough, the bullshit started quickly on this occasion.  They asked for my passport, then my UK driving license.  They said they needed the latter to confirm my address in the UK, even through I am resident in Australia (with a proper visa).  They asked for proof of address in Australia, which I gave them in the form of an invoice from the serviced apartments company from which I rent my flat (which is all inclusive, so I have no utility bills).  At this, the assistant pulled her face and asked if I could get somebody from my company to confirm this address.  I said I could, but the letter would come from me as I am the local representative of the company, and I set up the accommodation myself.  She pulled her face a bit more and went off to speak to her manager.  After a few minutes she came back with the expected “I’m sorry, but we can’t…” and invited me to write a letter to “HR” – who in my case live in Perth, have never met me, and could no more vouch for my residential address as they could the contents of my pocket.  I in turn invited them to call up the serviced apartments company and verify I was living there, but was met with another, wholly expected, “I’m sorry, but we can’t…”.  Even grudgingly accepting that there is a requirement to go through bureaucratic bullshit to open a bank account, it really grates that certain banks – HSBC being one of them – expect their customers to be the ones to negotiate it, instead of them.  Who the fuck is the customer, here?  So with that, I gathered up my documents and announced that I’d passed six or seven banks on the short walk from the office to HSBC, and I’ll try one of them.

So I did, and entered the Commonwealth Bank of Australia. I chose them because their merchant terminals generally accept my Credit Suisse Maestro card, whereas most others don’t (but that’s a subject for another post).  After a brief wait for somebody to see me, I was sat in a room opposite a helpful young lady on a computer and within 20 minutes I had a bank account number and details of how to access it online, with the password sent via SMS to my mobile phone.  Nobody asked to see my UK driving license, and I wasn’t asked to write letters to mythical HR departments a continent away to verify I hadn’t forged the invoice and was lying about where I lived.  Simply my passport, visa information, and contact details and away we went.  I was impressed.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why competition is good.  If one provider is shite, chances are a better one will exist nearby.  In a country where competition is badly missing in a lot of areas, its presence in the banking sector cheered me up considerably.

Incidentally, the reason I tried HSBC first was just to verify if they were as petty and shite as the other occasions I’d try to open an account with them, largely for the purposes of providing blogging material (bank-bashing never gets old around these parts).

And also incidentally, I noticed that all the people I dealt with in both banks were Chinese, and I don’t mean second generation.  The only “Australians” I saw were showing the customers which Chinese girl to go and speak to.  Read into that what you will.

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HSBC: Hang the Bastards!!

Back in August 2007 I wrote this:

My application to open an offshore bank account with HSBC has fallen flat on its face.  In order for somebody resident in Russia to open an account on the Isle of Man, they need to have an opening balance of 60,000 Pounds Sterling, which despite my status as cigar-puffing oilman, I do not have.  The reason why they demand such a high opening balance for Russian residents (the normal requirement is 5,000 Pounds Sterling) is because of the risk of “money laundering”.  And that is about as detailed an explanation as I could get.

What is interesting is that HSBC do not advertise this requirement anywhere, it is simply a decision which gets made at the application stage.  Personally, I think the explanation is bollocks.  Anyone wanting to launder money from Russia is probably not going to be doing so in small amounts, and I can’t see how a 60,000 GBP opening balance is going to do anything to discourage such activities.  If anything, putting a maximum balance on the account would be more of a control on money laundering rather than a minimum balance.

And there is a follow-up story to that which I didn’t write about.

A couple of years later I was in London and opened up my RBSi account, thus getting shot of Barclays once and for all.  But just next door to the RBS branch was HSBC, so I thought I’d pop in there to see if I could open an account while I was in the area.  As with RBSi, HSBC has a requirement that you submit a copy of your passport notarised by either somebody in an embassy or somebody in a bank branch (both kind of hard to achieve in Sakhalin).  But whereas RBSi would notarise my passport copy in a branch, hand it back to me, and then allow me to submit this along with my (lengthy) application form all at once later, HSBC insisted that they could not let me leave their branch with a copy of my passport which they had notarised.  Apparently I had to fill all the forms out and then bring them all together to the branch, where they would notarise my passport and send the whole lot to the Isle of Man or wherever themselves.  I didn’t have the completed forms with me, assuming I could do that later.  When I asked them why they had to post everything themselves and why I was not allowed to take the notarised copy of my passport with me, I got a barrage of sanctimonious bollocks about “policies” and “fraud” and “money laundering”.  I was leaving the next day, so I told them to shove it up their arse and walked out, and haven’t crossed the threshold of HSBC since.

I got a similar run-around by Barclays.  They insisted that I had to turn up in person with my passport to do this, that, or the other all in the name of preventing money laundering, and gave me pompous lectures on how seriously they took all this.

But it was all bollocks.  Every time I read of a Nigerian who has been caught embezzling millions, and sometimes billions, of looted monies, the cash is inevitably routed through a British bank with a high-street name.  And this:

A US Senate probe has disclosed how lax controls at Europe’s largest bank left it vulnerable to being used to launder dirty money from around the world.

The report into HSBC, released ahead of a Senate hearing on Tuesday, says huge sums of Mexican drug money almost certainly passed through the bank.

Suspicious funds from Syria, the Cayman Islands, Iran and Saudi Arabia also passed through the British bank.

Because of course, and what is so blindingly obvious, is that these banks are quite happy to throw the “know your customer” regulations in the bin as soon as the sums of money involved are high enough.  Yes, they give self-righteous lectures to ordinary people with salaries who want to open a basic account and make them jump through all kinds of hoops (including making them come in person), but a Mexican wearing bandoliers, a droopy black moustache, and carrying a suitcase bulging with bloody dollar bills gets VIP service.

I hate these fuckers.  I now bank with the Swiss who, although they might be happy to do business with the dodgiest characters in the world, at least don’t pretend otherwise and make life a misery for the “little people”.  I hope the CEO gets the electric chair.

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Barclays Caught Lying? Quelle Surprise!!

Apologies for the lack of posts, I’ve been both busy at work and travelling a bit and I’m in the middle of an enormous post on a trip to Germany which is taking a while.

But this I want to comment on:

Barclays Bank PLC Admits Misconduct Related to Submissions for the London Interbank Offered Rate and the Euro Interbank Offered Rate and Agrees to Pay $160 Million Penalty

So Barclays Bank has been caught lying through its arse, eh?  That’s strange, I always thought Barclays were such paragons of honesty and competence.

What a shame!

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Nokia’s Demise Unsurprising

There has been a fair bit in the news lately of Nokia’s troubles, and the likelihood of the company having to lay off several thousand people as they try to arrest what looks to be a terminal decline.  Whereas folk losing their jobs is not very nice, if any of those soon to be joining the dole queue were involved in the development of their N86 model, then I’ll not be shedding any tears for those particular individuals.  It seems that Nokia’s troubles are not the result of wrong-headed acquisitions or overstretch; rather, everyone seems to think it is the company’s failure to develop a smartphone within 4 years of their competitors.  That may be the case, but in mine it may be even more simple than that: their phones are shit.

When I bought the N86 just over 2 years ago, it was their flagship model and the fourth or fifth Nokia I had owned.  Other than a company Ericsson in 1999, I’d not used anything else.  Even though I am still using the thing now, I am unlikely to buy another Nokia again.  Here’s why.

1.  When you charge it, a bright white LED comes on at the top of the phone, which cannot be turned off.  I’m sure I’m not alone in that I charge my phone at night and use it as an alarm clock, meaning it is beside my bed when I am sleeping.  Or rather, trying to sleep.  Kind of hard to nod off when you have some stupid, wholly unnecessary, bright white light shining six inches from your eye.

2.  Emails are by default saved in the phone memory, as opposed to the much larger mass memory or memory card.  All the phone’s operational functions run off the phone memory.  I have looked, but I am pretty sure there is no way to save emails anywhere other than the phone memory.  When you download emails, you have two options in the settings: headers only, and all text plus attachments.  There is no option to download only the body text and not the attachments.  Nor is there an option to save the attachments somewhere else, which was a feature on the HP iPAQ* PDAs back in 2004.  What this means is that if you have a lot of emails, or somebody sends you one or two big ones, the phone memory gets full and the phone stops working.  It locks itself up to the point that you cannot go into your emails and delete the big ones, so you have to go into the file manager and delete something else from the phone memory, such as a game.  But you can only do this after restarting the phone, which takes several minutes and sends up 3 or 4 low memory warnings which if you try to clear lock the phone up.  So if somebody innocently sends you a large email and you happen to pick it up on your N86, you spend the next 5 minutes waiting for your phone to restart after which you have to delete something you probably wanted to keep.

3.  When the memory runs low, the phone stops working properly.  One of the symptoms is when you leave your phone alone and try to do nothing at all, an “Error in Selected Template”  warning comes up, and prevents you using the phone for a while.  This wouldn’t be so bad if it popped up when you were actually trying to do something, but it appears the phone flags it up when trying to do something of its own accord.

4.  The processor is just too damned slow, and the phone keeps crashing.  Opening the email application takes between 5 and 10 seconds.  If you try to switch quickly from emails to read an SMS message, and then reply to that message, the reply-to screen will take anywhere up to 15 seconds to load.  If you try to switch between emails and the web, chances are your phone will crash.  Most of the time it cannot be rebooted by pressing the power button, you need to remove the battery.  I have to do this about 2-3 times a day in normal use.

5.  The phone thinks it’s being clever by automatically selecting any new wi-fi connection as the default – and only – connection for all subsequent web surfing.  So if you have it set on “Always Ask” and you go to Starbucks and try to connect to their wi-fi, it will ask you which connection you want to use.  But the phone will then change the settings from “Always Ask” to “Always use Starbucks wi-fi”, meaning when you go home and try to connect to your home network, it will start looking for Starbucks wi-fi.  It wouldn’t be so bad if the phone told you Starbucks wi-fi wasn’t available and would you like to select another?  But no, instead it says “WLAN not available, cannot complete operation” or some such guff, and you have to go into the internet settings to put the damned thing back where you had it in the first place.  Also, the general connectivity of the phone to wi-fi networks is rubbish.  For some reason, my phone won’t connect to my home network, even though my laptop and everyone else’s phone has no problems.

6.  If you try to amend any of the connection settings when a connection has recently been attempted, you get an error along the lines of “Cannot access database at this time.  Please try later”, as if you’ve stumbled across a website hosted on a Nigerian server.  This is almost as stupid in its inaccuracy as Microsoft Windows Media Player’s “Server Execution Failed”, which seems almost to be a randomly generated excuse.  They’d be better off saying “Wank Programming Error”.

7.  The interface with Skype is rubbish.  When Skype tries to find a connection it suggests them one at a time, up to a maximum of 3 attempts.  If the connection you want to use happens to be outside the top 3 in the phone’s connection priority list, you need to go and amend it so that it is.

8. The automatic screen alignment detection takes an age to function, and sometimes it doesn’t work at all.

9.  The phone is not sealed very well, so within a week of buying it dust had appeared behind the screen.  This gets steadily worse over time.

10.  The phone sometimes does something of its own accord which drains the battery in a matter of hours.

Now I don’t know if the phone performs as badly across all its functions, as I only use it for making calls, sending messages, picking up emails, and waking me up in the morning.  But if this was the best Nokia could offer when Apple was already selling the iPhone, it’s no wonder the company is in so much trouble now.

* So much for Apple being the ones to prefix everything with ‘i’.  I’m surprised somebody hasn’t sued over this.

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Barclays Idiocy, Part 187

Finally, after 3 years of trying, I am getting shot of Barclays bank who for the past 13 years have handled all my banking matters.  When I was in the UK they were fine, but when I transferred to their international banking in 2003, they have been nothing but useless since.  I wrote a post in April 2007 describing their shortcomings and the period since has seen a continuation of much the same sort of stuff. 

For example, when I was in Thailand in June I found my card had been blocked, despite my calling them to put a holiday marker on the account (this happens all the time).  When I called up what passes for customer services, they told me the card had been cancelled and a new one issued, supposedly on my request (which was nonsense).  Naturally, the new card hadn’t been sent to me due to Barclays not wishing to pay for a courier and instead preferring to hide behind unfounded security concerns as soon as the word “Russia” is heard.  So I was left drawing out cash on a credit card until I returned home, whereupon I was told that the woman on the phone had misinformed me and the card wasn’t cancelled and that it should now work (it did), which was 4 weeks before Barclays called and confirmed it had been cancelled due to a banking error.  Barclays would save time and money by informing their customers only when they haven’t made an error of some sort.

So it now looks as though I am transferring to RBS, the main reason being that they have a branch in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk following their takeover of ABN-Amro.  I am a little suspicious of how much help this will be, especially when my experience of HSBC in Dubai cooperating with HSBC in the UK was less than impressive (oh, they’re nothing to do with us!), and every time I’ve gone into the local RBS branch here I’ve been greeted by a row of blank faces saying “ya ne znayu“, but I know the branch manager and he’s helped me out in the past, so I’m hoping it will be an improvement on Barclays.  It can’t be much worse.  So far, RBS say they can send cards to my address in Russia, which has always been the biggest problem (with HSBC too, I believe).  I’ll wait to see if this is true, but at the very least they should be able to send them to the branch.  Can’t they?

Anyway, to open an RBS offshore account I need to show them the last 6 months statements from my current account.  Unfortunately, Barclays typically cocked up my changing of address and have been sending all the statements for my GBP account to an old address; the statements for the USD account, which in theory shares the same address as the GBP account, have been reaching me fine.  RBS accept online printed records, but for some reason which indicates a level of uselessness impressive even for Barclays, their online banking system can only display the last 6 weeks of records.  That’s right, Barclays online banking cannot show you what happened in your account 2 months before.  So I rang up and asked them to send me the last 6 months statements.  Of course, this was not possible: according to Barclays it is illegal (which I doubt).  In fact, nothing is possible in Barclays, I don’t know why I bothered ringing them up in the first place.  Their motto should be “Sorry, we can’t do that!

I was advised to go and visit a local branch and ask them to call an Isle of Man number so they can then fax my statements across.  Fortunately, I am in London for a couple of weeks, one of the main reasons being that I can finally change my bank having failed to do so from Sakhalin (this current experience is demonstrating as to why).  I asked the woman on the phone if she could contact the Aldgate branch of Barclays and fax them across and I could go and collect them.  Apparently she couldn’t, because the UK branches were “nothing to do with them” (perhaps she’s ex-HSBC!) and they have awful trouble getting through to them.  Ah, much better to let the customer negotiate such obstacles!

So I wandered down to the Aldgate branch and handed a youth in a turquoise tie the number he needed to call, which he did.  20 minutes later, he is still waiting to be connected.  It seems Barclays’ internal system is as crap as their external customer service desk.  Eventually somebody answered and after another 10 minutes, something arrived on the copier/fax machine across the room: 10 blank sheets of paper.  The blithering idiot on the Isle of Man had put them in the feeder the wrong way up.  There was nothing for it but for Turqouise Tie to call again, which meant another 20 minute wait for somebody to answer.  I asked him why he didn’t call her direct line, and he told me she doesn’t have one, and nor does anybody but the most senior people.  And he couldn’t email her because nobody has an email either, even branch managers.  That’s right: Barclays branch managers don’t have an email address!  No wonder they are so utterly useless at responding to and solving customer issues, they spend all day on the phone listening to tinny music waiting for somebody to pick up.  No wonder Barclays refuse to email me scanned copies of my statements, the clowns don’t have an email account to do so!  Eventually something with writing on came to the copier/fax: 10 poor quality sheets indicating in an appalling format my transactions over the past 6 months.  No, wait: from January ’09 to July ’09.  The woman who cannot load paper into a fax machine also cannot understand the meaning of “the last 6 months”.

And these idiots want to manage my financial affairs.  Let’s hope RBS is even marginally better.

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Bye Bye HSBC Bank

My application to open an offshore bank account with HSBC has fallen flat on its face.  In order for somebody resident in Russia to open an account on the Isle of Man, they need to have an opening balance of 60,000 Pounds Sterling, which despite my status as cigar-puffing oilman, I do not have.  The reason why they demand such a high opening balance for Russian residents (the normal requirement is 5,000 Pounds Sterling) is because of the risk of “money laundering”.  And that is about as detailed an explanation as I could get.

What is interesting is that HSBC do not advertise this requirement anywhere, it is simply a decision which gets made at the application stage.  Personally, I think the explanation is bollocks.  Anyone wanting to launder money from Russia is probably not going to be doing so in small amounts, and I can’t see how a 60,000 GBP opening balance is going to do anything to discourage such activities.  If anything, putting a maximum balance on the account would be more of a control on money laundering rather than a minimum balance.

I reckon that certain elements within HSBC have no interest in getting involved in private banking in Russia, and really can’t be bothered having to deal with new customers who have set up there.  On the basis of anecdotal evidence, they appear to have enough trouble providing a decent level of customer service to their existing clients who have moved to Russia, and the last thing they want is to have to deal with new clients there as well.  So they come up with a flimsy excuse of “money laundering”, which always sounds good alongside the word “Russia”, to ensure they don’t need to deal with any of it.  Call me cynical, but I strongly suspect that were I to come up with 60,000 GBP tomorrow there would be another reason trumped up as to why the account couldn’t be opened.

So, HSBC is not going to be getting my custom.  However, their senior management is going to be getting a letter from me detailing my personal circumstances, my desire to move from Barclays, and my disappointment at HSBC not showing any interest in getting me on board as a customer.  I have a suspicion, only a small one, that somebody somewhere down the chain of command has made an arbitrary decision about certain things which the CEO would not want advertised.  The number of expatriates moving to Russia is only going to grow, and if HSBC has made the decision that they don’t want their custom, it’s probably one which won’t sit too well with some of the shareholders.

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Bye Bye Barclays Bank

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.

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