Banking aint what it used to be!
I was rummaging around in the admin area of my blog today and came across the post below which I had written but not published back in 2014. As you will see it was sort of a rant about banking and, having written it, I felt better for having gotten it out of my system, but then felt it may cause more problems than it solved if I were to publish it at the time. I think it is probably safe to publish it now.
Briefly, the rant was about the depersonalisation of banking but it could just as easily be about any modern service that has been centralised and computerised and hugely depersonalised. Let me explain. I haven`t named the bank for obvious reasons.
It all started because I wanted to buy tickets to the Rugby World Cup to be held in England and wanted to see the England matches and some of the other matches. Simple. And probably an ambition shared with many rugby fans, sadly to be disappointed, but that is another story altogether!.
The ticketing system advised that if you made the purchase with a MasterCard the transaction would not involve a fee, because MasterCard was an event sponsor. As it happens I had a MasterCard, BUT the then-current-card expired at almost exactly the end of the deadline period and the ticketing system would not accept the then-current-card number. MasterCard would not tell me, however, over the phone, the number of the card they were about to dispatch as a replacement. Understandable security so far, so no complaints there.
When I spoke to the people at the ticketing centre, a couple of solutions were suggested. I could temporarily give them the details of another credit card and change those details for those of my new MasterCard when I received it, OR I could use a debit card which would not attract a transaction fee either. All very reasonable and helpful so far – no problems there.
The problem arose when I decided the best bet would be to use the debit card – to whit, the normal bank card from my normal bank, where I have been a customer since I was seventeen. Now, anyone following my blog from its inception as a “rite of passage” when I reached my 65th birthday will know by now that I have therefore been a customer of said bank for 50 years. That`s half a century, folks, and, during that half century, I never had any problems of credit-worthiness in all of that time – and for several years I was running a business account as well as my personal account.
For those of you unfamiliar with the Rugby World Cup I need to explain that the demand for tickets, particularly to England games, would be intense, so most of those matches were to go to a lottery to decide who was lucky enough to get tickets. Since I might not have been lucky, I also applied for tickets to other matches that would be fun to watch, in order to get the atmosphere of the World Cup, even if not able to watch my “home team” as it were.
However, since it was POSSIBLE that I could get tickets to ALL the matches for which I applied, my credit had to be enough to PAY for all those tickets, including ones for my good friend Ken, who would pay me back for his tickets as and when we were successful. Given the prices of some of these tickets, the whole sum, therefore would overshoot my then existing overdraft limit – an overdraft I have hardly ever had to use, by the way.
So, and here`s the rub, I needed to raise the overdraft limit, temporarily, to a slightly higher figure, just to cover that extreme eventuality (quickly to be covered by moving money about from other accounts once the transaction had been verified – a process I have used before when facing uncertain expenditures). It is important that you know that I have done this before, increasing the overdraft limit temporarily, AND that I have done this since living in Brazil much of the time, so my telephone request to the bank would be, I thought, simply a formality.
Hey ho – FAR FROM IT! My first phone call by Skype from Brazil to a bank employee in their call centre ran something like this
Me: “Hello, I want to raise my overdraft limit a little to X to cover the eventuality of getting lots of Rugby tickets, can you sort that out for me?”
Them: “Sorry Mr Melton, we cannot do that”.
Me, puzzled: “That is strange, I have done it before, not long ago, for other urgent expenditure, can you tell me why it is not possible now, what has changed?”
Them: “Sorry Mr Melton, the indication, here on the computer, is that we cannot do that for you.”
Me, still simply puzzled: “But I have done it not long ago, so why is it not possible to do it now?”
Them: “Sorry Mr Melton, there are several factors which determine whether or not we can increase an overdraft limit, and it tells me here that we cannot increase yours at the moment.”
Me, beginning to get frustrated: “So the computer is telling you I cannot have an increased overdraft, can you tell me WHY that is the case, so that I can perhaps challenge what the computer is telling you, or change the circumstances to allow the computer to say something different?”
Them: “Sorry Mr Melton, I cannot tell you that.”
Me, by now exasperated: “Can you tell me WHY you cannot tell me this information?”
Them: “Sorry Mr Melton, I cannot tell you that.”
Me, flabbergasted: “You are telling me that you cannot tell me WHY you cannot tell me WHY I cannot have a modest increase in my overdraft limit, an increase just like one that was granted to me not long ago, since I have been here on Brazil!?”
Them, customer service patience almost exhausted, teeth gritted in the face of an intransigent customer, but still polite, JUST: “Yes, Mr Melton, that is correct.”
Me, customer patience now exhausted, assertive but still polite, JUST: “Is there somebody there who CAN tell me WHY you cannot tell me WHY etc…?”
Them, following rules of engagement with stroppy customer, still polite: “I can put you through to my supervisor, who will simply tell you the same thing….”
Me, fed up with long conversation not getting anywhere, still icily polite: “Please, put me through”
Long pause whilst call centre employee tells supervisor what a nuisance she has on the line and exactly why he is a nuisance.
Supervisor: “Hello Mr Melton, how can I help?”
Me, patiently: “I presume your colleague has briefed you that I am trying to buy Rugby tickets and I need a temporary increase in my overdraft limit, just in case, etc etc…”
Supervisor: “Yes, Mr Melton, but you cannot have one”.
Me, patiently: “I understand, you would say that, but can you tell me WHY I cannot?”
Supervisor: “Sorry Mr Melton, there are several factors which determine whether or not we can increase an overdraft limit, and it tells me here that we cannot increase yours at the moment.”
I have heard the same details before (see above) so my exasperation level quickly rises…
Me, exasperated and now ready to give away my age to a complete stranger in order to emphasise a point: “I have been a *x$*£$*} Bank customer for 50 years and at the same branch all that time, and I have never had any problems with credit limits or overdrafts and you are now telling me a computer has decided I cannot have a temporary increase but you cannot tell me why, nor can you tell me WHY you cannot tell me why…?”
Supervisor, clearly fed up with me persisting but still maintaining a veneer of politesse: “Yes, I understand your frustration, Mr Melton, you are not the only customer who…”
I bet am not the only customer who feels this way! …
Supervisor continues: “…would you like me to register your complaint?”
Me: “Not really, I would prefer to speak to someone who can answer my question… but do please register my complaint anyway. And then, can you put me through to my branch in Lincoln, please?”
Quite a long wait as Supervisor tries to get me through to my branch. Then Supervisor comes back on the line and tells me the relevant manager (?) is not available at the moment but would I like to speak to the lady who is answering the phone? I would indeed like that, please, I indicated, and I am duly put through and asked if I would like to wait for the manager – and, yes, please I would. So I endure another waiting time.
A young man with a distinctly Polish accent, eventually comes on the line and I have a conversation with him along the lines above, but then I do discover some extra information! Aha!
Young Man: “Have you tried increasing your overdraft limit online?”
Me: “No, I didn`t know I could – will that work?”
Young Man: “I do not know – but you could try”.
Me: “I will try, but can I have the direct number to you at the bank in case it does not work.”
Young Man: “We do not usually do that, and anyway I am not really the person you need to speak to about it and my manager Mr F is not here today. He will be in tomorrow.”
Young Man: “Well, OK, here`s the number – and you need to ask for Mr F”.
So I embark on an exercise to try and increase my overdraft limit online. Easy… “How much do you want it to be?” Says the computer.
Computer: “Your request has been referred, please phone yyy yyyy” So, sighing deeply, I phone the number indicated.
Young Woman: “Hello, how can I help Mr Melton?”
Me, sighing internally: “I am trying to buy rugby tickets, BLAH, BLAH, BLAH…” going through the whole story again.
Young Woman: “I am sorry Mr Melton, there`s nothing I can do etc., etc.”
Me, patiently: “Can you put me through to someone who can tell me WHY?”
Young Woman: “I can put you through to my Supervisor, but she will only say the same thing.”
Me: “Yes, please.”
Supervisor No 2: “How can I …”
Me: “Tickets, BLAH. Overdraft, BLAH, WHY not?”
Supervisor No 2: “Two reasons…”
Me, astonished: “You mean you can actually tell me WHY, how extraordinary!”
Supervisor No 2: “Firstly you only have so much coming into the account each month and your overdraft limit is already higher than that, which is unusual. And, secondly, you appear to be living in Brazil for more than six months of the year and so we could not increase the limit anyway.”
Since I now have reasons, I can, perhaps, move the argument along so I attempt this … …
Me: “Well, if you look at what has been going into and out of my bank over just the last three or four years, you will see that, although I am retired and therefore my income is modest, I do frequently move monies around from different accounts in building societies and various other places to cover any expenditures over and above my modest retirement income. In short I expend quite a bit of effort in managing my income and expenditure appropriately via the internet these days. Also, since I have been in Brazil, I have already had a situation where my overdraft limit was raised to cover a possible eventuality, similar in size to this one, and therefore the fact of me being in Brazil has little relevance to whether or not it can be done safely from your point of view.”
Supervisor No 2: “I do understand how frustrating it must seem Mr Melton, but there are various factors which are taken into account and the system is telling us that we cannot increase your limit in this circumstance.”
Me, frustrated and exasperated again: “Yes, several of your colleagues have said this already, but I have been a customer for 50 years now and it used to be the case that my Branch Manager could make a decision based upon my personal circumstances and make due allowance, if he or she thought fit. WHO makes such a decision now? And, if I get through to Mr F in Lincoln, could he make a decision like this?”
Supervisor No 2: “Well, no, Mr Melton. He would have to follow the same procedures as ourselves here in the Overdraft Department and that would mean he would have to refer the request to the Higher Lending Department, who would have to refuse the request for the reasons I gave you.”
Me, very politely whilst seething inside: “So, can I speak to someone in the Higher Lending Department, and persuade them what a good customer I have been for 50 years and what a good risk I am and even if I had to use the overdraft facility for a few days the money would very quickly be transferred back into my bank account to pay the overdraft off since I don’t like spending money on interest payments if I can help it.”
Supervisor No 2: “Sorry, Mr Melton, but the Higher Lending Department does not speak to customers at all.”
Me: “So, the fact that I have been a customer of *x$*£$*} Bank for 50 years counts for nothing!!?”
She didn`t actually admit to that statement/question but she did ask if I wanted her to register my complaint. I affirmed that I did, but since that all took another twenty minutes on the phone I will not trouble you with all the details, many of which mirror the details already recorded above. I did try, by the way to speak with Mr F., at my Lincoln Branch, but every time I got through to the number I had been given I was greeted with a recorded voice telling me they were off dealing with other customers and would I leave them a message including my phone number and they would get back to me.
Sad to relate, but, to tell you the truth I honestly could not be bothered to have to go through the story yet again and decided to take a different tack.
I chose to use a different credit card for the transaction in the short term to make sure I could order my tickets before the due date and will change my details back to my MasterCard when I eventually get my new expiry date. However, I checked my other credit card and realised I needed to raise the credit limit a little and was a bit wary in case Catch 22 was applied again.
So I phoned the people at the other bank and said I need to raise my credit limit by a couple of thousand pounds, please, rugby tickets, Blah, Blah.
Other Bank Man: “Just a second Mr Melton, let me check.”
Other Bank Man again, just a couple of seconds later: “Yes, Mr Melton, no problem. Is there anything else I can do for you this afternoon?”
Thank goodness personal service still exists somewhere! What a relief!
(PS – Important note in view of the other posts I have been making recently vis-a-vis corruption – NONE of the bank accounts to which I have been referring here are based in OFFSHORE jurisdictions, just in case anybody wondered!!)