Let me tell you about my bank, and just how clued-in they are to their own policies...
As an author, I make money in several countries. My main income (marginally more so than my UK earnings) is in US Dollars. Each month, I get a royalty check sent to me from a US bank, which I then pay into my own bank at whatever the prevailing exchange rate is on that day. I usually get the money 5 days after I pay the cheque into my UK bank. This has been the case for almost 18 months.
Until last month. Last month I paid in a cheque and received a letter telling me that the most recent cheque I paid in would take 6 weeks or more to clear into my bank account. I panicked. Why did I panic? Well, because that US cheque I get every month constitutes about 60% of my earnings. It's my wage. Imagine getting a letter from work one day telling you that 60% of your wage would be five weeks late (or longer). It would be enough to get you breaking a sweat I'm sure. The problem is that after over twelve months of my US cheques taking 5 days to clear, this one was suddenly going to take 6 weeks! I budgeted on that money based on the time frame of the previous dozen cheques. It wasn't unreasonable to expect that cheque to be paid in the same time as the others. Was it?
So I called the bank. I got through to some chick with a friendly voice that still managed to convey her complete disinterest. After explaining my problem to her, she eventually came back with the wonderfully informative reply that, "It always takes 6 weeks, sir. You were obviously just lucky with the previous cheques. Was there anything else I can help you with?"
I said, "No," and the call ended, but I sat there, a little bit shocked to be honest. Hold on a minute - I was just lucky? What, with the previous 15/16 cheques I was just lucky, but now my luck had run out and it would take 6 weeks from now on? She had told me, "It always takes 6 weeks." Was she ignoring the fact that on her system it undoubtedly showed that not to be the case - that on 15 previous occasions it had not "always taken" 6 weeks. I called them back.
Some other lady answered the phone this time and I explained that I was not happy with what I'd been told. What gives the bank the right to talk to me like a pest, an idiot that doesn't blindly accept the explanation that "It is what it is." I felt like I was just supposed to accept that the bank would do what they wanted and I should just stop being a cry baby. This woman seemed very upset that I was upset. Would I like to speak to the complaints department. Apparently I couldn't just complain to her and have her help me. "Okay," I said, "Put me through to your Complaints Department." No problem, she was happy to. So I wait on hold for twenty minutes until...she informs me that the Complaints Department is too busy to answer my call right now (that's disturbing in and of itself) and that they would call me tomorrow. Wow, okay, that isn't great but okay. "One last thing," I ask her while I have someone on the phone. "Could you perhaps shed any light on the situation at all?" Her reply: "I would have to look into it further to help you with that. Is there anything else I can help you with?" Seriously? She would have to look into it? Well, what the hell is her job? What on earth was stopping her from doing that right now? Complaints were too busy to help me, and apparently so was she. I can't be bothered to argue so I say I will wait for the call from the complaints team tomorrow, which would be Saturday.
Tuesday arrives and no has called me. No missed messages. Nothing. Great. Well I'm getting nowhere on the phone so I will try the venue that suits my talents - I will write to them, via email. So I go onto the bank's website and fill in one of their complaint forms and explain everything that has happened thus far. I add that I am sure there is a valid reason my cheque is suddenly going to take so long and all I really wanted was an explanation. I needed to know what their policy was so that I could budget accordingly for when I was likely to get my funds each month. I just wanted the bank to TELL ME WHAT THEY WERE DOING WITH MY MONEY AND WHY. Is that unreasonable?
Tuesday night, the Complaints team finally calls me. YAY! They listen to what I say and actually seem to care. Forget the fact that this is the third person that has no idea why my cheque is going to take so long, they are at least prepared to go find me the reasons why and then call me back. Great! She promises to investigate and get back to me as soon as she has the answer. Fantastic!
She calls me back ten minutes later. Wow, that was quick. Finally I am going to get the simple answer I so desire. Guess what she says. She asks me if I made a complaint online? "Why, yes," I inform her. "No one on the phone was helping me and you never called me Saturday as I was promised." "Oh," she said. "Well now that you have logged a complaint online, I'm afraid I can't help you. They will have to deal with it." Seriously? Are you not all part of the same frikkin company? So the fact that you called me 3 days late, causing me to send an email in the meantime, has now penalised me in that you won't go near me because I have "made an Internet complaint" leprosy? Great. Fine I will wait for the email team to help me.
Three days go by. I'm broke.
I get a letter in the post. The letter is literally a transcript of my complaint, letting me know it has been acknowledged. No guidance, just a transcript. At the bottom it says that a leaflet is enclosed to help me understand what would happen next. Guess what? No leaflet is enclosed. I couldn't make this shit up! At every step this frikkin bank has been totally negligent. After speaking to three live people on the phone and recieving 1 letter, not one person has any knowledge of their own International cheque policies. Am I the first Englander to cash a US cheque - Wow I guess I'm pretty successful!
Now, in any other industry, I would go somewhere else. I would say, "Thanks but no thanks," I'm going to your competitor." But that's not an option with bloody banks. They can be this negligent because they know they can get away with it. Most of the banks are all owned by the same Umbrella company anyway, so when you leave one and go to another all you're actually doing is cashing your cheques with a different logo. All banks are just as greedy and incompetent. If some young upstart came along and set up a new way of doing things, then the banks would all go bust (but no one has set up a bank in a hundred years because they have a cartel in operation). Mobile phone companies were charging too much and forming a cartel, so along came Three and T-Mobile, and now all consumers get deals a 1000% better than they did when it was just Orange, Vodafone, and O2. The same is true of many businesses. Customers get treated badly, so somebody starts a new company that steals all the unhappy customers and forces everyone to up their game. But banks don't worry about that because they are all on the same side and making it impossible for any kind of reforms or new competition. It's borderline illegal. They are the only industry that makes the customer feel like they owe something to them, instead of valuing customers and recognizing that it is the consumer who is the one with the power. How often do banks make our lives hell, treating us like we should feel obligated to them? Imagine if your Internet provider acted like your bank. Would you stay with them?
Anyway, two weeks later the money goes into my account (so the panic caused by saying six weeks or more turned out to be about 20 days in the end! Jesus Wept. Now at this point I have already hypothesised that the reason this cheque took longer than the others is because of the amount. That the bank pay me upfront for smaller "less riskier" amounts but that for high amounts above a certain threshold they send of to clear in the USA first (the fact that such a thing still takes so long in 2012 is still absurd). My earnings have been increasing and perhaps I have met this elusive threshold.
A week after I finally get the money, I am bombarded with calls from the bank. I ignore them all because I am too busy scratching my chafed nuts. I specially specifically specified that all future contact be via email only, but apparently this bank makes sure to do the opposite of whatever the customer wants. Eventually after a week of continuous calls, they got the message and emailed me, trying to make me feel in the wrong for not picking up the phone. Almost like I didn't want their excellent help! I informed them that I asked to be emailed and now that they had done so, low and behold, I was replying. I didn't just specify to email me for a joke, I actually meant it. Crazy I know to be so literal. Anyway after telling them I was a very unhappy customer and would continue to be one, so they might as well just wrap my complaint up, because I was not buying anything they were selling, I got an email explaining that my earlier hypothesis, about there being a threshold for cheque payments that are paid in advance or not, was indeed correct. So basically I guessed the answer before half a dozen of the bank's employees could get the information for me. My brain beat their entire company just by using common sense. So in total it had taken over 1 month just to get a SIMPLE EXPLANATION. I asked for nothing more than for someone to just explain what was happening with my money (And it is my money, no matter how much the bank likes to think it is theirs). To just be transparent and say, "This is what we're doing, and this is why?" It took over one whole month just to get an answer to one simple question.
The bank in question, you might ask? Was frikkin Natwest. I wouldn't recommend them. Have a great Christmas everyone.
Love ya, Iain xxx