No this is not a bank bashing story. This is simply a personal experience on how my (ex-) bank, HSBC Middle East, treats its customers.
As a customer, banks are not my favorite destination. Luckily they have over the last decade tried to limit my personal exposure of having to deal with them directly (ATM’s, internet banking, phone banking, and mobile banking). Although at the end we are still dependent on them as we give them control over something that is very important and dear to us, our money!
My aversion towards banks reached a new peak last month, when upon checking my account information online, I was confronted with the fact that my account balance of my company account was zero and the notification read “account closed as per August 25”. My 2 years of company savings had magically disappeared in thin air. A strange sensation crept down my spine realizing that my money was gone.
To give you a bit of a background I have been a happy HSBC customer for the past 10 years with a number of personal and company accounts in a number of different countries. When I opened my company in Dubai I had no second thoughts other than to open my company account with HSBC expecting that my being a premier customer in other parts of the world it would help them in their ‘Know Your Customer’ requirements to facilitate the relation. How wrong could I have been? Yes pretty wrong!
I run a small consultancy firm in the UAE and my banking needs are very limited, I only require basic checking account transactions and online access. All my interactions with the bank were channeled through an anonymous customer service email account that responded generally within 48 hours to my questions. Interesting thing was that at no point would an employee of HSBC identify himself as the responses were always signed ‘yours sincerely HSBC Bank Middle East’. This was never an issue as the queries were always small. But as all my money had suddenly disappeared this became a huge issue because I had no one to turn to.
So the only option I had was to write an emergency email on August 26 to the anonymous email address and ask what has happened to my money. I received the following email response the next day:
We thank you for your email.
We hereby take this opportunity to advise that we have sent you the attached important and official communication by registered post with regards to your account held with us.
In accordance with the attached communication, we advise that your account remains closed as of 25 August 2013 and the final balances shall be dispatched by way of a Managers Cheque to the company’s registered address as held in our records.
Should you have any queries or need assistance feel free to contact us.
Assuring you of our best services at all times.
HSBC Bank Middle East Limited
With this mail was the attachment that was sent on June 2 by Mr Rana El-Emam, Head of Business Banking U.A.E. that read:
“Following a strategic review of our business customers, we will now be providing a personal relationship manager in all cases but subject to qualifying criteria…..based on the above, I am sorry to advise that you will no longer qualify for business banking services from HSBC and we will need to close your account with us”
Despite the fact that the bank was instructed and till then had always sent all documents, cheque books and other stuff to my home address, they sent the most important document to my company licensed office address that they knew I only visited once a year. Completely unaware of this notification I continued using my account, intimating the details to my clients for payments and using it to pay my suppliers. The simple fact that I had not approached the bank to move my account should have lit up warning signals triggering someone to think that ‘hey maybe this client is not aware of our decision to close his account, let me call him’. None of this happened and HSBC continued to close my account.
Let me be clear. I have no problem in the decision that HSBC has made, that is their prerogative. They can decide whom they want as a client and whom they don’t. I can certainly be disappointed about their decision in the light of all my other banking relations with HSBC, but that is not the point.
What completely baffles me is how they went about executing this decision with no respect to their clients and just shutting down accounts. They completely ignored my pleas to either speak to a human (other than the anonymous email) or to re-open my account for a short period so I could continue my business and move my account to another bank. Basically leaving me with no bank account for my business and thereby shutting down my business.
To be honest the customer service I have received from HSBC Singapore has been outstanding. It shows that customer service is personal, no matter how hard you try to institutionalize it. It differs from one person to another, from one leader to another and proves how difficult it is for a global concern to make sure that each and every operation in every part of the world lives their self proclaimed values (taking directly from HSBC website):
“Our values describe the character of HSBC and reflect the best aspects of our heritage. They define who we are as an organization and what makes us distinctive. By operating in accordance with our values we are: Connected to customers, communities, regulators and each other, caring about individuals and their progress, showing respect, being supportive and responsive”.
HSBC Middle East should read up on that statement again if they want to retain customers as I am moving on, taking my banking business somewhere else.
– Paul Keijzer
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