Monday, November 7, 2011

The end of the affair

Ending relationships is always painful. We try to avoid the pain by delaying as long as possible. All that happens is that things get worse, until parting becomes inevitable.

In 1953 I opened my first bank account with what was then called Barclays Bank. Fifty-eight tumultuous years and several name changes later, the bank abandoned me, so I am now leaving it. It will be painful, it will take time and cost, but when you receive the message that your bank couldn’t give a damn, then it is time to move on.

Not that the relationship has been smooth over all these years. There was the memorable moment when I nearly found myself inside a jail in Iran. The brand-new $100 bills the bank had given me were counterfeit, which was instantly spotted by the Iranian money-changer. On my return to South Africa, I paid the ‘surplus’ dollars back into my account – and then warned the bank they were fakes. I am still waiting for an apology.

Or there was the time when I was a struggling young professional. Something I came across suggested a very profitable investment – but I had no cash. So I asked for an overdraft. I had an interview with my bank manager, who told me that, as I was already mortgaged to the hilt, the bank could not assist me. Over the next three weeks, I watched helplessly as my expectations came true. Then I went into the bank on other business, and the manager came out of his office to thank me for a really wonderful tip.

Or the moment when my credit card was frozen as I landed in France. Because I was heading for a remote area, there was little I could do about it for nearly a week. Seven days of bread and water followed, before I found that the freeze was because I had not taken the precaution of advising the bank that I would be overseas. It mattered not that I had paid for flights, cars, hotels and travel insurance via the card. The first transaction in a foreign land had blocked the card “for my protection”.

Could it get worse? Try three weeks of bread-and-water. In Naples my pocket was picked. The credit card went. I had advised the bank of my intended absence, so there was a possibility that it could be used. However, one phone call, and the card was blocked and a replacement promised. Yes, it should get to me within three days – “We care about our platinum card holders!”

When it didn’t arrive, a phone call showed that the process of issuing the card was stalled because the bank hadn’t received confirmation that I was a South African resident and that I intended to return (as they hadn’t asked for confirmation, it wasn’t surprising). The delay meant I had to change the delivery address from Naples to Rome – I could expect the card in three days.

More calls from Rome, and several promises that I would be contacted, all of which were broken. With three days to go, I demanded to speak to a supervisor. He was all unction; really apologetic that my holiday was being ruined; and promised faithfully to have the new card couriered that night so that it would reach me before I left Rome.

I did the sensible thing, and requested the document tracking number so I could contact the courier company. I was given a very wrong number. It became clear that it wouldn’t reach me in time – so I requested that the courier company be asked to change the delivery address. “No problem!”

Finally it was delivered to Rome. By then I was in Florence, but I had left a trail, and Rome called up to report receipt. €70 of courier fees and two days later, a new card was finally mine.

My troubles were not over. The card needed activation. The letter of transmission assured me I had only to call the bank. I called, and was told it was impossible – I had to go through a verification process.

The process required a PIN, but I couldn’t receive a PIN, because the PIN was being SMSed to my SA cell phone. Could they please send it to me by email – the same email used to send me my monthly statements? Not unless I got a PIN. Catch-22 is alive and well. I returned to SA with an unused card.

Telephone calls to get the new card had cost about R1200. Throw in the courier fees, and about R2000 was wasted on what should have been the simplest exercise. A holiday had been seriously affected. The bank has been silent. It clearly couldn’t care less.

I’ve got the message. After fifty-eight years I’m off to pastures new. I don’t know they will be any better – but they couldn’t be much worse.

No comments: