Thursday, 30 April 2009

Nationwide, if you're listening, you're about to lose a customer

image When I came back to the UK last year, I needed to open some sort of bank account, which sounds simple, but it isn't. The credit crunch has bitten this one in the hiney, because if you're an unknown alien because you've been abroad for 16 years (isn't it time that your perfect banking record in another European country counted?) and, have the audacity to be chronically ill and on benefits and not have a job, then you're a persona non grata.

I discovered that I couldn't even open a new account in the UK with a bank with whom I'd already had a relationship for 15+ years, as even for that I had to pass credit checks and needed something like a utility bill in my name (which I cannot have as I’m living in someone else’s home), or a copy of a UK bank statement, which I can’t get because I don’t fulfil the requirements (bleeding obviously).

I was annoyed at that, because I'd made the point (and spent the money) to phone them in advance of moving to check that I would be able to open the new account. They'd said "Yes, no problem, phone us when you get to the UK." So I did and they said no.

(They don't seem to have as much trouble paying their former chief executive's excessive pension.)

Being unreliable: promising things and not delivering, seems to have become par for the course here. 

Next, on recommendation, I tried the Nationwide, billed as "the only UK financial institution to offer completely fee-free transactions (both electronic and cash withdrawals) worldwide with their VISA branded debit cards" and explained, clearly and honestly, what I wanted: an account into which my benefit could be paid and with which I could have a debit (NOT CREDIT) card for making purchases in shops and online.

I assumed getting cash out of a machine was a foregone conclusion, although I'm less interested in that and explained this to them, because the machines are not close enough to home and I'm not always well enough to get to them; for the same reason and that I cannot carry much shopping the ability to buy things online is far more important to me and, in any case, I don't like to get too much cash out in the street or carry it around with me. 

Nationwide said yes I would get a debit card. They let me open the account and pay in cheques for around £1,000 in back payments and continue to have my benefit paid into it. 

When the card came, of course, it was merely a cash card on the Cirrus network that isn't used in the UK, except by their cash cards. It's not a debit card, can't be used in shops or online and can only be used for getting cash out of machines.

When I went into the branch to point out to them that I had not received what I was promised, they then refused me the debit card and gave me a letter that said, "This is because the account has been open for less than 7 months" and continued that they may be able to offer further facilities after that time.

Changed to only may, not that they will.

Apparently, you need a credit score, to have access to your own money now. That, I find ridiculous enough after 16 years of the "no overdraft" banking system in Spain that could give me this facility, but what really angers me is the dishonesty: get your money with false promises, then change the rules.

The 7 months passed (and quite a quantity of money has accrued in the account, by virtue of the fact that I can't get at it and I've been forced to put up with this difficult situation, suffering unnecessarily through the inconvenience of having to go without items that could have helped me to live more comfortably.) So yesterday I went into the Nationwide branch, with the refusal letter, to ask again.

And they still refuse to budge and still refuse to give me that promised debit card.

So I calmly asked them to give me details of how to contact the Banking Ombudsman so that I could make a complaint. The girl was very slow getting me this information, but finally came back with a couple of leaflets, one on how to complain and the second (which I find offensive) reiterating the rules "for customers applying to Nationwide for credit" (which I'm not.)

Willfully ignoring my actual complaint, she whined sullenly and, unapologetically - you know the sort, obviously trained to treat the customer as if the bank is doing us a favour, not the other way around - that "there was no guarantee" that I would get the debit card [when I'd applied.]

"Oh yes, you would say that now," I quipped!

That's. Not. The. Point.

Last year there was a story in the local rag telling us that staff of the Nationwide Building Society in New Milton were being forced to quit their jobs because of the abuse they were suffering from customers. This was being put down to "impossible 20 minute waits", but I think we know what the real reason for people's frustration most likely is.

And, if that wasn't enough injury from them for one day, I got home to find the added insult of a letter waiting for me about a:

"Change to your FlexAccount: Non-sterling Visa debit card transactions"

Oh, this would be changes to conditions appertaining to the very card I DO NOT HAVE, would it?

So does this mean I should have a debit card, after all, or what? Who can tell? Their timing was certainly impeccable, if offence was what they intended to give!

In the meantime, I'd popped into a branch of another popular high street bank and asked to talk to someone about the possibility of opening an account. I explained exactly what I wanted and why because of my illness, what I had been refused and where; that I have no credit history, that I'm on lower-than-pocket-money-rate benefits, but I really don't want to go through this all over again, i.e. could they give me an answer before going to the trouble of opening the account and moving the benefit payment, etc? They could and they did and, apparently, I will have an account with interwebs banking and a card that works on the Visa Electron system (just as my Spanish card did) within 3-5 days. It offers most of what I need. I'll not hold my breath until I actually have it in my hand, but let's hope this is 3rd time lucky. :)

Nationwide presumably don't offer this card and that's their prerogative, but they need to train their staff better and there can be absolutely no excuse for pretending that they will offer a service, then not doing so, whilst keeping the customer (and her money) effectively captive for 7 months.

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