Saturday, 21 August 2010

Your money and your life

I was just at the bank. All went well, a routine stop.

However, while I there I suffered a traumatic flashback to previous Lebanese banking experiences. The banks here are notoriously awful, everyone has a story to tell, but I’ve had what I think are more than my fair share.

I’ll preface this by saying that I’ve worked within the banking sector in the UK, for a small private bank.

Where do I start…?

Ok, firstly I couldn’t open a bank account when I first arrived as my work permit hadn’t been issued. Fine. However, the work permit took around a year to be issued. My wife and I ended up opening a joint bank account, not a problem.

Once the account had been opened HSBC (yes, naming and shaming) couldn’t seem to issue ATM cards that worked. Seriously, in the C21st this is still a problem. So, they’d issue a card, it wouldn’t work, we’d take it in to exchange it. We’d then be told that it would take two weeks to get another one. What? Yep. Cards come from the UAE. Awesome. Ok, not a problem. These things happen. Three times in succession? Three times? For the mathematically challenged, that’s one-and-a-half months! Their answer? “What’s the problem? Come in to the bank.” Thanks.

A debit card ... or so I'm told

About a year later HSBC arbitrarily closed the account. Apparently, HSBC customers had to maintain a certain level of cash in the account. It was a current account. You know, the type people use on a day-to-day basis. You know, the one that pays virtually no interest. The one that makes no sense to actually keep your money in long term? Bizarre. Of course, we kept the credit card. Naturally.

So, we shifted to Lebanese Canadian.

HSBC evidently weren’t happy about this. Three or four times since, upon using an HSBC ATM, the machine has stolen our cash. Seriously. Pop the card in, whack in your PIN, enter the amount. Machine sits there flickering. Card gets spat back out. “Transaction not completed, contact your issuing bank.” Hmmmm…. So, you go to another ATM and get a statement. Turns out that darling HSBC has, in fact, withdrawn the money from your account. Yes, we got the money back, but it took about a month each time.

"Honey, you don't have a piece of paper and a pen
by any chance?"
Anyway, Lebanese Canadian must be better than HSBC, right? Well, no. They’re on par. In terms of customer service they’re pretty appalling, just like the lot from Hong Kong.

Just like everyone else in the country we were affected by the ATM fraud of last year. A recap: Some guy was copying the details of ATM cards that were used in certain ATMs. Happens all the time, but not in Lebanon apparently. The response? Cancel cards that might have been affected. That’s fine. But, firstly, they didn’t tell anyone where the problem was occurring, so you couldn’t avoid it. Secondly, they didn’t contact us to tell us they were doing it. Thirdly, it took two weeks to get a new ATM card again. Twice.

Other than that … well, standing orders didn’t work for a while. Paying the Lebanese Canadian credit card from our Lebanese Canadian account? Can’t do it automatically, apparently. You can set up the standing order to make the payment. They just won’t carry it out. So, you get a nasty phone call saying, “You haven’t paid your credit card charges this month.” “Really? Because I told you to transfer the required cash every month.” “What?” “Did you check?” “Uhhhh….”, “Ok, check, phone me back and apologise.” They eventually got it right.*

Oh, and their Online Banking doesn’t work well. But that’s ok … for administrative reasons they’re working with HSBC now …. Great.

Well, all this is funny with hindsight. However, we must be grateful that Lebanon wasn’t hit by the financial crisis. Lebanese banks are forced to hold a large percentage of their cash reserves both with themselves and the central bank.

Now, if they’d just let me get at my money, that’d be perfect.

*I’m not normally so unpleasant to people normally. But enough was enough.