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Personal finance: You can bank on call centre grief; Birmingham Post chief reporter Paul Dale has problems with his bank.

Byline: Paul Dale

Right. Listen up. Pay attention.

I am about to ask you a question which, if you answer incorrectly, will cause you a great deal of stress and misery.

And don't make a guess because you will be found out and dealt with.

When did you last make a transaction on your bank current account and how much was it for?

Come along, come along. Have to hurry you.

I'm sorry, that is not the right answer. I must now terminate this conversation and freeze the security on your bank account. You may not use your account until you have visited a branch and arranged to have the security reactivated.

Welcome to the wonderful world of the Data Protection Act and anti-money laundering legislation. The scenario set out above is precisely the way one of our major banks treats its customers.

The mistake I made was to be lured by the 'loans sale' promotion in the window of the HSBC bank. I'd already made tentative inquiries to Direct Line about paying off an existing loan and taking out a new loan for pounds 16,500, but I thought I might get a better deal at HSBC where I have been a customer for about 25 years.

A man at my local branch in Nuneaton could not authorise the loan, the problem being that my wife already had a pounds 13,500 car loan on our joint account and I already had a loan with Direct Line, and a new loan would put us over the limit, apparently.

I explained that the new loan would be used to pay off the existing Direct Line loan. The net effect would be a pounds 25 a month increase in payments.

The man peered at his computer and asked: 'Are you comfortable with that?'

There was also a problem because I didn't want to take out the bank's protection policy, at an additional cost of about pounds 70 a month.

What HSBC would really like to look at, the man explained, was for me to roll up all loans into one huge sum and take out a new loan with my house as security.

I politely declined the offer. He went upstairs to see the manager, but the manager couldn't authorise my loan. It would have to go to Birmingham to be processed. I was given a telephone number to call the next day.

And that was where the problems really began.

The number turned out to be for a call centre where I was interrogated by a, frankly, rude lady who demanded to know when I had last used my account. I shot a guess at withdrawing pounds 50 the previous Saturday, but it was no good. The game was up and my security frozen.

Two lengthy trips to an HSBC bank in Birmingham were needed to have the security restored.

Mid-way between the two visits HSBC were kind enough to call me at work to say they had a decision about the loan but couldn't tell me what it was since my security had been removed.

With security finally restored, I wearily called HSBC only to discover the loan could not be authorised as it was beyond the amount they were prepared to advance even though I have never had an overdraft and always pay bills on time.

Direct Line, on the other hand, could not have been more helpful. The loan was sorted out within three days, the money is now in my account and, best of all, the rate of interest is significantly less than that offered by HSBC.

So, thanks Direct Line and thanks for nothing HSBC.

HSBC says: 'Firstly, HSBC extends its sincere apologies to Mr Dale for the inconvenience caused when a security lock was placed on his account following his conversation with the bank's customer service centre.

'For security purposes, all customer service representatives are required to follow certain procedures to verify the identity of our customers.

'A review of Mr Dale's telephone call, however, indicates that in this instance the customer service representative did not behave in the professional manner we expect of all staff when dealing with customers, and this will be addressed with the individual concerned.

'As a gesture of goodwill, the bank has also arranged to credit Mr Dale's account with pounds 100.'

HSBC said it follows 'strict affordability criteria' when assessing loan applications and Mr Dale's was referred internally for further consideration due to the size of the advance requested.

'Following the assessment of an existing loan held jointly with his wife, and his ability to make repayments on a larger loan, the decision was made to decline Mr Dale's application.'
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Feb 5, 2005
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