If You Have a Banking Emergency, I Hope You Are Not a HSBC Customer

Monday, February 11, 2008 13:20
Posted in category Uncategorized

What good is having a blog, if you cannot warn readers about things?

On vacation in Venice this week, I have run into a problem with my HSBC bankcard.  I am not sure what it is because all the ATM will say is to call my bank… and I only wish the ATM had known just how useless that was.

HSBC has been the bank of choice for many in China because of its strong presence in Hong Kong, its internet platform, and its relatively low charges.  But, today I learned that for all those +, there is a huge gap in their ability to assist customers who have an issue with their ATM card or accounts.

Previously,  the only real complaint I had with HSBC was that if you lost their little security fob, you needed to wait up to 2-3 weeks before getting another one.  A bit of a pain when you ar transferring money, need to know about the account balances, or just simply want to see if a transaction cleared…. you know.. if you needed to do any banking.

However, this week, I found a huge shortcoming in the HSBC service platform.  they are of no assistance on the phone.

First, to get someone on the phone is nearly impossible. I ended up having to subvert the system and use the “sales” channel choice to get someone one the phone.  there is no 24 our hotline that I could find using the number on the back of the card, or on the website, and traversing the phone menu just leads on into a maze of choices that never lead to a human being.

so, I finally get someone on the line, and I quickly come to understand that these representatives are actually not allowed to access my account (why would they need to do that), nor can they assist me in telling me if there is a hold on my card (like a credit card company would), there is no way for them to tell me my balances (for security reasons), and ask for a manager goes ignored.

Where I was frustrated:

1) It is possible to pass security in many ways.  Other banks will ask for passport number, address, date of birth, mother’s maden name, etc.  HSBC has not such system in place

2)  There is not overdraft system in place whereby if the default money bucket hits zero, it would be possible draw on another one.  Ironically enough, I am holding Euro in the account and I have to convert that to HKD to get Euro in Europe.  Why not allow customers the ability to choose?  Or use the same currency account as the ATM?

3) There is obviously no emergency system in place.  It doesn’t matter if I had 600 dollars or 60000 dollars.  IT didn’t matter if I was called from the hospital.  There was simply no system for the representative to make it work.

So, for anyone out there who has a HSBC account, my suggestion is to take another ATM card with you.  I fortunatley was smart enough to bring a credit card so I can get some cash, but when I get back I am going to start looking at Citibank and Standard Chartered accounts.

I am not sure if they are any better, but if HSBC cannot support me in the case of emergency, then I am not sure they should continue to be my bank as I travel.

Anyone have a story about Citi or Standard Chartered?  Is there another that is best in class, or have the mega-mergers left consumers with little choice?

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6 Responses to “If You Have a Banking Emergency, I Hope You Are Not a HSBC Customer”

  1. Bob Gervais says:

    February 11th, 2008 at 10:03 pm

    The best bank I know of is BMO (Bank of Montreal). Excellent service, wherever you are in the world.

  2. Doug Gerke says:

    February 12th, 2008 at 1:49 am

    I can vouch for Citibank. They are not hassle free, but when my wife was unable to access our bank account when she was visiting Japan, I was able to get in touch with a rep. in the U.S. who was very helpful and got the problem fixed. it required a bit of bouncing around in the system but nothing as bad as you experienced. FYI-automated phone systems are often monitored by someone listening for problems. I have been put through to a person after venting about my problem to the automated system.

  3. Rich says:

    February 12th, 2008 at 12:25 pm

    Bob. Thanks, I will check them out. What are the ATM fees like when not using a BMO machine?

    Doug – I had Citi when I was in Tokyo in 95, and I really liked their service. In fact, they are my first call when I get back. Unfortunately, 5 years ago they were not a candidate because they did not have many retail shops in China at that time. HSBC had great real estate and a great platform. I expect that advantage will prove to be unsustainable in the long run as Chinese banks and other international banks start to gain more shops.

    As for them returning my call, I hope they do. The last time I had a problem, the VP of service emailed me about a month later. It took a month, but it was why I stuck with them last time. Let’s see what happens this time as I know someone at HSBC has seen this story (ISP logs shows one HSBC.com entry 🙂


  4. Nicholas Lee says:

    February 12th, 2008 at 2:24 pm

    I’ve had exactly the same problem. It has taken me more than a month to try get my security fob sent and it still hasn’t arrived. Useless.

  5. Rich says:

    February 12th, 2008 at 2:47 pm


    I feel your pain. I spent 4-6 weeks last year waiting for a new one. What really boggled my mind is why HSBC doesn’t stock these in their branches. they can be controlled there, they can be activated online. I just don’t know what takes 4-6 weeks.

    As if we ever asked for these things to begin with…

    One trick I learned is that it you have more than one corporate account with them, you can combine these accounts onto one fob. That means that the others become backups!

    It looks as if their motto of being the World’s Local Bank really doesn’t hold much water unless you are actually in HK.

  6. Mofcom says:

    February 14th, 2008 at 1:26 am

    If you have a local bank account here in China and your ATM card has a UnionPay logo you can pull out for free (if not free, the charge is about a dollar) at any Citibank ATM in the U.S. with a daily limit of USD 600.

    For broader international service I transfer my RMB into a US dollar dominated Citibank account that was opened IN the United States, not China.

    The associated ATM card for that account can be used at Citibank ATM locations globally for minimal to no withdrawal fees.

    I personally have used this card in Germany, Thailand, Japan, and the US.