Money money money (isn’t funny)

When I was a kid, opening my first bank account was pretty much one of the most exciting days of my (then) tender life. It wasn’t so much that I was saving money. After all, that just meant that I wasn’t going to be able to spend all my pocket money on cola bottles that week. No, the thrilling part was that I was opening an account with the Midland Bank, who had pioneered the concept of giving kids a whole lot of cheap tatsome special gifts to encourage them to become savers. Presumably on the basis that today’s young savers are tomorrow’s victims of an extortionate charge for going ten pencefourteen cents overdrawn.

As a Griffin Saver, I became the proud owner of a dictionary, a couple of folders, a pencil case (containing a protracter, a pair of compasses and one of those set square things that people only really used when they couldn’t find their ruler), a badge, and a tiny sports bag that you could fit one trainersneaker in. I didn’t care though – it was beyond exciting to get the goodies, and to be considered grown up enough to have a bank account.

As I grew older, I got a succession of stuff for opening various accounts in the UK, including CDs and a Young Person’s Railcard (for the Americans among you, this is a discount card for travel on this thing we have in Britain called “a useful network of railways”). Basically the message was that banks loved me, and would bend over backwards for my custom.

In the United States, I think it’s fair to say that things are a little different. I’d have been lucky to get a little vial of toe nail clippings from my bank when I opened my account. Infact, I couldn’t even open an account because I didn’t have a social security number at the time, so I had to have my name put on The Special One’s account and hope that she doesn’t decide to do a runner with my lifelong collection of 20p pieces. I can’t get a credit card because I’ve got no credit history, and like most people in the US, I get charged a small fortune if I even accidentally walk past another bank’s cashpointATM machine.

But the customer service is something else. Trying to make a small purchase yesterday, I found out that my Chase card (name and shame, I say) had been cancelled and so I called up the bank to question why. It turns out that a couple of months ago I had used my card at a place where they had subsequently had a fraud transaction, and so they cancelled my card as a precaution. Of course, they didn’t bother to tell me. I mean, why would they, it’s not like I needed to know.

To be fair to her, the woman speaking to me on the phone couldn’t have been less apologetic if she tried. She first shouted at me that they had written to me (they hadn’t), and then attempted to get me off the phone at all costs. I think it was all she could do not to yell “well, you should just count yourself lucky that we haven’t p**sed all your money up a wall on dodgy mortgages given to people who can barely sign their name.”

Obviously I slammed the phone down on her. I said ‘thank you’ first though. I’m British, not a barbarian.

6 thoughts on “Money money money (isn’t funny)

  1. Iota

    Ah, the great holy grail of ‘credit history’. How can you have credit history when you’ve only just moved into a country? Obviously you can’t. But it’s your problem, not theirs.

    We managed to get various financial favours with letters from Scottish Gas and BT saying we’d paid our bills on time for at least 2 years. Bizarre.

  2. Josephine

    The good old Midland Bank, my place of employment before I crossed the pond. They offered some nice little prizes if you chose to save your half a crowns with them.
    Now the credit card incident, that’s another story. They hound you to open credit line with them, and good luck if you need customer support after that. I despise rudeness on the phone.

  3. Apsidal

    Wow that’s tough! My experience of “customer service” (huh!) in North America has been no more edifying than yours. But I’ve developed a good line that never fails. I say to the rude customer service agent: “Wouldn’t it be so much nicer if you had…” and then describe the sort of service I would have liked. This invariably evokes the response “It’s not our policy to do that” to which I reply “I realise that and I don’t expect you to. My question was ‘wouldn’t it be so much nicer’?” They have no alternative but to end up agreeing with me. It’s most satisfying and usually results in a concession, albeit token.

  4. NFAH

    It’s become increasingly clear to me that the American banks are evil to Brits and the British banks are evil to Americans; having never had troubles with an American bank in America as an American, there is no other conclusion I can come to. My fights with the British banks are legendary and I have no British significant other on whom I could tag along, so the fights have been all solo (and involved me getting used to carrying hundreds of pounds around in cash since I couldn’t get a debit card and certainly not a credit card!)

  5. Sven

    I used to work for a bank and remember having to sheepishly decline people for accounts when there was plainly nothing wrong with them except their inability to meet the ridiculous identity standards we set. Never cancelled anyone’s cards without telling them though (to my knowledge).

    Amazingly, Australian banks have access to DIAC (the immigration service) and set you up with an account straight off the plane. You’d never get that kind of service in the US or the UK. They still sent my statements to the wrong address though. Some things are the same everywhere.

  6. LB

    Ah, credit history… For some reason, I just asked HSBC in NY for a credit card and they gave it to me – this was after I’d been a current account customer for a year, and in the good old days when the rest of America (and every Brit back home) was racking up thousands on their cards with never a thought to repaying it…. I reckon it comes down to having a will of steel and finding a decent bank manager who will listen to your particular case…

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