Charlie Bavington

French to English Freelance Translator - I.T. specialist

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The Unbearable Incompetence of HSBC

April 2nd, 2012 | Categories: business

I have recently taken the plunge, as it were, and decided to convert from self-employment to a limited company, operating as of yesterday, in fact.

Let me share with you my experiences as a customer of Britain’s much vaunted financial services sector.

First, finding an accountant. The ICAEW website has a handy Business Advice Service scheme, for finding accountants. The first one I called, needless to say, failed to return my call. The second one took 300 quid off me to set up a company, which in fairness he actually did (rather pleasingly incorporated on my birthday, in fact!), then went off to Israel on holiday, two weeks before the end of the financial year in these miserable islands (perhaps this period is actually the calm before the year-end storm, I am utterly ignorant of accountants’ workflow, but it does seem a strange time to absent oneself from the perspective of the general public’s perception). I’m still not sure which of us is supposed to be e.g. sorting out directors’ shareholdings, but hey ho, minor details perhaps.

After all, I still haven’t got a bloody bank account to pay those directors either a salary or a dividend from, so no biggie, eh? “But surely, Charlie B, you’re an organised sort of chap,” I hear you cry, “why so tardy with the banking arrangements?” I’ll tell you.

On Monday 26th (one week ago), I ambled casually into my local branch of HSBC (where I have held a trading account since 2005), to see about opening a separate bank account for the new company. I say ambled casually – I had my passport and the memorandum of association and accountant’s letter, since I guessed there could be admin hoops to jump through, despite my having had a personal current account with HSBC since 1983 and the intended account name really being just the same as all my other HSBC account names with three extra letters, to wit l, t, and d – and I guess most casual amblers don’t carry that kind of heavy duty documentation around with them.

So I strolled up to the counter and said I would like to open a Business Direct account. See, I’d done my homework, knew what I wanted. The cashier looked a bit nonplussed. She flapped for help, and help came, in the form of the laughably-titled Customer Services Officer. Amiable enough fellow; told me I needed to phone an anonymous call centre to make an appointment to see someone. An appointment to take place in an office not 10 feet behind where he was standing. At the very least, it might have been decent of him to offer to make the appointment for me. Y’know, customer service and that kind of thing?

But no, yours truly had to do it himself. So I did, and could only make an appointment for this morning (2 April), a week later, 10 a.m., to see one Glenn M., the business advisor (or somesuch). I showed up, ten minutes early. Sadly, he did not show up at all. Another personable customer schmoozer (Elaine) oiled over to see me. She admitted she failed to understand how or why this appointment could have been made since Glenn was not due in today.

I explained, briefly, the situation. Self-employed and a trading account in that branch of HSBC since 2005 (personal account almost 30 years), need a separate account (Business Direct) for the limited company, no borrowing needed…. Maybe she could just open that for me? Astonishingly, no, she couldn’t. No-one in HSBC Barnet today has the necessary system permissions to access business accounts. So much for the banks helping oil the wheels of business, eh?

Now, you might think that I should try to contact HSBC to see what they have to say. I thought that too. Logged on to my personal online banking area, tried to send an abridged version of the above. The message I got?

“We are unable to deal with your request because you have entered an invalid character. Invalid characters are invalid character(s) ‘…’. Please try again. (S07) ”

Invalid characters are invalid characters. Genius.

Customer Service at HSBC? Draw your own conclusions.

Edit to add, for the benefit of those wondering why I went into the branch at all, that if you try to open one of these things online, you get this message:
“We cannot accept applications from existing customers online at this time.” They then say to contact a branch or call the call centre, and we know where that leads.

Further edit to remove the full names of the participants. It is not, after all, their fault HSBC’s procedures are so shambolic. I’ll keep the first names in for the purposes of the narrative.

  1. April 2nd, 2012 at 11:22
    Quote | #1

    Sorry to hear about your troubles Charlie, I hope you manage to open the business account soon enough. This truly sounds like a very bad example of customer service.
    We’re going through the same process at the moment. My partner went over to the bank (where we hold a personal account as well) and asked them to open a business account for our new company, plus give us each a company credit card. The customer representative said ok for the account but no credit cards for at least a year!
    My partner threatened to close our personal account, take the money and go to another bank and that’s when the bank’s rep got it together and begged him not to do that, sure we can give you credit cards! Btw, we didn’t ask to borrow anything either. Banks are just weird these days with the financial crises going on, especially in Greece…

  2. April 2nd, 2012 at 11:47
    Quote | #2

    They’re all as bad as each other (the banks).
    After 10 years of working for Barclays, I saw all kinds of crazy incompetence! Needless to say, I don’t bank with them anymore either!
    How did you end things with Elaine? Where do you stand now?

    • Charlie
      April 2nd, 2012 at 12:06
      Quote | #3

      Yeah, I’m sure you’re right. The more I think about it, I can more or less tolerate inefficient processes and procedures involving call centres and whatnot, they are just a plgaue of modern life, but I’m still a bit incredulous that there was not one person at the bank with the authority to open their lowest level of business account. Elaine was left in little doubt as to my disappointment, and seemed to want to help. She wrote a lot down. Glen is apparently going to call me tomorrow. I’m still pondering my best response to the situation – I’d love to go elsewhere but as you say, I daresay a similar experience could await me.

  3. April 2nd, 2012 at 12:20
    Quote | #4

    Hopefully Glen will call tomorrow then, that’s one thing I do remember from my banking days – the restricting of mundane things to a select few morons with “security” clearance. All it does is ensure that whenever they are needed they are never around and everyone else is stood there with egg on their faces. Security measures gone mad (or at least applied with little regard for common sense).
    Try to avoid resorting to calling the call centre though, that’s one thing sure to make your blood boil…

  4. April 5th, 2012 at 16:44
    Quote | #5

    Sorry to hear about your travails with HSBC. Like Ty, I too used to work for Barclays, so when I wished to open a business account on returning to the UK two years ago, the local Barclays branch was naturally my first stop. To say the service was appalling is a gross understatement. The banking hall looked like it was last decorated in 1975, and the kid who served me looked as if he was about 13 and knew next to nothing about the packages on offer. On my way out, I nipped into HSBC next door, with no appointment. Within two minutes, I was seen by someone who answered all my questions and opened an account for me there and then. Thus far, I haven’t had a problem with it. Note: this is not a defence of HSBC – I quite realise that I have simply been lucky enough not to run into problems yet.

  5. Charlie
    April 9th, 2012 at 22:41
    Quote | #6

    Well, Glenn didn’t call on Tuesday (3rd) but I did finally manage to email my complaint (an edited version of the above) direct to servicequality@hsbc.
    They responded on Weds (4th) lunchtime, with a slightly strangely-worded reply, which was very guarded in its apology.

    No matter, for Glenn himself then called, and I arranged to meet him on Thursday (5th) at 2 p.m. He had read this blog, and in truth, he is partly why I’ve edited out his full name, not that he asked me to. He at least agreed that the help desk making appointments for people on leave is sub-optimal; he seemed less convinced of the need for someone else to have access to business accounts in his absence – we agreed an appointment made at another nearby branch would have avoided the problem acceptably.

    Meanwhile, I was stewing and annoyed on Monday (2nd) (as you could tell) so I wandered on foot to my nearest bank, Barclays. In terms of customer service for my purposes, there was no comparison. I was able to make an appointment while I was at the branch, no call centre nonsense (my appointment was in fact at another branch).
    I have the actual branch phone number, not just a business card with the 0845 number HSBC gave me. So an appointment was made for Thursday morning.

    I obviously had the Barclays appointment lined up before the HSBC one was made, but I was taking no chances.

    I have to say I found the Barclays procedure relatively smooth. There was almost a hiccup, because the new company has 2 shareholders, and Barclays wanted to know as much about any shareholders holding over 10% as they needed to know about me. Very fortunately, my other shareholder is a Barclays account holder, and that was (to cut a long story short) enough to bypass any in-depth information requirement.

    With the assurance that no problems were anticipated and my new account should be opened within a couple of working days (by the 11th), I then emailed Glenn at HSBC to say I wouldn’t be keeping our appointment, giving as the main reason my decision to keep my business and personal banking utterly separate, which I do happen to think is not such a bad idea. (I was also fearful of further delay while HSBC sought comprehensive details of my other shareholder, and indeed the potential hassle of possibly having two company bank accounts, at least for a short period, and even any negative impression such a situation might give.)

    @Rob – your experience reflects mine with HSBC in 2005 when I opened my trading account, although I was an existing customer so I expected a smooth path.

  6. April 13th, 2012 at 12:41
    Quote | #7

    Charlie, thanks for this and your recent other post on self-employment vs. the ltd. route. I’d been mulling it over myself, but I’m afraid in the end inertia prevailed and I’ll certainly only do it to coincide with the start of the tax year, so it’ll have to wait!

    A further advantage of Barclays is that if you use FreeAgent – which I believe is the accounting software that Celine was referring to – then it can integrate with Barclays to recognise your incoming payments. It will then reconcile them in your accounts for you directly, which might make the increased paperwork still more bearable.

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