‘With you all the way’. That’s what the Bank of Scotland tag line says.
If only that was true!
This letter was sent to DCR by BWA1 who, unsurprisingly, lives in Scotland. His story however concerns a trip to Thailand – Bangkok no less. B was looking forward to his trip and took the precaution of informing his bank in advance to ensure that he could use his Bank of Scotland card to withdraw some bahts2 when he arrived.
But he still ended up completely bahtless!
Bank of Scotland,
PO Box 23581,
FAO – Complaints
Dear Customer Relations,
I have been a customer of yours for roughly 15 years. I have never banked with another bank, besides Nationwide, but then they aren’t a bank,3 so they don’t count.
On the evening of the 13th September, 2013, I made a call to your premium (0845) customer services line to advise you of my imminent departure to Bangkok, which is the capital of Thailand, in case you didn’t know. The representative was most charming in his crass attempt to keep me on the line for as long as possible (how audacious of me to expect a simple, 2 minute conversation along the lines of, “I’m going to Thailand for 2 weeks, please don’t cancel my debit card”. “Of course Sir, I’ve made a note on your account.”), but in the end I was assured that the appropriate steps had been taken to ensure that over the next 17 days, I would be worthy of withdrawing my own money in exchange for some deliciously debaucherous Thai Baht.
I arrived in Bangkok on the 15th raring to go, empowered and excited by the proximity of my first street pad thai and foot massage4 in almost half a century, and additionally, completely pound-less and Baht-less, based on the representative’s assurance money would flow with ease from those vexingly overcharged Thai ATM machines. Now, based on previous experiences with the Bank of Scotland regarding travel, I have developed a technique for withdrawing cash from a foreign ATM, which consists of the slight clenching of my rectum5 whilst the transaction finalises, in anticipation of potential decline. Assuming this standard practice in Bangkok airport, I clenched, and hesitantly entered my pin into the nearest ATM.
I think by now you know where I’m going with this.
Instead of the release of rectal muscles I was so desperately hoping for, they tightened, uncontrollably, with both fear and anguish.
My Thai is leaky at best, but I believe the ATM said, “There has been a problem with the transaction. Please contact your issuing Bank.” Actually, I’m kidding, all of that was already translated to English – I don’t understand Thai at all. Sawadika.6
Desperately, I tried several other ATM machines, furiously punching my numbers into the pin-pads, a red haze starting to form in my sclera.7 I felt a cold sweat come on at the prospect of being stranded in a foreign airport, like Tom Hanks in ‘The Terminal’,8 with bad English as my only language, and with no money, other than 45p left over from a pre-flight Big Mac. “F@@k me”, I thought. “Good job I have a phone with £25 credit on it”. And indeed, good job. I mean, besides having credit on my phone for the obvious purpose of being able to call my Mum if I ran out of money, or to cry to her at my inability to make any new travel friends, or to plead with her and say my goodbyes if kidnapped by the Patpong Mafia,9 at least I had enough funds to call my negligent, unprofessional, w@@kshaft of a Bank, if circumstance so called for it. At least then I’d be able to fix a problem which I’d already taken all reasonable precautions to avoid. By the way, do you think w@@kshaft should be one word, or two?10
Oh well, let bygones be bygones, I thought. Here I go with that premium line again, but this time it’s from foreign soils. Super!
20 minutes, 25 pounds, and a few heart palpitations later, my account was back online and I was able to withdraw money. I was told, during the most expensive call known to man (seriously, it would’ve been cheaper flying to the moon with a tin can and piece of string), that all of this was the result of a “random system response to an unfamiliar transaction on your account.”
Well, excuse me Madame Premiumline, but what was the point of my £5 call on the 13th then?!
Your system is flawed. The purpose of it is to prevent theft/fraud, but the overriding controls are ineffective, and in my personal opinion, exploitatively designed. Not only that, they are counter-productive.
Instead of protecting your customers, you are in fact placing them at risk. If I hadn’t had the streak of genius to put credit on my phone before leaving, there is a remote possibility I’d still be in Bangkok airport, right now, trying desperately to survive; eating decorative plants; drinking bathroom tap water (you’re not supposed to do this); trying to sneak into the Emirates business class lounge to get a comfortable, cockroach-less nights sleep. In fact, there’s even a remote chance I could be in jail. In this hypothetical world I’m stranded in, I imagine I’d be tantalisingly close to entering a life of crime – maybe drugs, maybe prostitution? All in the name of making ends meet.
Thankfully, albeit with all of my phone credit absorbed somewhere in the ether, none of this actually happened. But it does not excuse the ineffectiveness of your system.
In penultimate-conclusion, I would like you to refund me the £25 spent as above. Don’t ask me for an itemised bill, because I don’t have one. I’m with GiffGaff, the super modern PAYG11 phone network, which unfortunately, due to their exceptionally low tariff prices and excellent customer service, cannot afford to provide itemised billing. If you need proof of this call, please draw your attention to either
a) your call registry – apparently you record for training purposes, so time to start diving through those records, or
b) your accounting team’s P&L period ended September, where I believe my £25 will be recorded under “other income.”
Please now, in full conclusion, direct your attention to this story in the Telegraph. I am clearly not alone in this debacle, so you shouldn’t
a) lack the familiarity/understanding of this particular quandary, and
b) lack the practice of refunding monies to disgruntled customers.
Needless to say, if you don’t refund me the monies requested, I will close up shop immediately and leave you for someone who
a) will offer me £100 on transferal, which I will spend on industrial strength stickers with which to cover your retail outlets from head to toe, and
b) someone who gives a f@@k about customer longevity and loyalty.
Technically, you have also wasted 2 hours of my working morning to draft this satisfyingly satirical letter, which at the going rate of an accountant in London is worth approximately £400 excl. VAT. If you feel obliged to (which I doubt you will), I would also not be averse to having this credited to my account.
Best regards, you bunch of cretinous, thieving f@@ks.
To be fair to Bank of Scotland, they did in fact reply to B very promptly (see below). They also refunded his £25 of call charges. Then they added insult to injury by adding a pathetic further £25 compensation ‘for the distress caused’. And that, dear Bank of Scotland, is why you’re reading about it on Dear Customer Relations. Now we’re with you all the way too.
This is the contributor’s pseudonym, as he has chosen to remain anonymous. ↩
The baht (Thai: บาท, sign: ฿; code: THB) is the currency of Thailand. It is subdivided into 100 satang (สตางค์). At the time of writing, one baht was worth about two English pence so you do need quite a lot of bahts if you want to have a good time. ↩
For American readers: The Nationwide is not a bank but a building society. A building society is a type of financial institution that provides banking and other financial services to its members. These societies offer mortgages and demand-deposit accounts. Building societies are owned entirely by their members so the nearest US equivalent would be a credit union ↩
Probably not at the same time, that would be a bit weird ↩
I think he means anus. I’m not convinced you can actually clench a rectum but please do let me know if I am mistaken ↩
Sawadika means “hello” or “greetings” in Thai. Over half of the words in Thai are borrowed from Pali, Sanskrit and Old Khmer. Bet you didn’t know that (well, the bit about Sanskrit anyway). Sawadika is also the name of thousands of Thai restaurants across the world. ↩
The sclera (from the Greek skleros, meaning hard) is the opaque, fibrous, protective, outer layer of the eye more usually known as the white of the eye. But you knew that didn’t you? ↩
So now you know why Tom is in the picture at the top ↩
Patpong (Thai: พัฒน์พงศ์, RTGS: Phat Phong) is an entertainment district in Bangkok’s Bang Rak neighbourhood, and a red light district catering to foreign tourists. If there is a mafia, it is probably called the Chao pho, which literally translated means “godfather.” ↩
I looked it up. It’s one word ↩