|Don't bank on it.
27 May 2003
A couple of years ago, my bank merged with another. Yorkshire and Scotland sunk their differences and pooled their identity into an organisation called HBOS. We were told that, while the number of employees would sadly be reduced, we the customers would benefit from something called synergy. Having banked with them for some twenty years, I had found myself pressed for funds, but never wanting for synergy. So my wife and I waited, with mounting impatience, to be synergised.
While waiting, we were told that, before these undefined benefits could be delivered, we would need to be migrated. Migration I thought was an ornithological phenomenon; but no, I was to be migrated from my system of online banking to a new system.
This meant filling in a form, which told my bank what they already knew. My name, my address, my date of birth, my bank branch and my account number. This was apparently required in case I was a drug runner (a quick look through my statements would have resolved that). Nothing happened for many weeks, and I rang to enquire about progress with my migration.
Progress had been arrested because of a mandate problem. This turned out to be the fact that they had lost a signature. This had not prevented them honouring cheques for the past twenty years, and I told them that if they looked hard, every month, they would find in their possession about 50 pieces of paper with my signature on them.
But no; a form was sent, asking for a fresh signature. Another season passed with no sign of any migration or synergy.
I made another enquiry by email. This however was made to the wrong half of the newly synergised bank. That half did not communicate with the other half, and I was invited to telephone it.
This is as far as I have got. I have tried telephoning my bank, and the call is answered by the Queen of Sheba. On her day off, it is answered by Figaro.
In the meantime, I tried to open a Euro account. (We have some interests in the Republic of Ireland, whose tradesmen insist on being paid in Euros.) Europe was clearly too far from Yorkshire and Scotland, where my bank had its roots, and I was told that they didn’t do Euro accounts. I contacted the Chairman, who sits in the Upper House, and was told that they certainly did Euros. Armed with his reassurance, I tried again and the resistance crumbled. A mere six weeks later, a Euro cheque book arrived – but not before I had re-supplied the bank with fresh evidence that I was not a drug runner, for which my electricity bill was apparently the killer evidence.
Before I could settle some outstanding accounts in Co Cork – whose tradesmen had to wait upon these procedures – I needed to put the account in funds.
I wrote a cheque for £200, attached a completed pay-in slip, and asked the bank to sell £200 sterling, and to invest the proceeds in my pristine Euro account. Such a transaction, though modest in scale, in my view lies right at the heart of the banking profession. Since then, there has been silence. My £200 cheque has not been cleared; my Euro account is dying of thirst, and the Irish tradesmen are dying of hunger.