Thursday, 18 December 2008

HSBC - We'll phone you back... and other non-events

Like millions of former Abbey National customers I own shares in Spanish Bank Santander. I was disappointed by Santander's decision to exclude UK shareholders from its recent Rights Issue - which offered the opportunity to buy more shares at the lowest price for years. But Santander did write and explain why, sold our rights for a reasonable return and sent out a cheque, waiving all their fees.

I also hold Santander shares inside an ISA administered by HSBC. HSBC didn't inform me about the Santander Rights Issue, managed to sell my rights for half as much money as Santander, and hasn't even had the courtesy to write and tell its customers what a terrible return they'll be receiving.

Last Friday I phoned HSBC Invest Direct to find out how much money had been credited to my ISA for the sale of my Santander Rights Issue option.

The clueless HSBC customer services representative took 29 minutes to work out, first that I had forfeited the rights because I hadn't responded to their letter (which I didn't receive) and when I asked for my call to be escalated to someone who understood my enquiry, that my account had in fact been credited with £106 on 6th December for the sale of the rights I'd spent 29 minutes asking him about.

I couldn't fathom why HSBC had sold its Santander customers' share rights half price, so would they look into it and call me back? Yes, Monday promised HSBC.

You know what's coming don't you? You must be an HSBC customer...

Late Monday and not a peep from HSBC. So far they say they sent me a letter (which I didn't receive) and now they promise to phone (and then they don't).

I call HSBC again - this time they promise to call back within 24 hours.

You're already ahead of me aren't you?

Deathly silence from The World's local bank...

36 hours later and I phone HSBC a third time. Finally a senior customer services manager takes ownership of my complaint.

I ask about the missing letter - which apparently offered me the chance to buy shares at the once in a lifetime price.
Were letters really sent out on 15th and 16th November by Royal Mail 1st class post?
HSBC: Yes.
Even though the 16th of November was a Sunday?
HSBC: The Royal Mail collect from us daily.
What about the promised return phone calls?
HSBC: We'll investigate that.
What about the terrible price you sold your Customer's share rights for?
HSBC: We'll speak to our brokers - but it's probably the deteriorating exchange rate.
Why did HSBC decide to try and offer the shares to its clients - even though Santander decided there was insufficient time to contact shareholders?
HSBC: Our T&C require us to use 'reasonable endeavors' to contact clients.
Santander wrote to me twice and sent me a cheque. HSBC failed to contact me not once but three times, sold my rights for peanuts, and didn't bother to tell me. When I phoned for details it took HSBC 29 mintes to work out what they'd done and still can't explain fully what's happened.
Who would you rather hold shares with; Santander or HSBC?

HSBC:I understand the point you're making.

HSBC promise to call again in 24 hours.

To pass the time I look at the Royal Mail corporate collection website. The Royal Mail offer their largest customers a 6 days a week collection service - There is no Sunday collection. I read the HSBC terms and conditions leaflet. There is no reference anywhere to 'best endeavours'.

HSBC make bold claims, but they're not supported by the facts. I wonder where the letter they allegedly posted really is?

When HSBC call back they concede that the letters were actually collected by Royal Mail on Monday 17th November - not Saturday the 15th or Sunday the 16th, but some customers did receive them. I have to take HSBC's word for this, but do you see a pattern emerging? HSBC claim one thing and then when caught out they claim another.

I explain I'm surprised HSBC relies on posting letters on the 17th to arrive on the 18th for an offer which must be taken up (or lost) by the 19th.

We agree to disagree about the pathetic price HSBC's broker achieved for the sale.

HSBC do agree their customer service has been 'bad'. Some further training will take place a result.

HSBC offer £30 to 'more than cover the cost of my phone calls'.

I tell them it's a derisory offer - a single letter to an overdrawn HSBC customer would be charged at £35. I expected at least £100 - the difference between the price Santander and HSBC sold my share rights for.

Many times over the course of several return telephone calls I am reminded that 'some of our customers deal in millions of shares and have frequent successful contact with HSBC's call centre'.

I am also reminded why arrogant banks like HSBC are on their knees.

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