Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Losing the Abbey Habit

I’m relocating my UK base. So I’ve written something like 50 letters telling the taxman, the banks, and my pension funds. It’s amazing just how many people need to know.

By return, letters flood back. Sometimes two; one to my old address and one to the new. The process is remarkably easy and pain free.

With one exception.

Grupo Santander, the Spanish operation that is now the owner of the Abbey National, requires me to present myself in person at my branch. With ID. ‘Just to keep your account safe, we have kept the passbook.’

Now it happens that I spend the winter in Spain. Santander knows that because they write to me every month in English and in Spanish telling me how little interest they are paying me on my Sterling and Euro investments.

But the letter telling me that they cannot do the change by post has been sent to my new address in England. The very one that they supposedly cannot use until I present myself in person. Together with a form of identification.

My builder rescues the letter from an area between his concrete mixer and my new study and informs me of its contents. Not only does Santander want me to present myself in person with some ID, they also want a form filled up. I have to submit details of my marital status, whether I am earning and a lot more besides.

I ring a chum from another life, who is now editor of one of Britain’s leading financial publications and seek his advice. ‘It’s nonsense’, he says. ‘They have no right and no regulatory requirement to demand any of that information.’

Unusually, my presence in England is required in the dark depths of winter, so I call my Santander Branch to enquire if they really do need all that they are requesting. Upon their affirmation, I request to meet with the branch manager the following morning.

The day arrives and I present myself with several forms of ID at the former hotel that now houses the local branch of the organisation that gave me my first piggy bank at the age of four or five.

A short while after announcing the purpose of my visit, a woman arrives clutching my passbook. No handshake, no smile of welcome. This is a woman on a mission. Clearly out to achieve a victory.

‘I don’t have a meeting with you,’ she declares abruptly.

‘But you have my passbook,’ I splutter, ‘you must have been expecting me.’

This extraordinarily brusque tirade continues for ten minutes.

No question of ‘I am terribly sorry for the inconvenience and would be grateful if you would fill up the official form. Or ‘no, we don’t actually need to know if you are married or if you are working or not.’

This is a case of being told, rather like a five year old at primary school, that if I don’t eat up my scoops of mashed potato, I can’t have my tapioca pudding. Or my passbook. The woman’s attitude is appalling. I wonder several times who is supposedly providing the service.

I query why my signed letter is not sufficient. ‘We don’t have a copy of your signature at the branch.’ ‘What about the one in my passbook?’ I enquire.

I produce a folder containing copies of letters from a host of banks and other financial institutions who have changed my address, including the Alliance and Leicester, also now owned by Grupo Santander.

‘I don’t care how anyone else deals with this. I need you to fill up the form and I am not giving the passbook back to you until you have done it. Apart from anything, my staff could have dealt with this, you didn’t need to ask for me’.

With hands shaking with rage, I fill up the form, querying on several occasions whether my marital and employment status are actually needed. I point out that my financial journalist chum tells me there is no FSA requirement for such information.

She is as impressed with this as my helpful suggestion when she has last been on a customer care course and whether she is hoping for a long career with Santander.

On completion of my form filling and presentation of my driving licence, I ascertain whether this amazingly customer-focussed individual is now happy that I have provided sufficient information to change my address. The one to which they have already written to me telling me that they can’t.

‘Yes,’ she replies, ‘this meeting is at an end.’

‘No, it’s not, said I. ‘You have just discussed my financial affairs with a complete stranger for fifteen minutes without, until now, checking my identity. NOW the meeting is at an end.’

When I tell my editor friend of the altercation, he laughs. ‘My wife had exactly the same treatment. They really do not care about the customer any more.’

There’s no point in complaining. I shall just move my investments from Santander in the UK and Spain. I shall sell my shares and in due course accept the proceeds from the endowments they mis-sold me nearly 25 years ago. I shall remove all traces of a fifty-year long relationship with an organisation that certainly used to be quite habit-forming.

But I shall tell everyone I know about what happened, including some senior folk at Grupo Santander. Maybe, just maybe, madam will have her fortune told, be sent on a customer care course or, better still, be given early retirement.

I have my passbook in front of me as I write.

It contains £4.28


1 comment:

  1. Absolutely astonishing! Political correctness gone mad!
    Banks have got far above their station in life, and up to now, no one seems to be able to control them!

    Im my view, bankers have been known by their wrong name for quite some time now!