The Other Half and I drove up to Huntly this morning to buy a few groceries and fill the Land Rover with diesel.
I paid for the groceries in cash, which is my preference as it makes it easier to manage the money day to day, and then we went to the service station.
I filled the Land Rover with diesel but when I went to pay, my Visa debit card was declined twice.
The OH came in to the kiosk to pay, but her card was declined too.
While she filled out a form promising to pay the service station the money owing, I used her mobile phone to call our bank, Abbey (or Santander as it now wants to be known).
Or rather, tried to call.
First, I tried the Abbey Chequeline number on the back of the card. This is the number you’re supposed to call when a transaction is declined.
The number isn’t available.
Next, I tried the standard Customer Services number.
It starts with a very long message about changes to the bank’s services and the way phone banking is handled.
Of course, a very long message means spending a long time on a mobile phone, from which call charges are much higher and so the phone’s balance was falling rapidly.
Finally, I reached the navigation menu and selected Option Four, which is supposed to put you through to someone who deals with “declined transactions”.
I had to type my card number and date of birth into the phone so the bank’s computer could identify me, but the mobile phone is small and the buttons are tiny so I mis-hit one number and found myself bounced off the system as Abbey’s computer hung up on me.
I had to repeat the whole process and, yes, that meant the mobile phone’s balance whizzed downwards.
This time I did get past the typed login, only to find that I had not reached the “failed transactions” section. Instead, I found myself being given my balance details by one of those dreadful robotic voices.
And then the phone’s balance ran out—and with our cards declined we couldn’t put any more money on the phone.
Fortunately, the service station was happy to take a signed form stating that we would pay in 30 days although, bizarrely, they wouldn’t accepted a signed cheque for the outstanding amount!
We came home and I phoned Abbey from the landline.
After navigating the labyrinthine call handling system I finally managed to get through to a callhandler—somewhere in Asia and with a less than good understanding of English.
By now, I was getting very annoyed with Abbey.
I’ve been with the bank for more than 15 years and have stuck with them because, unlike the other banks both the OH and I have been with, they’ve always been easy to deal with, make few mistakes and, when they do, they’ve resolved the problem speedily.
Not any more.
Anyway, I finally managed to give the call handler my name, date of birth, account number and card number.
He asked for my main contact number, but as I started to give it I was cut off.
I was fuming by this point.
I phoned Abbey again, listened to the long-winded messages, navigated the endless options, heard my balance again, and finally found myself talking to another call handler.
He told me Abbey’s Fraud Department believed our account to be fraudulent and had put a stop on it.
I asked why they had not contacted us.
The call handler said he couldn’t say.
I asked what we could do.
He said the Fraud Department was not open at the weekend and could only be contacted on weekdays between 9am and 5pm, adding that we would have to go to our local branch in person and speak to a member of staff.
I pointed out that it’s Saturday, that we now have no access to our money for the rest of the weekend, that we were now seriously inconvenienced on top of the embarrassment of having our cards turned down in front of a dozen people, and that we’re going to have to drive more than an hour to the nearest branch on Monday.
He was completely disinterested and reiterated that “the Fraud Department is open on weekdays from 9am to 5pm”.
I told him we’d get the problem sorted, but that was the end of our banking with Abbey.
Next, I tried contacting Abbey’s Complaints Department but unsurprisingly that only operates from 9am to 5pm on weekdays as well.
I tried a couple of other contact options as well, but again found access to Abbey’s departments is limited to weekdays, from 9am to 5pm.
So, we’re pushed into using electronic banking and payment systems on the grounds of security and convenience, we’re encouraged to rely on them 24/7, and we’re told the bank wants to keep us happy by offering good and convenient service.
But if anything goes wrong, then you just have to accept that you can’t access any of the things that money buys—use of your phone, use of your car, purchases of groceries, etc etc.
And you have to accept that the bank will only do something to correct any problems from Monday to Friday between 9am and 5pm.
To make matters worse, we normally keep a cash reserve at home for unexpected eventualities but it’s been eroded because of customers failing to buy the pigs they’ve ordered and we haven’t had the chance to top it up.
Abbey’s staff are going to be a flea in their ear on Monday, when the Other Half will have to take a day off work—yes, first day back at school after the holidays—and we’ll both have to traipse into Aberdeen to get something done.
Now we just have to find another bank. Not easy when we’ve had major problems with most of them in the past.