Blog article
See all stories ยป

My Social Media brawl with HSBC

If any of you watch my Twitter feeds, Facebook or Google+ posts or those of the financial services crowd at large, it is highly likely that you will have seen a post I authored on Huffington Post on Friday. The post details my experience with HSBC Business Banking after they closed my business account without notifying me. The first I knew of the closure was when I presented an associated debit card attached to the account and it was declined.

The story actually starts more than a year ago, however, when I moved offices from Five Penn Plaza to 31st Street in New York. At the time I sent a letter on company letterhead to HSBC informing them of my office move. About 3 weeks later I got a redirected mail from HSBC informing me that I could not change address in this manner and I need to fill out their official form and file it in a branch. I filed out the form and got my PA to run it down to the bank branch where I had opened my account. She returned saying that despite the fact I had signed the form, that only I personally could submit the form at the branch. It took me another couple of months to finally get down the branch to do this, and as you guys would guess, I am loathed to go to branches for this sort of thing that should be able to be sorted out via other channels, but I went to the closest branch and filed the doc, confirming with them the new address.

At the time, I thought nothing more of the matter, but it turns out that was not the end of the saga, it was just the beginning.

As I returned from an overseas trip early on Friday morning, I ordered a car service to take me from JFK out to our place in Connecticut. Upon arrival at home I pulled out the debit card associated with the HSBC account, and it was declined. I then took out an alternate card and paid the driver, went inside and caught up with my family whom I hadn't seen for quite a few days. It wasn't until 3pm in the afternoon that I got to call the HSBC call centre to ask why there was a 'hold' on my account - that's when I found out the account had been closed.

Feel free to read the blow by blow on Huffington Post as to what happened next, but there are some important lessons for the likes of HSBC or other banks who face similar PR/Customer Service issues.

As of current count the blog on Huffington has almost half a million views, the article has been shared more than 700 times on Huffington, and has had more than 250,000 impressions via Twitter alone. For most of the weekend the highest tracking news item on HSBC was this article, and that's saying something because it was competing with stories regarding money laundering, HSBC's profits, governments trying to get access to information on Swiss Bank accounts, and other such. I'm pretty sure this is the last thing HSBC would want right now, but I'm also pretty sure that I'm representative of thousands of customers who have received similar treatment in recent weeks.

The failure points in this experience are numerous:

  1. The debated "change of address" simply shouldn't have been that hard. HSBC allows me to change my address online in Hong Kong, and sends me a text message to verify the change - the US should have adopted the same simple process.
  2. Sending snail mail to confirm an account closure in 2013 is about as effective as sending me a telegram - I am cyncial that it was chosen to produce a minimal PR footprint, at least initially :)
  3. As to why HSBC hadn't sent it to my updated address, that's largely irrelevant. Once I called and made clear I hadn't been notified and the address was wrong, there should have been a process in place for some relief, at least temporarily
  4. While I respect HSBC has the right to close my account, I believe given my profile as a customer both on the retail side of their business and from an industry perspective, that their KYC should have flagged my account for either a more personalized approach or avoiding closure altogether (I completely understand if you feel differently)
  5. When I flagged to the call centre personnel dealing with the support call that this was going to be documented and posted on both social media and in the press at large, there should have been a mechanism to verify my identity and escalate appropriately
  6. Throughout this entire process, with Social Media activity on this story at more than a tweet a minute throughout the weekend, no one via HSBC's social media team once reached out to me

In fairness, I did get a call from Jay Arnell, the Regional Director of Business Banking at HSBC NA, who said he regularly reads my blogs, had seen the article come across his virtual desk, that the account closure was "in error" and that he has scheduled a call from 10am Monday morning to rectify. His apology was sincere, and I am confident my personal situation will be resolved. However, the fact that I had to take the course of action I did to get a response at his level, is still inexcusable.

I will say that at the time of this publication I've had at least 5 senior HSBC Execs contact me via LinkedIn or Email and offer their apologies, and confirmation that they've kicked this upstairs for resolution. I certainly appreciate that, but I'm concerned that in this instance the process failed the customer, and despite repeated attempts at escalation on the only channel available to me over thanksgiving weekend (the call centre), there was not only no resolution possible, but there was such a badly designed and deliberate response to the problem, which was guaranteed to burn the relationship. 

The lesson here is that even when you've decided customers are not 'strategic' anymore, you can't afford to let your guard down on the way you exit those relationships, and just because a customer is identified on one account as no longer being 'strategic' doesn't mean he isn't for a whole host of other reasons. Lastly, when you screw up and there is Social Media exposure, have a plan to respond which isn't limited to 9-to-5 on weekdays.

The biggest lesson, though, in this day and age relying on snail mail for such critical relationship moments is the biggest mistake of all - it's time to take banking into the 21st century.

Close to half a million views on HuffPost already

Comments: (3)

Ketharaman Swaminathan
Ketharaman Swaminathan - GTM360 Marketing Solutions - Pune 04 December, 2013, 08:34Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes


I normally refrain from naming anybody on this forum but, since this post is specifically about one name, I'll go with the flow in my comment.

At least HSBC paid out your account balance when they closed your account, or so I understand from your Huffington Post blog post. 

I can't say the same about many 21st century nonbank financial services providers: In my experience, they take their fees, freeze your accounts and hold on to your account balance for months.

I've had this experience with PayPal (Cf. Is It Adios To PayPal From India? on my personal blog). I'm currently having this experience with M-PESA. I'm waiting for this episode to end before I publish a blog post about it but here's a spoiler alert: I've paid my account opening deposit, Vodafone has taken its fees but my money is stuck while my account is flagged under different statuses in various channels viz. 'limited' per SMS, 'active' per telephone, 'not yet rejected' per physical store.

Given a choice between the inflexibility of banks and lack of integrity of nonbanks, I'd always prefer rigidity over cheats when it comes to where I'll keep my money. Maybe that's only me.

Since you believe that HSBC has done something that is "guaranteed to burn the relationship", I hope you've switched your account to someone else who offers business banking and has designed its customer-facing processes around Klout Score, blog readership and other social media metrics per your expectations with 21st century banking. 

Brett King
Brett King - Moven - New York 04 December, 2013, 14:50Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

@Ketharaman - I have engaged with another bank, but it's not based on klout score or social media - it's based on their digital platform for my banking needs (can I do everything I need online) and on their service approach.

In terms of HSBC - it's a shame. I was a dedicated customer of theirs for 15 years and I worked closely with them in the trenches for almost 10 years, the last thing I wanted to do was bad mouth them in a forum like this. But, they simply had too badly broken a process and without a path to resolution for customers, on such a critical relationship point, I felt I was left with only one course of action.

While HSBC did reinstate my account, and apologize, the bigger news here is what has happened as a result of my post:

  1. They are giving customers now until January 10th to move their account
  2. They are sending out emails in addition to snail mail to notify customers
  3. Their call centre staff have a revised set of instructions and protocols

It would appear that HSBC themselves agreed that some of their process was defective and they have addressed that. You seem to think I was too harsh on HSBC because they didn't respond to my social media requests, but that's not what I was trying to achieve. The above for me is a victory for customers, and shows simply that it just isn't that hard to fix some of these things.

Ketharaman Swaminathan
Ketharaman Swaminathan - GTM360 Marketing Solutions - Pune 04 December, 2013, 16:50Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes


I was actually asking if you found a bank that deals with you based on social media metrics. I alluded to your naming and shaming only to lay the ground for me to do the same with PayPal and M-PESA! I didn't think you were being harsh on HSBC because of radio silence on social media. However, I did want to point out that, even if they do respond on social media, many nonbanks are not trustworthy. But, all this pales into insignificance against the "bigger news". Hats off for bringing about the changes in the way HSBC deals with its customers.

As for whether these changes are easy to make or not, I'm not so sure. I remember the newly inducted President of PayPal - a much smaller and younger company that's supposed to have a totally different mindset compared to a big bank - saying that it'd take him a year or two to reorient PayPal to become more sensitive to its customers.

Brett King

Brett King

CEO & Founder


Member since

14 Apr 2010


New York

Blog posts




More from Brett

This post is from a series of posts in the group:

Innovation in Financial Services

A discussion of trends in innovation management within financial institutions, and the key processes, technology and cultural shifts driving innovation.

See all