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:
- 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.
- 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 :)
- 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
- 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)
- 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
- 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.