Tony Hetherington is Financial Mail on Sunday’s ace investigator, fighting readers corners, revealing the truth that lies behind closed doors and winning victories for those who have been left out-of-pocket. Find out how to contact him below.
Big joke: Richard Ayoade fronts HSBC’s ‘something bigger’ TV ads
P.H. writes: I am secretary of a local anglers’ association and our viability is in doubt if we cannot resolve our banking arrangements with HSBC.
The problems started in September last year, with the bank’s ‘safeguard’ review. We have banked with HSBC for years, but now it is suddenly demanding to see documents that we do not have, such as utility bills and proof of our address.
The list of information requests seems endless and the goalposts move with every communication.
Tony Hetherington replies: At one time, local bank staff would know their customers. Now though, HSBC says it is reviewing all its accounts to combat fraud and money laundering.
Its automated online review is a tick-box exercise which the bank says should take about half an hour, but in fact can run for months as HSBC sends customers back to its multi-page online questionnaire time and again, often demanding things that simply do not exist.
Small charities, clubs and local associations have all told me that they have been treated with suspicion because their leaders are volunteers who work from home. They have no business premises, no Companies House records, and certainly no bills for gas, electricity, water or council tax – yet HSBC demands these as if they prove the honesty of the account holders.
Only if you complain loudly enough, and are lucky enough to contact a human being at HSBC, might you finally be told that you can keep your account.
This is not the end of the affair though. HSBC is reclassifying accounts for small organisations and charities, and starting to impose charges on accounts that previously faced no bank bills. Your small East Coast angling group now faces a flat fee of £5 a month, plus extra for making any actual use of the account. HSBC has assured me it is not trying to dump unprofitable, small customers, yet this can certainly be the effect. I cannot help thinking that when comic actor Richard Ayoade, of The IT Crowd, does TV commercials for HSBC and says, ‘We are part of something far, far bigger’, he has in mind Communist China.
Many HSBC customers originally joined the Midland Bank, and it is worth remembering that HSBC stands for the Hong Kong & Shanghai Banking Corporation. The bank may have its base in London, but its markets and prof – its are largely in Asia. And in Hong Kong itself, HSBC has obeyed police orders to freeze the accounts of pro-democracy activists. It says it must do this to obey the law, but manages to forget that HSBC itself petitioned Beijing to impose these very laws in the first place, turning Hong Kong totalitarian.
HSBC says you and your small angling group have succeeded in persuading the bank that you are not crooks, so you can keep your account. But you yourself have told me that the bank charges are enough to sink your 100-year-old organisation. So, here is the answer: switch to NatWest.
NatWest will accept clubs and societies if the application is made by any member who has an existing NatWest account or financial product. As long as annual turnover is less than £100,000, there are no flat fees and no charges for everyday transactions. And there is no minimum time a NatWest Group customer needs to have held an account before being allowed to open a fee-free club or society account.
So if your organisation does not have a member with a NatWest account, open one and get fee-free banking for you and your fishermen friends.
Was autofill error to blame for six-month Isa transfer battle?
R.B. writes: I lodged an Isa transfer request from Virgin to Nationwide, and a week or so later Nationwide asked me to go to a branch with proof of identity, even though I have had an account there for more than 15 years.
I went to a branch, showed my passport and driving licence, and was told the transfer would proceed, but nothing happened.
Non starter: An Isa transfer request from Virgin to Nationwide never got off the ground
Tony Hetherington replies: Before contacting me, you lodged a complaint with Nation – wide, but two months later, when nothing had happened and you complained again, you were told to contact the Financial Ombudsman Service.
I asked Nationwide what had gone so badly wrong, and officials told me the postcode on your Isa application had not matched your address, so it was rejected. It is unclear where the incorrect post – code came from as you have not changed address for more than a decade, but it may have been an autofill error.
A spokesperson said: ‘While the initial application was correctly declined due to the address mismatch, we should have explained this to our member sooner.’
Nationwide said it would open your Isa and raised its offer of £125 for the inconvenience caused to £250. Unfortunately, staff dealing with your application seemingly did not get the message and told you they could not even find your application.
And when this was put right and your Isa was opened, it showed an interest rate of 0.25 per cent instead of the 0.4 per cent that was offered when you applied. This has now been corrected too but, all in all, your Isa transfer has taken about six months instead of just days.
If you believe you are the victim of financial wrongdoing, write to Tony Hetherington at Financial Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TS or email [email protected]. Because of the high volume of enquiries, personal replies cannot be given. Please send only copies of original documents, which we regret cannot be returned.
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