So This Is What It Feels Like To Be Dumped After Nearly 20 Years
Our financial relationship had become toxic, but I wasn’t ready to let it go.
It’s been more than 15 years since I last got the boot. I had just woken up from a 24-hour slumber after having my beer spiked in Rio. The first thing I read when I turned on my laptop was a “Dear Jeremy” email from Kevin, my boyfriend of several months who had stayed behind in New York City.
It took me a long time to get over his brutal rejection. It was the first time anyone had ever dumped me. Once I finally dropped Alison Moyet’s “Should I Feel That It’s Over” and “Say It” from repeat rotation on my iPod and emerged from shadowland, I got back on the horse and braced myself. I was bound to get tossed again at some point, that much I knew. But I didn’t expect it to go down like it did last week.
Luckily, I wasn’t unceremoniously dropped by a guy this time, so my heart remains intact — but my finances are temporarily broken. Damn you, HSBC! Why did you have to go out like that?
To be honest, HSBC Bank USA, National Association, may have done me the biggest favor ever by suddenly closing all of my accounts — though I’m still mad as hell about it. Come to think of it, in the past four and a half months, I’ve spent a lot of time being mad as hell at HSBC.
I’ve logged hours on the phone dealing with automated voice systems and costumer service representatives who seemed no more human.
“I understand your problem, but there’s nothing we can do on our end.”
If I had a dollar for every time an HSBC employee said that to me, I’d be so loaded, they never would have considered dumping me or my money.
I began my relationship with HSBC in New York City in the late ’90s, and for years, I considered it to be the best one I’d ever had. They were faithful and attentive. Not once did I flirt with the idea of ditching them for another financial institution. We even did the long-distance thing when I left the United States in 2006 and moved to, first, Buenos Aires, then Melbourne, Bangkok, and Cape Town, as HSBC in the U.S. isn’t linked to HSBC branches abroad. (Red flag?)
Of course, as with all relationships, there were bumps in the road. As I moved around the world, the bank had a hard time keeping up. Once they sent my replacement ATM card for an expired one to my official address in New York City instead of to the address where I was living in Buenos Aires. It created an awkward situation when I couldn’t withdraw cash to pay the guy who had just painted my entire apartment. But they rushed a new card to me, and within a few days, all was well again in my financial world.
Things went smoothly over the next few years, but HSBC and I took a break when I accepted a full-time job in Sydney at the end of 2014 and opened an account with Commonwealth Bank there. Although we rarely connected for two and a half years, I trusted HSBC to keep my U.S. dollars safe.
When I decided to leave my job in Sydney earlier this year and travel around Asia for a while, I tried rekindling my relationship with HSBC only to be rebuffed at the Town Hall branch in Sydney when I tried to access my money via the ATM.
That’s when the nightmares began. Apparently, they had phased out the old ATM cards and replaced them with new ones that had a special electronic chip. They’d sent mine to my old address in Buenos Aires, where I hadn’t lived in six years, so naturally, I was still hanging onto the old, useless card.
It took multiple conversations with multiple customer-service representatives before they finally agreed to send a new card to my address in Sydney. I had a tense standoff with the first rep I spoke to when she asked me a host of security questions, such as “In what year did you open your account?”
“Come on,” I said to her. “Do you really expect me to remember exactly what year I opened my account? Does anyone in the world carry that sort of information around in their head?”
I spoke to several other representatives, and each one refused to send a new card to a foreign address due to the “failed” security check. Finally, I got an understanding one who agreed to help me. But I would have to wait seven to 10 business days for my new ATM card to arrive. In 2017, we can video chat with anyone anywhere in the world The Jetsons-style, but HSBC couldn’t deliver a parcel from one side of the world to the other in less than seven to 10 business days?
Oh, well. I sucked it up. I gave them my Australian address as my official address (otherwise they wouldn’t have been able to mail it to me), although I knew I would be leaving it in two and a half weeks. I prayed the card would arrive before my departure.
It did, and HSBC and I were back on good terms for several weeks. I used my new ATM card for four weeks in Bangkok, one in Yangon, and five in India without any issues. Then on the first day after my return to Bangkok, I tried to use it at one of Kasikorn Bank’s stand-alone ATMs in Silom Complex mall, and something happened that had never happened to me before.
Your financial institution has instructed us to retrieve your card. Please contact them for further information.
I felt fucked over by HSBC once again. I was in the middle of a foreign country without my U.S. bank card. Luckily for me, I still had my Commonwealth account, so I wasn’t left without access to any money. Not that HSBC would have cared. The bank that I had considered my financial home for more nearly two decades, the bank that would have been aware of my mobile existence had they been paying attention, didn’t have any problem leaving me broke. Our relationship was so on the rocks.
I went to the Kasikorn branch in Silom Complex and demanded that they return my ATM card to me at once. After spending an hour explaining my situation to employees who spoke little to no English, I finally got someone on the phone who promised to look into it. If they found my card, he said, it would take at least two days to return it to me.
“There’s a process,and that’s just how long it takes,” he explained. “In the meantime, you should contact your bank to find out what is going on with your card and to stop anyone else from using it.”
That was easier said than done. Perhaps office drones who never leave their home country don’t realize it, but even in the age of mobile phones one cannot just make a call to the other side of the world without incurring a huge expense. Although most banks provide a phone number which overseas customers can use to call them collect, it’s easier to get a camel through the eye of a needle than it is to find a local operator in Bangkok who can make that connection.
Thank God for Skype. I used it to talk to several customer representatives, losing contact with a few of them due to shaky WiFi connections before I finally got someone who was willing to help me. She removed the block from my card and explained that it had been placed there because the bank needed to update some information. It hardly sounded like a valid reason to take such over-the-top action.
“Well, couldn’t they have sent me an email?” I asked. If they were so vigilant with my account, surely they knew that I hadn’t been in Australia for months. Why were they calling me on my Australian number, or sending mail to my Australian address, rather than emailing me? Didn’t they realize I wouldn’t have access to either while traveling in Asia?
I was just letting off steam. She couldn’t answer my questions, and I didn’t expect her to. Once my card was back in my hands two days later, I let go of my resentment. HSBC and I were good again.
Then last weekend happened. First, I received an email from DHL telling me that a package from HSBC was en route from the U.S. to my address in Australia. I was slightly concerned, but I figured it couldn’t be anything major. My ATM card was years away from being expired, and after my last interaction with HSBC and considering my recent withdrawl activity, they had to be aware of my whereabouts. Right? How could I possibly sign for a parcel delivery in Sydney?
My slight concern turned to full-on panic a few days later when I received an email from American Express telling me that the recent payment I had made through my HSBC account had been returned due to a block on my account.
Uh-oh. Here we go again. This didn’t sound good. At all.
Once again, I found myself on Skype, praying the WiFi connection wouldn’t suddenly drop as I dealt with multiple voice-operated systems and at least a half-dozen customer service representatives who ultimately proved to be no help. One of them, Nina, was sympathetic and promised to get in touch with the branch where I opened the account to find out why they had dumped me.
She promised to call me back at my hotel so that I wouldn’t have to deal with Skype, but she never did. The next customer service representative I spoke to explained that HSBC had made multiple attempts to contact me to obtain certain information from me. When they couldn’t reach me, they closed my account and mailed a check for the balance to my permanent address on record. That was the parcel DHL was delivering to me in Australia.
“What? That’s so cold-blooded,” I told him, losing control of my cool. “Have they never heard of email? If they had my best interests in mind and were looking to protect my security, surely they were paying enough attention to my account activity to know that I’ve been overseas for months.
“Why would they keep trying to contact me in Australia when I obviously wasn’t there?”
He had no idea, and he clearly didn’t give a damn. For him, this was just a job. I was just another annoying customer with a problem.
The next person I spoke to was slightly more sympathetic, but no more helpful. I asked him to connect me to the branch where I had opened the account so that I could at least find out what information they were trying to get from me. They at least owed my an explanation as to why they had dumped me.
Our financial relationship had become toxic, but I wasn’t ready to let it go, not yet. I need to have a U.S. bank account, and being that I have no intention of returning to the U.S. anytime soon to open a new one, it would be in my best interest to hang on the one I’d been hanging onto for nearly 20 years.
“I’m sorry,” he said in a tone that bordered on robotic. “But once they close your account, you have to open a new one, with a new account number and everything.
“They mailed your check to your permanent address on file. They can send you a new one, but because your account has been closed, you’d have a write them a letter with the address to where you’d like the check to be sent.”
“But that could take weeks,” I said, my desperation rising. “I’m travelling around, so I don’t know where I’m staying more than two weeks in advance. Can’t I just tell you where to send it, and you can send it there? According to DHL, it only takes three days, and I know where I’ll be in three days.”
He put me on hold to check to see if that would be possible. I appreciated the gesture, but I knew what the outcome would be. Clearly HSBC didn’t need me if it was so easy for them to drop me. I was feeling like a dumped lover whose ex won’t talk to him except through intermediaries who don’t really understand the relationship.
“I’m sorry sir, but you’ll have to write the letter. That’s the only way we can do it at this point,” he said when he returned on the line.
I launched a mini-tirade about how I expected better after nearly two decades as a devoted customer, and how HSBC had left me in a very bad position with no access to my U.S. dollars.
He listened politely, but I knew he didn’t care. When I hung up on him, I fumed for about 30 seconds, and then I realized things weren’t so bad. It’s not like I didn’t have access to any money. I still had my account with Commonwealth. When I told a customer service representative there my HSBC story, she couldn’t believe it.
“Why would they contact you by mail and by phone when they knew you weren’t in Australia?” she asked rhetorically. “Isn’t that why they have your email address on file?”
Finally, a bank employee with common sense. She assured me Commonwealth would communicate with me primarily via email. In less than three years, Commonwealth understood me better than HSBC ever had.
I’m still upset about being dumped, but more on principle than because I want HSBC to remain in my life. To be honest, I’m quite relieved that I’ll never have to deal with another one of their frosty customer service representatives again. But I’d still like to know exactly why they dumped me. What information could have been so crucial to be so life-altering? As far as I’m concerned, this was no better than dumping someone via a Post-it note and then disappearing.
I may never get an answer to my burning question, and I’ve stopped trying. But this much I know for certain: I can do so much better than HSBC. Next time, I will.