A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Hooptedoodle #112 – Donkey Awards - The Halifax

“I can’t afford to live, but I guess I’d better try,
‘Cause the undertakers got a union, and it costs too much to die”

Jimmy Witherspoon, Tougher than Tough

This morning’s blood-pressure workout was with the Halifax. I made the ridiculous mistake of ringing them up to sort out a problem. The girl I spoke to was polite and correct, but completely paralysed by rules and security checks. Eventually, I regret to say, I hung up the phone while she was speaking, but not before I had spent some pounds on the premium-number call.

The problem, you see, is that my father received a letter from Halifax this week to advise him that my mother has set up Online Banking, and will thus be able to see the details of joint accounts he has with her, but to reassure him that she will not be able to see any accounts which are solely his. If he wishes to discuss any aspect of this, there is a number he can call, and they even offer him the option of a repeat letter in Braille, or in large print (pardon?).

Unfortunately, my father is unable to act on this letter since he died in 2008, a fact which is well known to Halifax since they were involved in all the probate processes, and transferred all joint accounts into my mother’s name at that time. My mother was a little upset by the letter – mostly on a point of principle, I think – but, since she is a bit frail and very deaf, and since I have registered Power of Attorney for her financial dealings with the Lloyds Group (which includes Bank of Scotland and Halifax), she asked me to deal with it.

Not so fast. Apparently Lloyds Group no longer have any record of my Power of Attorney – at least not one that the young lady I spoke to could find. Still, she did her very best to help me. She took me through some long-winded security procedure related to my own accounts at Halifax, which proved that I am who I said I was (which is a relief), but she was still unable to gain authority to change any of my mum’s accounts without speaking to my mum (who, as mentioned, is deaf and was also not present).

You see, said the girl, we will have marked the records of any customer who has passed away, and you should not have received this letter. Yes, I said, I understood that, though whether they have failed to code the record correctly, or have subsequently lost the code, or whether the analyst who designed this particular letter failed to make reference to the code is a matter of very faint academic interest, and is not our problem. The fact that they somehow have lost the details of my Power of Attorney is also  puzzling, but mostly just irritating, since they cannot help me as a result. Perhaps, despite all these problems, the girl could make a note of the account number, check that the customer is, in fact, officially dead, and ask someone not to send out any more letters which are potentially upsetting, apart from being further proof – if proof be needed – of a level of incompetence which is already regarded as proverbial by customers and the public at large.

Is this account still active, asks the girl? Well, no – it is certainly empty, and if it still exists it will have been transferred to my mother in 2008. Ah, says the girl, empty is not the same as closed. Again, I say, we are straying into areas which are the internal problem of the Halifax, and I am neither answerable for, nor interested in, the state of their admin systems – and at this point I hung up.

I accept, of course, that I am probably the donkey
Outcome? Well, I reckon my father may well receive further letters in future, which we shall just shred respectfully. Why do we bother?

Why are we still stuck with having these buffoons sit on our money when they provide us with no service or added value of any sort, other than giving us hassle and irritation on a regular basis? We are stuck, my friends, because there is nowhere else we could take the money which is any better. Though Lloyds Group are (literally) unrewarding people to deal with, they are better than some of the alternatives. Eventually, you just have to laugh and shrug it off – I am laughing and shrugging as I type (which is not easy).

If Halifax cannot manage to understand that one of their customers has died, and if they are constrained by their internal rules such that they cannot arrange to fix this, then I could report it to the Data Protection commissioners but – to be honest – really can’t be bothered. That would only be heaping up yet more irritation. If they were fined – and Lloyds Group are not short of the odd fine at present – which lot of interested parties would have to meet the cost? The customers, perhaps?…

Let it lie – move on. As yet, this is nothing – the service levels and the mistakes we suffer at the hands of automated institutions will continue to degrade at an accelerating rate in the coming years – you may (to use an opportune phrase) bank on it. I have been there. I have seen the beginning of the nightmare.


  1. We had several issues to do with the Lasting Power of Attorney for, and subsequent death of my mother in law. Royal Bank of Scotland initially refused to accept the LPA, thus suggesting that the bank regards itself as a higher power than the Court of Protection. But perhaps their finest hour came four months after she had entered residential care and a few days after her death (of which we had informed them) when they rang the family home and asked to speak to her. On the morning of her funeral!

    1. Great story - RBS are certainly one example which are worse than Lloyds Group - over the last three years we have gradually shifted all the family's money, and all business and trust monies, out of RBS. They could not care less, of course.

      One day we'll find out what exactly they do to the staff of these places, to make them like this. We must take care never to let it happen again.

  2. I had my own Victor Meldrew moment in Barclays this week - whilst queuing to pay in some cash (only two people in front of me) I was asked by THREE different staff members what I was doing there and could I use one of their machines to pay in. I explained that I was in my bank and knew exactly why I was there and politely told them to mind their own business.

    When I got to the desk the cashier asked if everything was alright and quite uncharacteristically I said no and then proceeded to rant about the new Barclays policy of hassling their customers in the bank. As I left I was accosted by yet another staff member who claimed to be the manager who asked me if I understood why they were asking customers to use the machines. I said it was probably to save the bank money by cutting back on staff and he answered yes!

    It’s this sort of blatantly poor customer service that is quite gob-smacking to someone of my generation but it seems that the younger generation have no problem either enforcing it or accepting it either.

    Did you ever see the Steve Martin re-make of “Father of the Bride”? There’s a great scene where he has a flip out in the supermarket because what he wants to buy is pre-packed in a certain quantity and he wants less (I think it was bread rolls). If you haven’t seen it Google ‘Steve Martin hot dog buns’. It’s a warning to all of us of a certain age…

    1. Excellent - give 'em hell, Ian.

      The bank branches seem to gear up their public face to suit what they think their local customers require/deserve. Sometimes when I am in Dunbar I visit the Bank of Scotland branch there. They are, at least, fairly friendly, but on one occasion, after standing in a queue for twenty minutes, I was more than a little miffed when the 14-year-old cashier asked me "Well, what are you up to today, then?" while processing my pay-in cheques.

      "I thought I might go and stand in the bank for half an hour," I said - whoosh! - they've heard it all before, and never understood any of it.

      In the Duns branch, I have been told by the cashier that i might get a phone call from their marketing people, to get my view on how well the staff had served me, and would i please say something nice about them?

      My most bizarre banking experience came when I very briefly transferred my business to Barclays. A sad mistake. Barclays (at that time, at least) had only one branch in Scotland - it was, admittedly, in St Andrew's Square, but it was officially a "country branch" and was staffed accordingly. In summer, I frequently gave up on the lunchtime queues and tried again later, because the place was stuffed with Australian backpackers and American tourists who had been misguided enough to use Barclays as their supplier of choice for sterling travellers' cheques (remember those?). Barclays provided me with a steady stream of Personal Account Managers, none of whom i ever saw twice and all of whom were obviously hoping to get another, better job quite soon. Once, during a periodic review meeting, the incumbent PAM said to me, "If I were you, to be honest, I wouldn't bank with Barclays - we provide a rubbish service in Scotland."

      One of the very few honest men I ever spoke to in a bank.

      Cheers - Tony

    2. I wouldn't bank with Barclays either but the idea of trying to move accounts (plus our business account) fills me with dread - of course they know that!

      This is the link to that Steve Martin clip http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oYIHLUxzRr8

  3. I worked for ... one of the organisations you mentioned for a little over 30 years before I escaped into an honest profession. What did I do? Well, apologise mostly. Usually for things that had gone wrong when I had no way of finding out how or why and even less opportunity to put right. The 'works' are so hidden under layers of technology and cost saving that the poor beggars that actually talk to customers are as impotent as the customers themselves.
    So unfortunately, when a bank clerk utters the immortal phrase "I can only apologise..." it is almost certainly true. So use the ATMs - at least they don't have to try and sell you stuff while they're apologising.