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March 28, 2009

Replacing a Card: Lost in Translation?

Filed under: corporate Responsibility,HSBC,Plastic Money,QoS — Vickram Crishna @ 10:12 am

I discovered the downside of having my (credit, debit) cards stolen: having to deal with the process of getting a replacement. The hero of this epic adventure turned out to be HSBC, the world’s local bank, or whatever it is they currently take pride in being.


It began when I discovered my wallet had been stolen. Later the same day, by a fantastic coincidence, a courier turned up from HSBC, with a replacement card for my debit card, which I thought was quite timely. Still, the lost card was floating around in someone’s hot little hands, and blocking it seemed a priority.

Silly me.I must admit, I started out with a soupcon of scepticism. I have dealt with their call center earlier, and it often takes a lot of time to wade through their miasmic effluvium.

So I went over to the nearby branch, to report the loss and to validate the replacement card, and tried to get this done over the counter.

Needless to say (in fact, it isn’t. If I had nothing to say, why would I be writing this blogpost?), the bank doesn’t have a system for reporting a lost card over the counter. The helpful attendant asked me to use the phone hanging on the wall nearby, next to the ATM machines. Incidentally, the bank at noon was quite crowded, and pretty well every moment of my side of the conversation that ensued could be heard clearly by everyone waiting inside. I know, because I could see them smile now and then.

The IVRS had a specific number (3) for lost cards, so getting someone, presumably human, on the line didn’t take long. I haven’t registered for a phone PIN, so went through the account verification and moved right on to my main concern: blocking my stolen card so that no-one could misuse it.

This is how the process works: you confirm your account number, the voice asks if you want your card blocked (and not, for instance, the card of the second accountholder), and on confirmation voila! the card is blocked. I then told the voice that I had fortunately already got a replacement card, and would now validate it in the ATM (on rereading the covering letter, I found that I could also have validated it on the phone).

When I gave her the card number, I was startled to find that it was identical to the card she had just blocked. My blood pressure rose, which is a really good thing, I think, when one needs some energy.

I didn’t know I needed it, but I was soon to find out.

I asked her to verify it, because the duplication seemed quite strange. The easiest way, it seemed to me, was for her to track back my last ATM transaction, and to get the card number used for it, and to then swap the blocked and open card numbers.

No can do. In fact, she apparently decided this was a good time to escalate my call ‘upstairs’, with a specious excuse, in fact without telling me.

‘Premier department, how may I help you?’ said a pleasant voice, about fifteen minutes later, unpleasantly. I asked her whether she knew why the call had been transferred, and was reassured. Notwithstanding this brief moment of pleasure, I then had to go through another round of account verifications, whilst also pointing out to her that I am not, actually, a Premier customer, the kind who has countless wealth deposited in or managed by the bank.

Let me pass over the next thirty minutes of pointless chatter, except to mention that somewhere around this time, a lady using the ATM came up to me and said, “Congratulations.” Turned out she was mightily impressed by my ability to continue this conversation without losing my temper and screaming blue murder.

After another ten or fifteen minutes of what must be the world’s worst Muzak from their IVRS, I got my third ‘voice’ – who claimed to be a manager and specifically on the line to sort out this tangle. She then called me Mr P_______ P_______, a name not calculated to fill me with deep faith, since it isn’t mine. She also rapidly revealed she knew nothing of my (by now) hour long marathon session with other ‘voices’.

Gentle Readers! I still didn’t lose my temper! but half an hour later, I finally had an assurance that, after checking the ‘system’, I would get a call back on my cellphone – just be patient for 5 minutes.

I had to spend a minute here updating their system with my current phone number, which I could have sworn I had done about 4-5 years back, after having switched to my current service provider. In any case, neither of the two numbers she read out to me ever belonged to me, as far as I can recall.

So, at 1:30 pm, I left the bank and went to do the other things put off while chatting up these three ladies.

I was sitting at home, some 25 minutes later, when voice #4 rang up. It turns out that when the bank replaces a current card (to avoid problems due to magnetic strip degradation, I presume), it issues a fresh one with the same number, but with a discreet ‘2’ embossed in addition. But, wonder of wonders, the system revealed that the card used for my most recent ATM transaction also bore the number ‘2’, just like the one I still clutched in my sweaty little paws.

Obviously, with such systemic confusion, unblocking the card was no longer an option, so I opted to get a replacement card sent to me. Uh oh. Need a telephone PIN to do this, but don’t worry sir, we will get it done right away by conferencing this call with the concerned department.

Concerned department still had to go through its ‘procedures’, including asking me to recall from memory (my transaction slips having gone, together with the cards) details of my recent credit and debit transactions. Getting through this hurdle took two – no, it was three – phone calls, which kept getting disconnected, usually at critical moments.

Incidentally, since circuit switched calls hardly ever do get disconnected these days of optic fiber and fully electronic switches, my dark and devious mind tends to think aha! they’re probably using VoIP in the background, possibly setting their system to spoof the calling number (which can’t be dialed inwards). Of course, one isn’t supposed to use VoIP* for a call terminating on a switched phone in India, but there are workarounds.

*VoIP calls are permitted for termination to ordinary telephone instruments outside India, and to computers inside India. The technology is used routinely to direct calls between switches, including the kind of smart switch that we used to call switchboards a few generations back.

Heaven forbid we do anything that might shake the oligopoly of the deep-pocketed telecom companies! That’s my pious plea.

The third call, voice#4 told me that the work was done. I never did get my PIN number, which is just was well, as I don’t intend calling the bank again (you don’t think I LIKE doing this kind of thing, now do you?) if I can help it.

Finally, I am left with a 3 day wait for a replacement card, which believe me, means a huge amount of acceleration for the bank, which normally takes much longer to send the card-PIN combination separately. The current replacement card (for instance) took them 2 months and a day to deliver (letter dated 2 January, delivered 3 March).

Anything else? Yes, my right ankle and arch hurt awfully – I am not used to standing for an hour and half trying to get anything done, much less something so simple.

And oh yes – I learned something new.

If I hadn’t informed them about the stolen card in the first place, I could have simply activated the card I had just received, and the previous card would have been invalidated instantly.

But then, think of the opportunity I would have missed!

PS: Instead of 3 days, my card and PIN were with me on Friday. Thanks, Roanna, you did better than keep your word!


1 Comment »

  1. Join the ” I hate HSBC club”. Know that you are not alone -if its of any cheer. I have at least two friends (premier members by the way) who have had similar experiences. The worlds local bank is worse than the lowest common denominator local bank because of their so called “strict processes”.
    If bank account numbers became portable i wld switch my account to a private local bank in a flash.

    Comment by meera patwardhan — December 7, 2011 @ 7:29 am | Reply

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