I hate dealing with banks internationally.
There’s the conversion and international fees (often inflicted by both banks) and the ATM withdrawal fees. I have never bothered to calculate just how much money has been lost to the ether of international banking, largely because the number would be too painful to consider.
The best account I’ve found (for those of us unlucky enough to be a part of a relevant credit union) is PNC’s Performance account, which reimburses you for ATM charges withdrawn from other accounts. Now, the version of the Performance account has changed since I opened one – I had to keep a $2,500 minimum balance or pay $15/month but had unlimited international ATM withdrawals and reimbursements. Which was pretty damn sweet.
But. I needed a UK bank account. Most of my funds for the next year or so are in GBP and as much as I’d like to say I still have enough funds to maintain a $2,500 monthly minimum balance, I don’t. Poor graduate student and all.
There are two banks with branches on campus.
HSBC, an international bank with branches all around the world that claims to be “The World’s Neighborhood Bank.” There were even several relatively easily accessible branches in the DC Metro Area.
And then there is Barclays, whose US equivalent focuses mostly on credit cards and a level of finances I will probably never encounter. Or, if I do, I will pay someone else to deal with it.
So, I went into the Reston HSBC branch and asked them if I needed to have a US account with them in order to get a UK account with them. She called some one else and the answer turned out to be yes, I did.
So I opened an account with HSBC on August 11th and transferred all of my funds from the PNC account (at this point, just about all of my cash) into the HSBC account.
It took over two weeks for my card, PIN number, online password, etc. to arrive via mail. This was complicated by the fact that I called about ten days in and asked about not receiving anything yet. The lady I spoke to asked if I wanted her to resend everything. I specifically asked if this would invalidate the earlier information and she said no. When I got my information, I imputed it in only to get locked out of my account. I called them again and it (surprise!) turns out she was wrong and resending everything did invalidate everything. So I waited another week (or so) to get access to my funds.
On September 15th, I got a vaguely suspicious email from HSBC. Suspicious as in it was from a person (!) to my actual email account (instead of the secure online site) and I had no way of knowing if they were actually from HSBC or not. I called the number they told me to and said I was following up on an email sent to me. Turns out there was conflicting information on my account about my employment – simultaneously unemployed and part time employed, or something along those lines. I explained that I was an unemployed student who (hopefully) will have part time employment, which is where some of the funds would come from. She allegedly cleared everything up for me and I went about my business.
Before I left for the UK, I messaged them using my secure messaging saying that I would be living abroad for the next year and to please put an international travel alert on my account. (I had previously done the same for my brief trip up to Canada.)
I made two withdrawals from my account when I got here with no problem.
Last night, I went to check my checking balance to do some budget gymnastics and I got a message not allowing me into my account and telling me to call HSBC. I was on hold for more than twenty minutes before I gave up and decided to call them this morning instead.
When I woke up, my Mom had sent an email saying I had gotten a check from HSBC to the tune of what should be the remaining amount of my account.
Knowing at this point that they had closed my account, I called them to figure out why. Turns out they had “incomplete information” on my account (along the lines of why they had emailed me earlier, I suspect that my information did not get updated when I called them).
They apparently tried to call me but the business they called said I did not work there.
Except I never gave them my business number because I have NEVER BEEN EMPLOYED while I have had the account. The only number I gave them is a google voice number that goes straight to voice mail and emails me the audio file. A number I have been using successfully for almost a year now. The only phone number associated with the google voice number is my parent’s home number, so if any reason the settings glitch and it forwards the call to a real phone anyway, it would reach my parents.
And despite the fact that they have communicated with me successfully SEVERAL TIMES by both email and secure messaging, it did not occur to them to try either of those methods.
I would like to take a moment to dwell on the fact that “The World’s Neighborhood Bank” arbitrarily closed a bank account of someone who had an international travel alert on their account without prior notice of closure.
If I hadn’t withdrawn enough cash to get me through the next few weeks and gotten my UK bank account1 up and running quite literally today, I would be in a foreign country without any access to my funds..
“But your account says we sent you a check.” The lady I was speaking with said.
Yes. Because it does me a world of fucking good to send me a check to my United States address when there’s a travel alert on my account stating I’m in the United fucking Kingdom.
The moral of this story is:
If you’re an international traveler who finds the numerous international HSBC locations appealing (and it was kind of nice to not pay an ATM withdrawal fee in either Montreal or Brighton), think twice. This is not a traveler-friendly bank.
1 Which is Barclays, by the way. Because fuck that shit.