My bank isn’t better than your bank

About a year ago, I wanted to set up a new bank account. I’m a simple wee soul so I didn’t need anything particularly complicated: a cash machine card, internet banking and crucially, no overdraft facility. If I’ve got one I use it, and I’m better off without it. Unfortunately non-overdraft, non-savings accounts are rarer than hens’ teeth, so the choice is very limited; however, as I lived really near an Alliance & Leicester branch I went for their basic cash account. And for a while, I was happy – until I actually needed to use their internet banking.

When I lived near the branch, I sensibly enough did my banking at the branch. Now, though, I’m a good half-hour away so using the web site is more sensible. So a few days ago I needed to make some one-off payments and filled out the appropriate information, only to be told that I had “reached the maximum number of payees for this account.” To add any more payees, I needed to call the internet helpdesk and delete some of the existing ones.

It turns out that A&L automatically saves the details of anyone you transfer money to, whether you want them to or not. And there are just eight slots, so when you’ve made eight transfers you can’t make any more. And that’s where the fun begins.

I called the helpdesk, which – as I mentioned earlier – told me that the success of the new internet banking service meant that the tech support lines were horribly busy. Undeterred, I waited until I was asked to enter my nine digit account number. Unfortunately, my account is an eleven-digit number, and the voice system told me I’d entered an invalid number. I tried a second time, and it hung up on me.

I tried again. This time I was transferred to the security department, who seemed pretty pissed off and who informed me that no, they couldn’t transfer me to a human. I needed to speak to my branch.

I called my branch, who – after about 10 minutes – told me that they couldn’t help. All they can do is let me take cash out or pay it in. Everything else needs to be done over the internet. There was a special, dedicated helpline for basic cash account holders, but that was closed a few months ago.

So I got clever. I called the helpdesk again, but this time waited for the option that said “If you are a multimillionaire who wants to take out a mortgage, 22 credit cards, six ISAs, a pension and a car loan, press 3.” I pressed 3 and got speaking to a very nice lady who offered to transfer me to the internet help people, bypassing the evil voice system. Which she did.

By this point I’ve spent three hours trying to speak to someone, but I finally get through to Roger on the internet helpdesk. He can’t help, because they can’t access basic cash accounts. I need to speak to the branch. I explain that the branch have already told me that I need to speak to him. Roger then goes on a (pleasant) rant, explaining that the bank really doesn’t want people to have cash accounts and as a result they’ve closed the telephone helpline and removed account holders like me from the support programme. But! There’s an answer!

I need to send a fax to head office in Bootle, explaining who I am, which specific payees need to be removed from the online banking, and enclosing a copy of my passport to prove my identity. I then need to wait 48 hours for them to action it.

Passport photocopied, letter written, fax sent. That was on Thursday and of course, sod-all’s happened. So I did the high-tech thing, got in the car, went to the branch, took out the cash, went to a different bank, paid in the cash, went home, and used *that* bank’s website to finally transfer the money, six days after I first attempted to make some very simple electronic transfers.

Isn’t online banking wonderful?