For those of you not affected by the HSBC crisis faced by IFAC over the last month of October and Novermber 19, read my “lessons learned” article. HSBC negligently took money from you, our customers - and failed to pay it back for a further fourteen days – after acknowledging that the error was theirs - to repay it. Why so long?
Some of these lessons are relevant only to HSBC, some to banks and some to large organisations and some are what is a key feature of all businesses – fixing problems and responding to unforeseen events.
1. Complex world: Bank transfers are significantly more complex since automated payment services has transformed banking over the last five years. Accounts software is in many cases is the source of communications to and from banks. These payment services are helpful, and allow real time notification on mobile phones, but also need careful oversight, and the BACs system and rules for collection had not been updated to cater for this event. IFAC are pushing the Bacs group to make changes. The text they sent to IFAC to deactivate the account reads “your service user has been deactivated for bacs payment services and will now be unable to make bacs payments.” This text is simply not true, because payment requests made are still carried through and bacs payments are still made after this event, as you have now found out. Sergeant Wilson is unable to fix things when they go wrong.
2. Go to the top: Don't got to Jonesey: take you case either to the CEO’s office or to the complaints department on day one. Everyone else is wasting your time. A total of ten people at HSBC were involved in this case, and only one of them – the tenth, had the authority to actually do anything about it. Nearly every one of the ten promised to help, but in fact were not in a position to make that promise, and while three people agreed to act as first point of contact, only one saw that through – and she worked in complaints. Only when the case hit the complaints department at HSBC did anything happen. It took 13 days for this complaint to reach the complaint department at HSBC. IFAC’s mistake was to assume it would get sorted faster if dealt with outside of complaints department, but this is not so.
3. Big company staff just want it off their desk: The key rule for each employee at HSBC is to get the issue off their desk as quickly as possible. Each one tries to push you down the organisation, to someone lower, although a second best solution is to another department. Nothing can prepare you as an individual to face that experience of powerlessness in the face of big organisation.
4. Go to complaint department first: I first identified this as a problem on 4th October – a full month ago, and I raised it as a formal complaint then. The clerk handling my case (A young Sergeant Pike) didn’t understand the issue and failed to follow process and did not even send the case to the complaints department. That delay proved fatal.
5. Fake Job Titles: my "branch manager" at HSBC turned out to be a junior clerk with practically no authority to even ask for a cup of tea – a point made within 20 seconds by his regional director. That was Pike again. Tread carefully with large organisation job titles.
6. Surprise: don’t be surprised to find a respected organisation behaving like a cross between Dad’s Army being visited from HQ. Organisations are just collections of people, and each one just wants an easy life. Whether they are incompetent or dishonest - you’ve arrived to ruin their day. “Interrupted my training day in London and his day off” as one said.
7. Business is firefighting. Every day I spent on this I resented, until about day four when I realised that to say so is fatal, and ipso facto there is a good reason for that. Things go wrong in business, and sorting out the exceptions is what we all are paid to do.
8. Find your niche bank. If your business turnover is less than £2m a year, HSBC do not want your account and may well close it before you move. They also don't want FCA regulated firms. You can find this out by applying online for an account for a new company start up. We did just that and applied to HSBC over a year ago for a new company, and the application simply disappeared without trace – costing three months delay of our time. I knew then that I had to move bank. Call the warden.
9. Google your account manager. Get your account manager name and find what they put on-line. Mine said he deals with accounts between £2.5m and £350m turnover – so unsurprisingly for our sub-scale business he was about as helpful as the ashtray on my Dad’s old motorbike.
10.Future promise, or past commitment? If they say they will do something, they probably won’t. But if they say they have done something, you can rely on it every time. That's Capt Mainwaring for you.