Banking on loyalty doesn’t pay off when it comes to personal money matters

Does loyalty to a bank count for anything these days? It’s a rhetorical question really.

Last week I wrote a complaint to the NAB. I started, off with the words “I have been a loyal customer for decades”, as though that fact would somehow force them to take my complaint more seriously or answer me more quickly or even move them to ring me and express gratitude for my lifelong custom.

I think I still have my first bankbook, buried deep in the boxes of my childhood treasures. As kids we were encouraged to put 20 cents a week into our money box and build our savings. We knew the local bank manager, who lived behind the bank.  And what joy when we were given a new money box by those lovely bank tellers who we knew by name. Ahhh, those were the days.

Back to reality. Last week I went to the NAB to open a business account. No problem so far; the staff at my local branch were helpful and friendly. But they told me I needed to make an appointment. I did so for the next day, and off I went.

Now for the uninitiated, you need what’s called an ABN to set up a business account. Alas, a check with my accountant confirmed that mine would not be ready in time for the meeting with the bank.

 No point going the next day without the relevant paperwork, I thought, so I’d better cancel the appointment. Sounds easy enough, but here’s what happened next.
It turns out there’s no telephone number listed for my local branch. So, en route to another appointment, I pull over and ring the only NAB number I can find. It’s a 132 number. What chance a real person will pick up?

Let me emphasise here – all I wanted to do was cancel an appointment I had made with my local bank branch. That’s it. I can ring my local doctor and speak to his staff to cancel an appointment, I can ring my hairdresser and cancel an appointment (she’ll answer the phone herself, how good is that), I can even ring my local car repairman to cancel an appointment (“No worries luv”), all of which takes no more than a minute or two. But I can’t ring my local bank branch to cancel an appointment. Why not?

Back to the 132 number. A recorded message asks me the nature of my complaint. “I need to cancel an appointment with my local branch tomorrow,” I enunciate loudly. The voice asks me to punch in my NAB ID number. What? I didn’t even know I had an ID number. “Located on the back of your credit card,” the recorded message says helpfully. OK, I punch that number in. Should get through to a person now.

Not so quick. Now I am in a queue.

I briefly consider driving back to my local branch to see if that’s quicker than waiting on hold. Finally a nice lady answers and I tell her I need to cancel tomorrow’s appointment. She kindly offers to put me through to the branch. Nearly there.

But alas, there’s no answer, so she offers to send them an appointment-cancellation email. I then ask for the branch phone number so I can call at my convenience to make another appointment. No, is the polite reply. “Imagine if everyone rang their local branch,” she says. Ummm, and why exactly would that be a problem, I think to myself.

“I will get them to call you,” she offers. No, because I had no idea when my ABN would be ready. “Can I please have the branch number so I can ring another day?” No, comes the reply again. “We don’t have their phone numbers, only an extension,” she says.

Sigh! Ten minutes and some angry words later, the phone call concludes.

It’s rare that I am moved to write a complaint. But now I set about putting my grievance in writing.

I would go straight to the top, I thought. Write to the CEO, Mr Andrew Thorburn, and let him know how absurd the no-ringing-your-local-branch policy is. The NAB website has a page introducing the executive leadership team, with the smiling image of Mr Thorburn. He looks like a nice man who would take my humble criticism on board.

I detail my dissatisfaction and push the “feedback” button. But now there’s another problem. My submission is rejected, the pop-up message informs me, because my “input contains invalid characters. e.g. angle bracket, quotes, slashes, semicolon”. So I remove all the offending punctuation. Nope. Rejected again, the pop-up message this time saying I have used too many characters.

I abandon the website and set out to directly email Mr Thorburn. I ring the NAB, hoping to get his address. The cycle begins again. There I am on hold in the queue again, fumbling for my ID number. Another five minutes of my life tick by. I hang up.

Scouring the website some more, I finally find a “feedback” email address and send off my remonstration.

And now, days later, I’m still wondering whether Mr Thorburn or anyone else at the NAB has read my email.

Maybe I’ll give them a call.

Josephine Cafagna is a writer and communications consultant.

This article was published in The Sydney Morning Herald on 15 February 2015

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