Catch 22 Meets 1984

Have you ever wondered what would happen if Joseph Heller and George Orwell got together to write a book?

No, I haven’t either.

But I don’t have to, because I am living the plot.

In early December, I opened a new account at the bank I have been using for over 25 years. It shall remain nameless; I have a lot to do today and can’t devote the hours it would take to figuring out what the difference between libel and slander is, and if either of those concepts apply in cases where you are telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Any of you who have ever walked down a British High Street, however, will have seen it. Or, to be more accurate, will have seen where it used to be before they closed the branch down and converted it into yet another trendy place in which to eat pasta.

Anyway, while opening this new account I asked our account manager if he could set up online banking for me. That was no problem at all, he said, and I would have the card reader and debit card which is required for this service ‘in 7-10 working days’.

Six weeks later, nothing had arrived. Now, I am not a difficult or demanding person and I realised that what with Christmas and all, things were running a bit behind. Even so, six weeks is a rather long time.

I called the account manager and spoke to his assistant. After a bit of searching, she told me that according to her records I had never applied for online banking, that she was very sorry for any inconvenience this misunderstanding may have caused and that she would be very happy to help me set it up now. I took a deep breath, and gave her my details. She told me that I could now view my account online but, as I didn’t yet have the card reader and debit card, I couldn’t, unfortunately, do anything ‘more complicated’. By which she meant,  pay bills or transfer money or absolutely anything else. I was, however, not to worry because I could use Telephone Banking, whatever that was, and everything else would be up and running ‘within 7-10 working days’.

Three weeks later, the card reader arrived. I opened it up and read in the instructions that I needed to use this in conjunction with the debit card which, for security reasons, had been sent separately. Well, it may have been sent but sadly not to me because I didn’t have it.

I called up, again, and was told, and I quote, ‘Oh, you wanted a debit card too?’ She then apologised and promised to send it out ‘within 7-10 working days’.

I immediately went to a rival bank and opened a new account. I had no idea if it would be better or worse than my normal bank but at this point just being different was going to be good enough. I gave them my information, I applied for online banking, I was told that my card reader and debit card would be with me in 7-10 working days and….a week later I had both.

That’s when the problems began.

Because I now had an account with money in it but with no online access, and an account with online access but no money.

So, I decided to move the bulk of my vast fortune from the old bank to the new bank. Since neither one actually has a branch anymore that is even remotely convenient for me, I used Telephone Banking, which, I discovered, is basically banking over the telephone. Having it probably makes the bank feel better about closing down all those branches.

Anyway, I dialled the number I was given, spoke to a nice woman, gave her the details of my account with them and of the new account at the other bank and told her how much I wanted to transfer. She said that there was no problem with this and that the money would be in the new account by ‘the next morning’.

Two days later, I checked the new account and discovered that the money had not, in fact, arrived. I went online to see if it was still in the old account and discovered that in order to proceed with this query I needed to put in the 2nd, 8th and 12th character of my Password.

This was a problem since my password is only 11 characters long.

I left it blank. The system did not like that.

I put in 0, figuring that was probably the default for any empty slots. But, sadly, the system did not like that either.

Instead of risking automatic lockout, I called the help desk. The very nice woman listened to my story, took my details, looked at my account and, for security reasons, asked me to confirm the 3rd, 11th and 12th character of my Password.

Through gritted teeth, I remind her of the part where I had told her the password only had 11 characters and she said…’Oh’. She paused and then followed that up with ‘well, your account has been automatically locked’. I asked her to unlock it. She said she couldn’t do that but she would send me a reactivation code which should reach me in ‘7-10 working days’.

Ok, I admit it, I then started ranting about how a company this incompetent did not deserve to be in business. I eventually ran out of steam and gradually began to realise that I was, perhaps, yelling at the wrong person. And so, I apologized and told her that I realised it wasn’t actually her personal fault. She replied, in a very cheerful voice, ‘That’s fine’ which, let’s face it, was the wrong thing to say. Because, the only rational reaction to that was to give her a fairly long and rather descriptive recitation of all the reasons why it wasn’t, in fact, fine at all.

She caught me while I was pausing for breath, told me to call Telephone Banking and hung up. I can’t honestly say that I blamed her.

The nice man at Telephone Banking listened to my story, took my details, looked up some records and told me that I didn’t have Telephone Banking. But, he would be happy to help me set it up right away.

I took a deep breath and explained that I had Telephone Banking two days earlier when his colleague used it to transfer money to my new account. Money that never arrived. Money that I wanted to find. He went away. And came back. And said ‘we couldn’t transfer your money’. I asked why not. He told me that the bank had sent me a letter explaining why not and that I should get it ‘in 7-10 working days’. When pressed, he added that he had absolutely no idea what the problem was and that, in any event, there was nothing he could do about it. He suggested I call my account manager.

Remember him?

I did, and was told:

  • I cannot unblock your online banking account;
  • I cannot speed up the issue of a reactivation code;
  • I have no idea why you don’t have a debit card; and
  • I don’t know why the funds could not be transferred but perhaps you could phone Telephone Banking and find out from them. 

He then said ‘And if there is anything else I can do to help, please don’t hesitate to contact me’.

And that’s when it happened.

I realised that I didn’t care where my blasted money was; that it didn’t matter that I had spent the entire day being passed around in a giant, useless, time-consuming circle; and, that it was churlish to be annoyed by the fact that not one of those pleasant, friendly, helpful people could do their jobs properly.

Oh, and that I loved my bank.

At least, I will love my bank… in 7-10 working days.

Not Leo Tolstoy (aka Eileen Riley)

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15 Responses to Catch 22 Meets 1984

  1. bugwear says:

    You shouldn’t read The Trial by Kafka. The parallels will make you want to throw yourself out of a window in despair.

    Bug @ Bugwear

    • Eileen Riley says:

      Or I could turn into a fly, attach myself to the wall of the bank and find out once and for all if they are just grossly incompetent or if they really are out to get me. I suspect the latter.

  2. notquiteold says:

    Oh my god..I would be at the banking SCREAMING! And I am a very easy-going person.

  3. Brad says:

    And bankers wonder why people still keep their money stuffed in mattress’.

  4. Harper Faulkner says:

    Excellent job, Eileen. Not by your bank, of course, but in how you told a good story. Incidentally, I actually posted this 7-10 days ago and you’re just getting it now. All joy in writing. HF

  5. Ay-yi-yi! And they wonder why people snap and show up toting an Uzi. No wonder they don’t have a physical location – it would be too unsafe for them to show their faces. I wonder if there’s such a thing as a virtual Uzi…

  6. Susan Okaty says:

    Unbelievable! Actually, the sad part is that it is very believable. Fortunately, our money is in one of those big banks that has a physical location on nearly every street corner. Mi can walk to my bank and do quite often. What absolutely ridiculous people you had to deal with. I would have been in tears of rage because that’s how I handle frustration. I cry.

    • Eileen Riley says:

      I think I have passed the point of frustration/anger/annoyance. Today at work I realised that the bank has linked my personal bank account with the business one so that everyone in the accounts department now has full access to my savings account. The nice lady on the phone seemed surprised that this bothered me but said she would sort it out. I can’t wait to find out what that means.

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