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Published: January 26th 2011
The Great Santander Debacle – no, not the name of one of the many shipping disasters that have occurred off the nearby West Victoria/South Australia coastline in the last two hundred years but an apt description of our attempts to liaise with Santander Banking over our credit cards.
We have both been satisfied customers of Alliance and Leicester (formerly Girobank) for more than 40 years. So when A & L were taken over by Santander we were fooled by all the hype about how things would be even better under Santander with so many additional services and benefits. Their information about credit cards promised all sorts of advantages including “no charge” for overseas transactions – something which appealed to us before our departure from England for 12 months in Australia. Alas, there were also some restrictions – a much reduced monthly credit limit than we were used to with A & L Visa - and a three month overseas limit which can only be extended by ringing the Card Services section and requesting an extension. We had done this satisfactorily at the end of October so we were aware of the procedure which included some security questions and we were confident of a positive outcome. We understand the need for security questions as credit card fraud is rife.
On Friday 21 January at about 10:30pm Aussie time (Santander have normal UK office hours) we started the process again using our mobile phone. Our call was eventually to cost us $17!! I went through the usual “press button” introductory process and everything seemed to be progressing well. I clearly passed the personal security questions including my second name (never been asked that before) and my date of birth. I knew that the next question would be about recent transactions – the same procedure applied last time. So I was prepared with receipts. Sure enough, my female inquisitor, Shamella, who Graham has since unkindly nicknamed Shambles, asked the question and almost before I had chance to respond, certainly with undue haste, advised me that I had failed the security check and would need to attend a Santander branch with photo ID to overcome the failure.
Santander does not operate in Australia so I was sure she was joking and proceeded to read out another transaction both in pounds and pence and Aussie dollars. Shambles repeated her announcement – “I’m sorry you have failed etc etc“. I was flabbergasted and to give myself time to recover my composure I passed the phone to Graham so that he could deal with his cards. Exactly the same happened. “I’m sorry” said Shambles. Graham was not as patient as me and demanded that Shambles provide an explanation for the security failure. She didn’t have to she said! But we’re a couple of pensioners in Australia Graham pleaded and asked for some leeway, some customer liaison given the circumstances. “I’m sorry” started Shambles but Graham was not impressed and demanded to speak with a supervisor. “I’m sorry” said Shambles, my supervisor won’t speak with you but I’ll discuss the matter with him” and she put Graham on hold. I thought Graham was going to explode - Shambles had clearly made the decision to fail Graham on his security check and we began to feel that it seemed, to all intents and purposes, like a pre-determined decision.
We pay off our credit cards monthly so there are no interest payments involved. We’re obviously more trouble than we’re worth to Santander and it appeared to us that this was a way for them to discontinue our accounts seemingly legitimately. Graham managed to get the supervisor’s name – Richard of Card Services section 961 – but because, when Shambles repeated the required action – “return to the UK and present yourself with photo ID at one of our outlets” – Graham became positively apoplectic and Shambles cut him off. And to think that we had actually rung them to get this rejection.
Fortunately we don’t depend on our credit cards - yes they are convenient and if we could continue to use them we would. But Santander’s total lack of customer concern and their seemingly sinister methods have left us bewildered rather than inconvenienced. They didn’t know that we have other financial options and that we don’t rely on their cards. Contrast this with the service we have been given by the Commonwealth Bank in Australia. They couldn’t be more customer focused, even though we’re visiting Poms, and they’ve always gone out of their way to help and advise when we’ve had a query - and they pay interest on our current account. Yes, security processes are important but whatever happened to common sense?
Back home, we both have current accounts with Santander which DON’T pay interest so of course Santander benefit from that. Similarly we have investments with Santander which we presume provide mutual benefits. So to be so pedantic about our credit cards in such a way leaves a lot to be desired and unless we get a suitable explanation we will almost certainly be reviewing our financial interests on our return home. In the meantime, if anyone is tempted to consider using Santander for any financial services, our advice following the experience we’ve just had would be “avoid them like the plague”.
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