A personal problem has led to the discovery of a serious flaw in the system by which the Royal Bank of Scotland manages the customer services on its accounts.
My debit card – the only card I use – expires at the end of June. Two weeks ago, when a replacement card had not appeared, I contacted the call centre to ask why. I was assured that the card would be sent out the following week – as that was the normal schedule.
It has not appeared. Following up the situation this morning, the RBS central system admitted that no card had been sent and apologised.
They then discovered that the reason this had not happened was because they had no valid address for me. It is a side issue but worth noting that this was communicated to me in accusatory tones, as if it was my fault.
I have lived at my current address for 14 years and my account has been with RBS for some years longer than that.
A concern for every RBS customer
The matter of general concern to every RBS customer then emerged and is the reason for this public alert.
The RBS apparently sent me a piece of mail on 7th December 2012, which was returned to them by the Royal Mail.
They could not tell me what the piece of mail was about. They and I have to assume that it was something as slight as a promotional communication from the bank since neither they nor I have had any difficulties with the account.
Nevertheless, the return of any kind of mail activates the placing of ‘a marker’ on the account in question – which removes the registered address on the grounds that it may no longer be valid. It was this absence of an address that led to the bank’s inability to send my replacement Debit card.
In extensive conversations with operational and ‘customer care’ staff this morning, I have established that:
- the RBS system requires no checking or confirmatory action once any piece of mail is returned. The customer’s account is marked and their address is automatically removed on the basis of a single return of a single piece of mail – which could be an error on the Royal Mail’s part and, in this instance, clearly was;
- the removal of the address through the unmoderated marking system, means that elements of the service upon which customers rely, are immediately disabled from functioning, with no check. [I now realise that this is why I will have had no new cheque books sent to me for some time - which I have noted but not needed to chase yet because I rarely use cheques];
- there is no requirement to make any supporting check whatsoever on the customer’s status or address – not even contact with the customer’s bank branch, which is a part of the RBS and, one assumes, easily accessible centrally.
The point where debit or credit cards are to be renewed is the point where a customer affected in this way, and who has been left without an active card, will make enquiries which should highlight this problem.
That could be up to two years away, given the lifespan of debit and credit cards.
We advise everyone who is an RBS customer and whose card is due to expire within a month from any point, from now on always and routinely to make an automatic check with the call centre three weeks before the expiry date – to check specifically that their account has an address attached to it.
If an account has been ‘marked’ because of the return of a single piece of mail and is consequently without an address, this timescale should ensure that the problem is flagged up and put right to see the new card issued in time.
This is a seriously flawed system because action damaging the reliability of the service due to a customer is taken on the basis of a single and possibly coincidental action – of which the customer can only be totally unaware, and with absolutely no check.
As a customer affected negatively by this:
- I cannot know that the bank sent me a piece of mail.
- I cannot know that the Royal Mail returned it.
This leaves me with no awareness of the existence of a problem and no point of intervention to rectify it – until I hit the sort of negative impact that has just occurred. I will now be left for a week without any means of buying or paying for anything except by cash.
There should obviously be a secondary action required of the bank before taking an action that disables its own services, upon which its customers rely and for which they pay.
It also emerged that complaints, like mine, are logged and reviewed every month – to ‘improve’ the service.
I asked how many other customers had lodged complaints after being affected by the same glitch in the system. The ‘customer care’ staffer I was talking to said that she was aware of a couple but they were some time ago. She is one of many such staffers and she has no idea what the total number of affected customers may be.
I asked why the complaints she was personally aware of had not flagged up this systemic failure. She said that a couple of complaints would not trigger any action.
This indicates that the RBS system is also incapable of categorising and discriminating between the nature of complaints received.
In any well managed operation it should take only one complaint that flags up systemic failure for action to be taken.
I asked to take this issue to a higher authority.
This – flatly – could not be facilitated.
The only choices I have are therefore passively to accept this flawed system, the negative consequences it has inflicted and the resulting insecurity of my own trust of the bank – or to leave the bank. I will leave the bank.
I was offered compensation – very late on in my investigation of the matter, it should be noted.
I do not want compensation and told them this. All I want is the reliable service I am entitled to expect and for which I pay – not the multiple failures uncovered this morning.
The general issue, however, is one that potentially may affect any RBS customer. It is in the interests of every such customer to follow the advice we offer above.
Lynda Henderson, News Director, For Argyll