By Angelos Anastasiou
MANY “influences”, some of which “were out of Barclays’ control”, lay behind the decision to close the UK-held accounts of Cyprus residents with balances under £100,000, a British pensioner living in Cyprus was told by a member of the specialist team set up by the bank to address customer complaints or requests for help.
The man phoned the bank to complain that the two-month period – until September 11, at which point accounts will be closed – afforded Barclays account-holders little time to find a new bank and open another account, not least because correspondence from and to Cyprus could take up to two weeks.
Not so, he was told, sharing an audio tape of the phone conversation with the Sunday Mail.
“There’s plenty of time,” the Barclays rep on the other end of the phone told him. “I’m not allowed to suggest a bank to you, but have you highlighted one that might suit you?”
“I got this letter about an hour ago,” the pensioner protested.
“I understand,” the rep said. “But the team that handles extensions – if I go to them and say so-and-so needs an extension, they’re going to say ‘No’. You need to open a dialogue with a bank first and come back to us and say ‘it’s going to be completed by this date’. Then I can fight your corner.”
By this point, the soon-to-be-former customer tried other arguments, all of which seemed to fall on deaf ears. “I don’t need a service – I only use internet banking, which doesn’t require any service from you,” he argued. “The cost of maintaining the service is the same. It wouldn’t make any difference whether I was in England or Cyprus.”
But it’s not just about cost, he learned – it was mostly down to ‘influences’.
The rep offered: “If you look at international banking and the global economy and everything that goes with it, you’ll see that there’s lots of various regulations and variables that impact things and have an influence on how banks do business.”
“I’ve been a customer of Barclays for 50 years, privately and through my business, and the bank has made many errors at various times, costing me over £30,000, which I’ve had to stand,” the pensioner tried. “All I’m asking is a little give and take – a little time to move to other banks.”
“If you’ve been a successful businessman yourself, you will know that there are many influences,” the Barclays rep repeated. “Sometimes they’re out of Barclays’ control as well. You’ve only got to look at business and finance news internationally, to know there’s going to be influences on UK banks.”
And to the rep’s insistence that some banks will allow customers to open an account over the internet, the increasingly impatient customer asked whether he had ever tried to open a bank account from overseas.
It was at this point the customer’s patience had finally run out. He ended the call in calm, matter-of-fact statements that left no ambiguity as to where he stood. “You’ve been very civil, pleasant and professional – however it hasn’t helped me one iota,” he told the rep. “I will try to rely on myself and not on Barclays’ assistance, because I’m obviously not going to get it. I hope you – not you personally, but Barclays – will appreciate that this is no way to treat a customer of 50 years, with this amount of time to close an account that has always been perfectly looked after. You should be ashamed of yourselves.”