Dear HSBC

Friday 23rd September, 2011
Dear HSBC,

I have been a customer of HSBC since 1991, when I was 16 years of age.

Since then I have been able to manage my account a number of ways. I could use my Debit card at an ATM to check my balance, transfer funds or even print off recent transactions.

I could use telephone banking to check my balance at my convenience from any telephone, 24 hours a day. I could even speak to a friendly human being, until you moved the call centre to India and things started to go downhill.

That's OK, I still had the friendly people in my local Addlestone branch. I could drop in there and talk to them with any queries and pay-in cheques as required. But then you turned it into a lobby style branch, pretty much removing all the people unless I pressed a buzzer to get one out of the back office. They were quite helpful for showing me how to use the machine, which couldn't handle my enquiry, or directing me to the internal courtesy phone that would connect me free of charge to your call centre...in India.

Thankfully Internet Banking was available which has allowed me, for many years, to access my accounts on-line. I can check balances, transfer money, make payments etc. as required. I just need to sign-in with my user ID, date of birth and random characters from my password. It works well and has done for years.

Presumably people started going into my local branch less and less, as you closed it - along with my nearest cash machine. Quite ironic that a company with the strapline "the world's local bank" would go ahead and no longer be local thousands of customers. To pay-in cheques, which lets face it will be in Birthday cards from Grandparents for years to come, I now have to drive many miles to find a branch that's open on a Saturday morning as I can't get to the nearest branch during its limited opening hours. Thankfully most people transfer money electronically these days so I've put up with this minor inconvenience for quite a while. The irony that a relative's gift to my son is actually a trip to the bank with his mum to pay in the cheque. She can no longer walk to the branch with her buggy. Instead, she has to load the children and buggy in the car, drive to an open branch, pay to park and then line up to pay in the cheque.

This wasn't really very practical, so we opened an account for our son at the local Nationwide. We became familiar with that branch as it is now our closest cash machine, since you closed ours. They provide us with a service so they get our custom. That's how it works. HSBC may be the world's local bank, but ours is a small branch of Nationwide. They also got our Mortgage business when we moved house because not only were their flexible mortgage deals great value, they were also...you know...open.

Now you introduce the HSBC Secure Key for internet banking. This will, as you put it "make your Personal Internet Banking sessions even more secure by giving you a new security code each time you log on". I'm quite sure it will make internet banking more secure, because not even I can access it. I'm at work, that place you are when you realise you've forgotten to pay a bill or need to check your balance before you buy something on-line. The Secure Key is locked up in my home, where I keep things that I don't want to lose.

This isn't really the any time, any place, any where Martini style convenience that I expect from internet banking. Sure, I could carry the Secure Key with me, but it's MASSIVE. Electronics only gets smaller, you can now buy 50" televisions that are only 1cm thick, but HSBC have somehow managed to produce a Secure Key device that is as big as the calculator the kids had at school in the 1980s.

I understand token based 2-factor authentication, I've worked in IT security for over a decade. I've carried many such devices over the years, any sensible office won't let you access you email without one. But I've also been involved in the purchasing process for these devices and they simply don't have to be this big. My current business token is tiny in comparison and sits on my keyring without being intrusive at all. Some token based authentication will even run as an app on a phone, removing the need to carry any special device at all. It's called convenience.

Where do you expect I keep this secure key? It won't fit in my wallet and clearly isn't a keyfob. If I keep it at home, I can't access my accounts from the office. If I keep it in my desk drawer, I can't pay bills at home. If I keep it in my work bag, it's no use when I'm visiting a friend or relative's house and may get lost - meaning I can't access my account at all. I don't doubt that internet security is key for HSBC but you've somehow missed the whole point of why people use Internet Banking. It's supposed to be convenient and easy access. It no longer is.

Following my issue this morning, I spoke to your call centre - after going through the multitude of press 1 for this, 2 for that, phone options that drove me to the internet in the first place - and they have granted a "one time" extension to the period I am allowed to log-in without the HSBC Secure Key. The lady on the phone seemed more than familiar with my category of complaint and how to handle it. She even offered me this email address in order to make a complaint.

Clearly nobody likes it. You only have to search Twitter or Google for "HSBC Secure Key" to find hundreds of other customers who have taken issue with it. Seems you have a bit of a PR nightmare on your hands as everybody who gets one of these devices seems to be complaining about it. You can add me to the list..

You hold all my money and are there to provide a service. It feels like you no longer are and your focus remains on closing branches, call centres and otherwise finding ways to cut costs - like buying the lowest cost security device. Now all I need to find out is whether Nationwide require a clunky device to access their Internet Banking service. If not, despite being a customer of yours for 20 years, I'm off.

Regards,

Ben

Comments/Trackbacks [1]