I trust my Angolan bank more than I do my UK one. It took years for me to switch allegiance. All the time I was in Angola, I maintained my account back home. I had first opened it 30 years ago. Fellow expatriates, advertisements in the international editions, even my own branch, told me that I should move to an offshore account. I could never see the point. I didn’t earn enough interest on the amounts deposited and subsequently withdrawn each month and besides, I really liked the way I could pick up the phone and speak to a human being, probably someone I went to school with, and get them to shift money for me, cancel a standing order or bail me out according to my need.
Then one day, I wasn’t speaking to Sarah, it was a voice whose name I didn’t catch but assuring me that for security reasons, my call was being taped. It was speaking from Liverpool, about a 100 miles from my bank and no, she couldn’t put me through to my branch or deal with my problem. Instead, she put me through to someone in the province of Sheffield, India, who suggested if I wanted a personal consultation, I should pop into my branch. Well I couldn’t. I was in Nigeria at the time.
All I wanted to do was warn my bank that I was in a high-risk area, as the security advice my employers had given me on arrival suggested. Now she understood. A note would be placed on my file. Not the buff coloured A4 folder bulging with all the written correspondence between the bank and I that the manager always referred to on the rare occasions I visited. No, this was an electronic file. I had to accept that this was progress. I was then asked if I would like to nominate extra passwords. Over a mobile phone? I may be a bit dense, but even I felt uncomfortable with that one.
Two months later, I was back from up country and tried to log on to my account. I received a message telling me to contact my branch. This time I got a girl in Glasgow. She told me that she was putting me through to an ‘Account Counsellor’ and no, that person was not in my branch.
It was an interesting first five minutes, neither of us had a clue what the other was talking about. Eventually I accepted that I had to give him a password, any word that would then allow me to see my account on line. Why the hell he didn’t just plug in ‘chips’ or ‘I am an irritating moron’ I have no idea. I gave him my dog’s name.
Having been abroad for many years, several month’s movement on my account usually fits on half a page. Standing orders, salary and maybe the Amex if I had been anywhere civilised reccently Not the pages and pages I saw swimming before me now. At first I could not understand why I was a thousand odd pounds overdrawn. Then I realised I had the decimal point in the wrong place and suddenly appreciated how embarrassing it is to be incontinent.
It got worse. I needed some time to scan through this lot so I was given a number to call when I was ready. This time in Leicester, the closest to my branch so far. Not only had I been shopping in Sainsbury’s for the last two months, I had also moved from the midlands to London. I also seemed to have exchanged a lot of currency and had taken out an unsecured loan for £15,000. The balance on my account had evaporated, I had consumed my ten grand overdraft and I had a 15 grand loan against which I had made no payments. No wonder the bank was keen to talk to me. I called the number in Leicester.
It took a while, but finally they explained what had happened. Apparently, I had sent them a letter requesting a change of address. It seemed perfectly in order as I had enclosed a copy of my passport. A few weeks later, I was careless enough to lose my bank cards which, applying the highest standards of customer service, the bank were only too eager to send replacements to my new address, complete with PIN numbers. I understand that before granting a loan, an examination of the account profile is made. Considering that the evidence of the preceding months suggested I had suddenly popped up on a completely different continent and gone berserk, I can understand why the man in Leicester was never able to convince me how I had been granted such a large loan. He said it was because I had been a good customer.
Good customer or not, I wanted my money back. They were, I have to admit, very good about it. They allowed me to go through my statements and cancel everything I disagreed with. Then I asked them about the instant credit that was available to anyone with a valid bank card, the kind that they had issued to the other me in London. Ah. They could supply me the contact details for reputable credit reference agencies, perhaps I would like to avail myself of their services?
It will probably take me years to sort out. Fortunately, I live in Angola which makes it difficult for bailiffs to repossess the plasma TV I have never watched.
My salary is now paid into my Angolan account. I have my branch, a new one in the smart southern suburbs and all the staff know my name. They know what I do, they know when I am away in Uganda or Gabon on contract. They know my girlfriend. I can send my driver down with a letter to make a withdrawal and I am not surprised when they ring me to confirm. No wonder, then, that I trust my Angolan bankers more than my UK ones.