Saturday, January 30, 2010

HSBC Armenia, the Bank with English Etiquette

The same day that I posted my concern about the ATM service in Armenia at HSBC not working her at MOB and forwarded a copy to those in charge, I received a response from the CEO himself, Tim Slater, with a very accurate and straightforward response.

All I can say is if this was an Armenian bank, the chances of getting any kind of answer from even a low level employee on a first inquiry is unheard of. Most first requests that I’ve had in the past for the most part are ignored and any kind of response comes after you hold your breath until your blue in the face and even then it does not work.

In addition to the blow attached email response from the CEO, I also received an inquiry from Lusine, the Personal Assistant to Head of PFS and Branches, who asked for information regarding the two failed wire-transfers that were made in 2009, presumably so they could investigate where things went wrong, if for no other reason I would guess, to make sure those kind of errors don’t repeat themselves to me and others in the future .

All I can say is kudos to the CEO, Tim Slater, and Lusine, the PA to Head of PFS and Branches, who clearly are devoted to tuning their banking machine in Armenia into a fine tuned operation so that this long time loyal customer will continue to bank with them in the future. God I wish that others in Armenia could learn from them.

Though I may not be able to use their ATMs until November (which I will do once they are up and running), I will try again in the near future to have money wired (anyone interested in testing to see if they fixed the problem?)

Re: HSBC, the English Bank with an Armenian Twist...
Thu, January 28, 2010 8:27:50 PM
From: ""
To: Ara Manoogian

Dear Mr Manoogian

Thank you for your email and for taking the trouble to write to me. Clearly you are a longstanding customer of HSBC Bank Armenia and I would like to apologise for the inconvenience you have suffered and continued to experience. You are correct that the software update is taking longer than expected.

We had to stop the use of non HSBC Bank Armenia cards at our ATMs due to a significant fraud which was being perpetrated at the time, perhaps perpetrated against us because we have the widest ATM network in Yerevan. The software update is unfortunately very expensive and requires scheduling against priorities of other countries HSBC operates in besides Armenia. I appreciate this explanation may not be satisfactory to you, however latest estimates are that the problem should be fixed by end of November this year. We are endeavouring to bring this date forward. Meanwhile I am pleased you have found a solution but you might also consider whether an account with HSBC Bank Armenia might also suit your needs?

Once again, thank you writing to me.

Kind regards

Chief Executive Officer | HSBC BANK ARMENIA CJSC HBAM
Main Office, 66 Teryan Street, Yerevan 0009, Republic of Armenia

Thursday, January 28, 2010

HSBC, the English Bank with an Armenian Twist

Since the arrival of HSBC (formally Midland Bank) to Armenia, I have been a client and a regular user of withdrawals using my U.S. bank debit card.

In May of 2009, I learned that the ATM (in Armenia refereed to as a ‘bankomat’), no longer would take my card and I had to go inside the branch to make withdrawals. At that time I asked why I could not make withdrawals from the ATM and was told it was due to a software update that should be resolved in a couple of months.

When I left and returned to Armenia in late July, the “software update” had not yet kicked in and again, I was subjected to withdrawals during banking hours to make as over the counter transactions, which not only huge inconvenience, but time consuming.

It is now January of 2010 and as of yesterday the software update has not yet been completed. You have to wonder how long this update will take? I mean when I update my computer operating system from time to time and it’s a matter of minutes to complete an update.

What is interesting for me is the ATM works for those who have accounts in Armenia without any problem. It’s just cards from the “outside” that do not work and you really have to wonder why?

I can say for one thing that from May to the beginning of July of 2009, I withdrew close to $30,000 during the Nazareth Berberian murder investigation. The approximate cost for those transactions coast me $900 (3%), where if those same withdrawals took place at the ATM, it would have cost only $300 (1%). To save money, I did try to have money wire transferred with no luck. After over a week of waiting, HSBC could not find the money and asked for SWIFT codes and every other thing short of a urine sample and rectal exam.

You really have to wonder if there really is a “software update” in the works that is needed, or are we seeing the Armenian version of English banking at work at the expense of people coming from the outside in need to withdraw money during their stay who will not complain and just be glad to get back to civilization where being screwed over by your bank is not as frustrating?

Does Tim Slater, the CEO of HSBC Armenia know that this is going on?

I can share with everyone a solution to save yourself $20 on every $1,000 you withdraw and that is Armbusiness Bank (ABB) who has 24/7 ATMs which seems to take all kinds of bank cards including my U.S. debit card and charges 1% of the amount withdrawn. There are 3 branches I know of in Yerevan, all very conveniently located within walking distance of the places tourists hang out. They also have a branch in Stepanagert, Artsakh, which is where I made the discovery that my card worked with their ATM.