How to fight banks that keep your savings prisoner because you want to take ‘too much’ out…

Last week I tried to close down and withdraw my money from an ONLINE, EASY ACCESS savings account – as the introductory interest rate bonus was ending that day meaning the rate would plummet. I, of course, as the account name describes, assumed I would be able to take my money out via the web, and do it quickly. However, the withdrawal was rejected…

I was told to call customer service, who informed me “you’ll need to go into a branch or we’ll send a form (the process of which would take about 10 days)”.

My sin? To have substantially more than its £10,000 internal security limit. As you can imagine, I wasn’t best pleased.

For ID fraud prevention reasons I’m not going to name the institution, and anyway similar has happened to me and others elsewhere too. Yet as I fought it, and eventually won, I thought what I did may be a useful template for others in the same boat, hence bashing out this blog.

While in my case the issue was the cash being locked in at a poor rate rather than a delay in itself, this is an important warning for anyone with a decent chunk of cash – for example, from selling a house ready to buy a new one – don’t leave it until the last minute if you need it.

Of course I could’ve schlepped to the nearest branch, but my day-to-day life is currently so tightly scheduled that’s a nightmare, and in any case, I chose an online account as I prefer to bank online.

Be polite, be firm, don’t take no for an answer.

I kicked up a polite, but substantial, fuss. My argument was the account wasn’t as advertised, being in practice neither online nor easy access, and therefore I repeatedly told them “I do not believe I am being treated fairly”. This is the crucial phrase; as financial firms have a regulatory requirement to ‘treat us fairly.

I offered it three options to sort.

a) It change its security procedures and enable me online or on the phone to withdraw all of my money (I did understand this was the least likely – security procedures are there for a reason).

b) It simply continue to offer me a bonus or give me the same interest rate as I had been earning in perpetuity and then I wouldn’t withdraw my money (I knew this too was very unlikely but you may as well have a try with interest rates as low as they are at the moment).

c) We go through the longer withdrawal process, but for each day’s delay, it make up the 0.75 percentage point difference I was losing because of the rate drop – as its systems meant my savings were locked away at the lower rate.

Navigating through customer service levels.

Of course there was no immediate yes, and it involved speaking to a few people, and even then…

  1. First level customer service: As expected the first level customer service operator, who’d been helpful, said it was beyond his power, so I asked to escalate it to a supervisor.

  2. The Supervisor: She was curt and a touch rude, and tried, in my view, to brush me off the phone by point-blank saying “I’m sorry but those are the rules. There’s nothing we can do”. I explained that I would prefer to have this sorted now than go through to the Financial Ombudsman Service, which would no doubt rule in my favour.

    I then requested to speak to someone more senior to which I was told “there is no one more senior”.

    So I asked for clarification: “Just to confirm you are telling me that there is no one more senior in the whole of the bank available right now that you can refer this to. If so, please may I take your name for future reference in my complaint.” At this point she replied that there actually was a manager on duty, and I asked to be put through to him.

  3. The Manager: He was very helpful and agreed that the situation was less than ideal. He told me he would call me after the weekend (it was late on Friday) with a resolution.

Staggeringly after all that, I did not receive a reply on the Monday. Though it later transpired on the Tuesday I was sent a secure email – saying I would still need to come into branch to get my money, though it would compensate me in interest for the days lost. But the email went into my spam file and as I wasn’t expecting it I hadn’t checked.

By Friday I called again, rightly unhappy. This time I spoke to a customer service operative again, asked for the call to be escalated both due to the initial problem, and the fact (as far as I was aware) no one had bothered to deal with it, and I was losing interest daily.

Now from this point I think you have to take what happened next with a pinch of salt, as I’m pretty sure they’d now clocked who I was by what was said to me and the reaction. I was called back out of hours by ‘executive customer complaints’ and was told as a special case, I wouldn’t need to go into branch and as a special exemption they would make the full payment online.

It also confirmed that I would receive compensatory extra interest on top of my account for every day’s delay. While that of course isn’t the greatest amount, with these days of very low interest and only over a short period, it is the principle that counts.

So is this just a ‘Martin Lewis’ exception?

Yes and no. The interest compensation was agreed in writing before I think they knew they were talking to me. However, I suspect the not having to go into a branch bit was smoothed by the fact it was me. (It’s nice to have it work that way to be honest; I’m swamped on my Twitter feed by people saying using my name or copying me in gets things resolved. Fun to have my own name work for me this time.)

Yet the most important point is that I think my argument was strong, and had it rejected it, I would’ve gone to the ombudsman. I’m quite confident it would’ve then ordered compensation for lost interest in this situation. So if it happens to you, remember – do a formal complaint (you can use Resolver if you’re not good at that) and persevere with the ‘treated fairly’ argument.

I’d love to hear of similar experiences and hopefully resolutions.