Long, long ago I opened a bank account with a building society. Time passed and the building society combined with another building society, and then was bought by Advance Bank. In something resembling a biblical chain of banks begetting banks, Advance Bank became part of St George Bank and lo, it was good. Or as good as any bank ever seems to be when you’re on the customer end.

Then the earth shook and the shares crumbled and so it passed that Westpac bought St George Bank, decreeing unto the customers who probably detested “the big four Australia banks1” that St George would continue as a separate entity.

In proper capitalist commercial style Westpac decided that NSW’s St George Bank should expand into Victoria. Victorians responded in that typically parochial state-based way that the Australian states have and nothing much happened. Why join a smaller bank with a name so integral to the hated place just north across the border, and why join a smaller bank that is so obviously part of one of the big four?

In a brilliant fit of marketing genius, Westpac decided to resurrect the Bank of Melbourne, an institution that collapsed some years ago leaving only a trademark and a name. They would reinvent a special small Victorian bank and the customers would flock to it, shareholder value would be enhanced and so on and so forth.

Jump to last week; I, and presumably any other, Victorian residents who have accounts with St George all received a letter telling us that our accounts would be rebranded Bank of Melbourne. I guess that’s one way of getting members for the new bank! Reading more closely there is an interesting sentence:

…will be rebranded Bank of Melbourne unless you tell us otherwise.

Now I’d really prefer that Westpac not stuff about with my account so I thought I’d simply tell them otherwise. Uh oh, this is where the fun and games begins.

Hmm, that’s interesting. Apart from the sentence telling me I can ask not to be rebranded (yeow!) there is not a single bit of information on how to go about it.

So I called them on the phone; 13 22 66 like it says on the letter. Usual crap music-on-hold and a medium size wait, then the “how can I help you.” I say that “there’s a letter here saying you’ll rebrand my accounts unless I tell you otherwise, so I’m calling to tell you otherwise.” “OK,” says Mr Bank, “I have registered a complaint and someone will call you back to discuss this later.”

What? I didn’t complain, all I did was ask that they do what they say they’ll do in their letter! Perhaps they’re trying to make this extra difficult just to annoy me, or perhaps they want to get as many people as possible into the new bank and enhance shareholder value….

So I guess I’ll wait for them to contact me.

Then arrives the email telling me of my Complaint Lodgment Confirmation

A complaint was lodged on your behalf on 19/09/2011. Your reference
number is: XXXXXX.

At BankSA we take our commitment to our customers very seriously and
appreciate the opportunity to resolve any areas of concern you may
have.

A member of our team will be in contact with you shortly. We aim to
make contact within 2 business days and advise you of the outcome
within 5 business days, depending on the level of investigation
required.

If you would like to speak with us in the meantime please call BankSA
Customer Relations on 08 8424 5722, Monday to Friday between 8.30am -
5.00pm (CST), quoting your reference number mentioned above.

What? I called Bank of Melbourne to ask that Westpac not rename my St George account to Bank of Melbourne and they decide to send a reply from Bank of South Australia?

Methinks they are now deliberately trying to annoy me, surely they can’t be that incompetent? While laughing at the odd turn of events I post to twitter that:

Bizzare #BANK behaviour: Telephone Bank of Melbourne to prevent Westpac renaming my St George account to BoM, response back from BankSA !!!

Before I know it I’m getting a message back from @BankofMelb asking me to “follow them” so they can discuss it further.

What is there to discuss, they say “we will do X unless you tell us otherwise”. I tell them otherwise. Please do what I ask! As I responded:

No @BankofMelb I would prefer not to follow you back. I politely asked that Westpac not rename my St George #Bank account. That is all.

Incompetence of malevolence? Do they really intend to stuff around every single person who tries to do what they say can be done?

<2011-09-20 Tue>: Update

The bank called me back… err, which one – I think they called themselves St George this time. After launching into the corporate spiel on why I wanted to become a Bank of Melbourne customer… um, I didn’t, and I pointed out that I had already read all their brochures and I had simply rung up to ask that they do something that they said they would. Finally she said it would be done, but that I should note that any accounts I open in the future would be with Bank of Melbourne.

I beg to differ, they could easily be with one of your competitors.

Footnotes

1 Alphabetically; ANZ, Commonwealth, NAB and Westpac.