The Nightmare That is Called… HSBC

I have bank accounts in Singapore, Thailand and the UK, and when I moved to Hong Kong, the last thing I expected to have problems with was banking. Hong Kong, the bright shining financial capital of Asia. Ka-pui… ask anyone who’s had to bank with HSBC here.

HSBC is such an inefficient piece of crap that I find it unbelievable they still exist in this modern world. I used to complain about the Internet banking in Thailand because in the early days, you couldn’t do any online transactions after 10pm. But HSBC’s ineptness, and the difficulty of doing anything online, totally dwarfs all other banks.

1. S-L-O-W

It never ceases to surprise me how slow HSBC is in a city as fast paced as Hong Kong. It took them two weeks to grant approval that I can open a bank account. Once the account was opened, it took another two weeks before I got my ATM card. Once I got my ATM card, it took another two weeks before I could get the security device for online banking. Need to change transaction limits or mailing address? Another five working days.

2. Forms, forms and more forms

In the age of Internet banking, HSBC has a strange opus moderandi of making you PHYSICALLY go to the branch to fill in forms. Update your address? Fill in a form. Change your online transaction limit? Fill in a form. Set up a recurring local transfer? Fill in a form.

3. Then they lose the forms again and again

I went to the Paterson Street branch to collect the form to change my online transaction limit. Filled in the form on the spot, and wanted to give it to the staff there. He pointed to the box and told me to deposit it there, and said it’d take five working days. A week went by, my online transaction limit still said “0”. Called the bank, who said they didn’t receive my form. So I had to then go back to the same branch to fill in the form again, this time with the customer service staff. He told me it’s best to give the forms to the service staff so they can verify everything. Point taken.

A few weeks later, once I got my HKID, I went to apply for a credit card. I remembered his advice. So i dutifully took a queue number, sat down at a table with the staff and duly filled in and signed the forms needed for a credit card application. He made copies of all the supporting documents and told me the card should be ready in two weeks. Two weeks went by, still no sign of the card. Called the bank, who said my application is not in the system. She advised me to apply online, and submit the supporting documents again.

The question is: Where are my missing forms and credit card application? These forms contain confidential information. One sure hopes it’s not lying around for the world to see?!!? I really think heads should roll at Paterson Branch for their blatant lack of disregard for customers’ personal information.

4. Exorbitant fees

Transfers to another local HSBC account: free. Transfers to a local non-HSBC account? HKD 180. Apparently the way around this is to open a checking account. Wow, I can’t remember the last time I wrote a cheque. It is so 1980s.

I wanted to set up a recurring bank transfer to my landlord’s HSBC account. I tried for days to figure out how to do it online, in the same way I did for bank accounts in other countries. I finally decided I must be really stupid because I can’t seem to be able to find a way to do it, and I wrote to ask for help. So the answer was, I can’t do it online. To do so, I’ll need to go to the bank to fill up a form to set up a standing instruction, which costs HKD70!

 

I seriously want out of HSBC and I’ve been googling on alternatives and found this helpful post. Looks like I’m going to give Citibank or Standard Chartered Bank a go. My experience with HSBC has been the worst with any bank in my life. They really should just close shop.

Yet there is one thing HSBC is very quick at — eyeing your money. On the first day I went to HSBC to try to open my bank account and was told that I had to wait two weeks for approval on opening the account, I filled in some forms, where I put down my Hong Kong mobile number. I had only just got my local number that day and HSBC was the first person/organisation to have that number. They told me in the afternoon that I couldn’t open the account that day. A few hours later, someone from the bank called me to ask me if I’d like to invest my MPF. Dear HSBC, you won’t let me open an account, but you sure would like to get your claws into my money, eh? Great way to win customers over!

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First four weeks in Hong Kong

Sitting on my sofa in the half-a-shoebox flat that I’m renting in North Point, I find it difficult to imagine how I’d survived my first month in Hong Kong. It wasn’t just coping with moving to a new country; it was compounded by sudden overseas work trips and important work projects. All thrown at me at the same time. It’s all starting to get hazy now and I want to just write it down as a reminder that God is good and that we can cast all our worries on Him because He truly cares for us.

Week 1

My boss arrived first. Then I arrived. We met the new client (and I’ve got to start building credibility again, sigh). A request for proposal came our way and since the project is based in Thailand, I was tasked with researching the logistics. It was also miserably miserably miserably cold. The temperature didn’t go over 7 deg every day. And Hong Kong is not equipped for cold, so there’s no heating. The serviced apartment i was in had a small heater which didn’t help much. I couldn’t find a hot water bottle. I was cold all the time. I would direct the hair dryer under my blanket and try to warm up the bed as much as possible.

Amid all the work commitments, I was also trying to find a place to rent. I always knew there was no perfect apartment but let’s try to find one that I could live with. And from previous experience, I do know that the better apartments get snapped up very quickly, so I was very conscious of not dilly-dallying once I find something that I didn’t dislike too much. I must have seen about 15 flats in three days.

By Thursday, I was getting quite stressed because by then I knew I would be away the whole of the following week, so that’s a week gone, and the company is paying for just one month at the serviced apartment. The “best” of the lot at that time was the flat in North Point. I liked it that was newly renovated, so that appealed to the OCD in me. At 20sqm, it’s really tiny. But the rent is within my budget and the location is good. I had two main concerns: the noise from the wet market downstairs and whether I could easily get a taxi with a big suitcase. It didn’t look like cars could come in through the wet market. And the owner was asking for a decision.

I’m never good with making snap decisions like these and it stresses me. A very good friend had come with me to help me settle down. We’d just gone to see another place and were on our way back to the serviced apartment when, out of the blue, I met a very close sister-in-Christ just a few steps from my place! She’d emailed me to say she was coming and if we could meet up because she knew how much I struggled with coming to Hong Kong but I didn’t check my personal email because i was in survival mode. And in this whole sea of people, we met.

So she came up to the serviced apartment and we had a time of prayer, which was just at the right time, as my brain was just about to explode from the whole should-i-should-i-not cycle. And I believe with all my heart that it wasn’t a coincidence. It was such a God-thing that reminds me again that God loves me so very much.

On Friday morning, I decided to go to North Point to see how crowded the market might be, and if it would be a nightmare going to work. And of course to pray and hopefully I will hear God say something. I knew the tram goes through the market, but I didn’t see any cars drive through it. So i asked someone there if cars could come in (I’m obsessed about my frequent travel and trying to get to a taxi with a suitcase), and he said yes. And at that moment, a taxi came through.

On Saturday morning, I signed the papers.

Week 2

I actually got to spend two nights in Bangkok enroute to and from the place that I had to recce for the pitch proposal!!! I also got to go to Japan for work and love love love the country and the people. After a week of loud and pushy Hong Kongers, Japan is like heaven with their ever-bowing politeness. I took six flights in seven days, and slept in a different bed every night except for when I was in Japan where I had two nights. It was also a week where I slept just four hours a day, so little that my eye started twitching and I feared that my Bell’s palsy was coming back.

Week 3

This week was spent furnishing the flat. It was actually quite nice to be able to get the stuff that I want and will use instead of having to make do with furniture that’s been sat in and slept in by don’t know how many people. Being the very functional person I am, I got the smallest bed available, a 3-feet single bed. I haven’t slept in such a small bed in the last 10 years. The bed is also high enough for me to put my suitcases underneath it. I ordered a huge wardrobe from Ikea and I also got a sofa bed.

When Ikea came to deliver the wardrobe, it turned out that the 2-metre high boards couldn’t fit into the lift. So I had to go back to Ikea and change my order to the shorter 1.5-metre wardrobe. This also meant that they could only deliver the following week. So my grand plan of moving into the flat over the third weekend was shot to pieces.

This was also the week where I had very tight deadlines to meet. My eye continued to twitch.

Week 4

It was the last week that I had the serviced apartment. But everything seems to be on track. Ikea is delivering the wardrobe on Tuesday and my best friend can help me with moving things over from the apartment. On Monday, the window fitters came to check the windows in the flat. The Hong Kong government had come up with a policy of making it mandatory for owners of units in old buildings to check the windows. I didn’t think much of it. Granted the building is even older than me, but the flat was just renovated, surely the windows would pass the checks?

Of course not. ALL the windows failed the checks, which meant they would have to fix ALL the windows. And they couldn’t fix the windows on that day. There was a process to be followed, and papers had to be filed with the district office, and he said the earliest might be the following week.

By then, I was freaking out at the window fitter because my huge wardrobe was arriving the next day and I only had the serviced apartment til Monday. The wardrobe would block one window and it would be near impossible to move the wardrobe so as to fix the window. And my friend was leaving on Wednesday (which was also the same day where I had to be present our proposal for the pitch in a team). He probably saw how close i was to tears and took pity on me and said he’d try to aim for Thursday and asked me to postpone the delivery of the wardrobe to Friday. Which I did. God must have known this was going to happen, hence the wardrobe not being able to fit into the lift in the first place. I shudder to think what would happen if the wardrobe were already delivered and I’d already filled it with all my stuff, and the window behind needed to be fixed.

So the window fitters did come on Thursday, leaving their dirty fingerprints everywhere – the white walls, my NEW expensive UV-blocking curtains, my sink, my new chairs… And the wardrobe arrived on Friday. I slept in the flat on Friday night.

Happily ever after?

I’d love to report that from then on, life was smooth-sailing and I lived in my little studio flat happily ever after. Or not. For some reason, I’m extremely sensitive to noise and smells. I can hear and smell things that a normal person wouldn’t. Like a dog. There are four units on one level. I think there are two neighbours who smoke. One with the door open. And I absolutely abhor the smell of cigarette smoke. It’s probably not charitable of me to say this, but I have more respect for druggies than irresponsible smokers. At least the druggie just kills himself while the irresponsible smoker prefers to kill all those around him too. It bothered me very badly that I could smell the cigarette smoke from my flat. I tried sealing my door and it seemed to help. Except that the shop has run out of door seals, so I still get the smell sometimes.

Noise. The next-door neighbour has dogs. Two poms. And we know how yappity poms can be. Everything sets them off. Lift door opening. A door closing. Footsteps. But better dogs barking than babies crying I suppose. My upstairs neighbour seems to like dragging chairs/tables/something with rollers back and forth throughout the day AND night. As for the market downstairs, the big delivery trucks come at about 1am. The unloading process can sometimes sound like rolling thunder and sometimes the workers just throw the full boxes down, which could sound like a mini-explosion. There are so many times I’m at the point of falling asleep when the “surround sound” noises startle me and keep me in a state of fitful sleep. In the morning, the market comes alive with hawkers shouting at the top of their voices. “Ten dollars ten dollars, come come”.

I was very unhappy the first few days, thinking that I’ve probably made the wrong decision in my rush. But we’ll never know if the grass is truly greener on the other side. I might have ended up with a more expensive flat (thinking that I should have better neighbours) only to still end up with bad neighbours. So nowadays, I just think I’m in a “Stomp” production and all the “noises” are actually a kind of music. I’ve also armed myself with a disinfectant spray. Everytime I smell cigarette smoke, I just spray the flat. We adapt and we live, by the grace of God.

A bed that's high enough for to store my suitcases under

A bed that’s high enough for to store my suitcases under

Bar top for dining and a sofa bed

This was what sold me – the kitchen!

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Of course I have to have my favourite colour somewhere!