Quarter Life Crisis

Lessons From Banking as an International Student in the UK

My piggy bank and super sweet 2008 Canadian Olympic Dollar.

Here’s another life lesson that I’ve picked up from my year as a student studying abroad.

Some banks are happy to screw International students.

Sorry for the somewhat vulgar phrasing. But let’s be honest, banks are in it to turn a profit. This can lead to some stressful situations when you’re still learning how to handle this stuff. Your twenties are a time where you’ll need to learn not to hold onto the unfair, when to fight, and when to cash in a life lesson.

Here’s my story. As an International Master’s student I was advised to set up a bank account in the United Kingdom. Since I use CIBC in Canada I assumed their British partner, Lloyd’s TSB, would be equally excellent when it comes to customer service. After all, customer service agents at CIBC worked around tight deadlines to help me set my finances so I could study abroad in the first place.

I won’t try to mask my disappointment. Lloyd’s TSB is no CIBC. But I’ll let you be the judge of that.

After a relatively low-key year of banking with Lloyd’s I closed my account, withdrew the remaining funds, and left specific instructions that I was returning to Canada and would never be accessing it again. This is where things started to go wrong.

I had returned a malfunctioning Kindle to Amazon.co.uk after returning home to Canada. After a couple months of not seeing the money returned to my Amazon account, I contacted Amazon.co.uk to ask where the money had been sent. I had originally mentioned that the card I’d bought the Kindle on was no longer accessible, but a miscommunication had sent the refund to that closed account regardless. Of course I rose up to let them know that it was impossible for money to be transferred into a closed bank account.

I was wrong.

I called up Lloyd’s to explain to them Amazon’s claim and was expecting them to help me send a letter to Amazon about how the money couldn’t have been transferred into an inactive account. The customer service agent offhandedly informed me “Oh no Ms. Feeney, your account has a balance of 149 pounds”. Well how on earth is that possible?!

So I very calmly asked how I was to proceed. The lady put me through to my old branch and I had to start the whole process of explaining my situation over. After several minutes of discussion, I was told to send a letter stating that I wanted to have the money transferred to me. I signed the letter, included every required detail, and put it into the mail.

And I waited. And waited. For 6 months. And no one replied to my letter.

So a couple weeks ago I decided that enough was enough. I wanted my 149 Pounds Sterling – which is roughly 230 Canadian Dollars – back in my pocket. So I emailed the customer service branch of Lloyd’s TSB and very carefully explained my situation. Now imagine how surprised I was to get back an email almost immediately from an actual human being, who assured me that the situation was in good hands and that I just had to await a letter with more information about how to proceed.

At long last I thought I was heard!

When the mail arrived yesterday my heart did a little jump for joy as I ripped into a big, fat envelope from Lloyd’s bank.

Cue disappointment.

The letter, though addressed to me, did not even begin to compare to the issue that I had described in my customer complaint email. The service agent informed me that I was likely going to have to contact Visa regarding the error. I was originally told that my money was sitting nice and cozy in my closed bank account, so why on sweet earth should I suddenly contact Visa?

I was fed up with this nonsense so I took the action outlined in the second portion of the letter and called up customer service once again. I was not surprised at all when the call-centre operator to tell me that I needed to contact some new and previously unheard of Archives department. In writing. Like with a stamp and everything. Perfect – another 6 to 8 weeks for them to hide out while I sit here in Canada.

Do I believe that I’ll ever see my money again? Honestly, no – and I have that sinking feeling that even if I do, a good chunk will be taken for so-called “service fees”.  I’m going to take this £149 lesson, along with the loss of my Kindle, and put it to use.

I intend to continue to write about banking as an International student – I hope that I can help others avoid losing funds to foreign institutions. Having been there, I know that it’s incredibly scary to trust your money to a foreign bank when traveling and living abroad. Students need to be wary youth does not protect you from being exploited.

Some Lessons for Present and Future International Students:

[One] For those of you who are closing accounts at the end of a term abroad: check whether your Visa-debit services are still active.

[Two] When returning defective products that were purchased with visa-debit account that is now closed you should make sure that the customer service agent sends you an email stating that they will refund the money to a new credit card or onto your account balance – do not rely on them to do so if they have not put it in writing]

[Three] When using in-browser forms to make a complaint, be sure to copy and paste your complaint into a word document before sending. Otherwise you have no evidence of what was send.]

To Lloyd’s TSB – please feel free to contact me via email at ellefeeney (at) gmail (dot) com if you would like to resolve this.

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3 thoughts on “Lessons From Banking as an International Student in the UK

  1. Ugh! This sounds so frustrating! And it makes me a little nervous. I actually have an appointment with my bank (TD) tomorrow to talk about international banking because I’m moving to China for a year to teach.

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