Monday, May 21, 2007

Don't bank on email

I know it's been awhile since my last post on life here, but believe me it's not for lack of material. First, a little background information: I'm not a telephone person, nor is my husband. Our phone does not ring that much; often when it does and I'm near it, I jump.

This is not the case for English people, apparently. People telephone to conduct their business. It's a perfectly reasonable thing to do, I realize(realise). But over the past few years, if there is a way to conduct some piece of business online, that's what I prefer. This is because it is then documented, and in such a way as to easily send the information on to others who have an interest. So if a company I am dealing with has an online presence, I will go that route to communicate with them.

Now, in recent weeks it has come to pass that I have had to form a company. I won't go into the whys and wherefores, suffice it to say that it is so. In order for a company to receive payment, there must be a company bank account. Naturally, in the process of forming this company, I endeavored(endeavoured) to open such an account. I used another company to help me form this company because I was in a big hurry, and did not have the time (nor, truth be told, the inclination) to learn about forming companies in the UK. This company offered to help me open an account with one of the big UK banks. However, since I already had a couple of accounts at another large UK bank, and am a member of another group that has a bank, I declined, preferring to keep my dealings with a smaller number of firms.

Instead of going with my personal accounts bank, I thought I'd keep the business separate and go with the organization of which I am a member. This organization touts all sorts of ethics regarding environmental friendliness, standing up for the little guy, fair trade, and so on. All this made me want to give them my business business, in addition to some personal business. So, even though their bank is much less convenient, I figured most of my transactions will be online (or over the telephone, see paragraph 2) anyway, and it wouldn't really matter. I printed out the massive application, where they ask for your life story (including the ending, at least for the next year or so) and that of others involved in the business. I probably spent a couple of pounds sterling in ink alone just printing out the 26 or so pages. Then I spent quite a bit of time filling out all the details, checking them with the company that is helping me, etc. Along with what I wrote in, I also had to provide all sorts of ID. For me that means a photocopy of my passport, my visa, my UK driver's license(licence), a utility bill addressed to me, and similar information for others signing on the account. But the photocopies are not sufficient - I had to get them certified. Fortunately I know a judge here, and he kindly signed and certified all the documents.

Great, I thought, all I need to do is mail this packet to the bank processing center(centre) and in 2 weeks I should have an account. Ha ha!

We had to go to the States for some family business in April. Just before we left, the bank mailed a request for more information from me. I didn't receive the request till after we got back. They needed a business plan. I called them to ask them what specifically they wanted, calling a number that charges by the minute, even on our internet phone, and waiting a good 6 minutes before someone finally answered, all the while listening to the most raucous distortion of some horrible jingle music. When someone finally answered, I complained about the music and the amount of time it took for a live person to pick up the line (in the nicest possible way, I assure you) and asked if that amount of wait time was normal. I was assured there was something that had gone wrong that day and the wait times were unusually long. I then asked about the business plan, received instructions on what to send, and finished the call. I dutifully typed up the information and sent it out post haste.

Mail sent first class here usually arrives the next day, or 2 days later max. After 2 days I called again to see if they received the business plan - it was getting near the end of the month and soon I would have money coming in (yea!) and nowhere to put it. Another wait, about 4 minutes this time (remember it's a toll number, and the horrible cacophonous distorted music was still playing). No, they hadn't received the plan, but they could take it over the phone. So I gave them the plan over the phone (trust me, it's very short). I asked how long it would take to open the account - usually 48 hours after receiving the information. Great, because I really need this account opened.

I waited another 2 days, then called again. Another 4 minute wait (and, oh gosh, the noise, the noise!), then, is the account open yet? No. What's the hold-up? I can't tell, let me do some research and call you back this afternoon. OK. Afternoon comes and goes, no call. I call again the next morning, same wait, same music, have practically the identical conversation, with the identical promise to research and call me back that afternoon. No call back.

What the heck, I'll email them. I went to their Web site, read their promises of customer service, and emailed the address on the site. Urgent, please respond, here are the problems I've been having, can someone help me? Nothing in my inbox after a day. I began researching my personal bank for their business account process. I called them on their toll-free number, and someone answered on the FIRST RING. I asked about the process, which sounded simple. I then sent the other bank an ultimatum email. If the account is not open today, cease and desist (as if they were actually doing anything they could cease). Needless to say, no call, no email reply, nothing, nada, bupkus. So I sent one last email - cancel the application, return all documents (still no reply to any of this to this very day, and that was over a week ago).

I then call my personal bank (available till 8PM for telephone enquiries). Once again, immediate answer on their toll-free number. The representative took a small amount of information down, then said I would receive a call within 48 hours to schedule a live appointment in my little town with my business banker. I informed her that even though it was not their fault, I was in a desperate situation and I have a high-end account with them, and perhaps they could expedite things please?

Nearing the 48th business hour, I telephoned them - I MUST HAVE AN APPOINTMENT SOON! Very apologetic they said they would check the schedules and phone me back. I got a phone call back that day, scheduling a tentative time, because they could not get in touch with my banker at that moment. Then I got a call from another banker making sure that I was being helped and giving me his number if there was any problem (also recommending a nice pub in his village). My banker called me the next day to change the time, I met with him the next day (the 5th day after I started the process), very nice chap. Took the information right there and then, typing it into the computer. I didn't have to produce ID (they already had verified that when I got the personal accounts), I didn't have to fill anything out. I only had to sign a couple of things. He gave me an account number right then and there, although it wouldn't be open for another 2-3 days. By this morning, my account was open, local, and I could deposit the check! I could also finish some of the lingering bureaucracy associated with company formation.

Yeesh. I sent a letter to the bad bank, better known as The Cooperative Bank, which was so unhelpful that I now call them The Un-Cooperative Bank, insisting that they return all the documents I sent them, as they contain confidential information which they have no reason nor right to know (privacy issues are much bigger here). I also complained about their appalling lack of service and response, especially in lieu of their espoused philosophy. And I sent a copy of this letter to Which? magazine, the Consumer Reports of the UK. So far, still no word from them (nor Which?). It's like a black hole.

Maybe it's the same black hole to which most of my emails to UK companies and even UK individuals go. I don't know what it is, but my theory is this: Companies feel the need for a Web presence. They go out and hire someone or some firm to create a Web site for them. They go through all the consultations and design iterations and so on. Finally they get their Web site up, complete with customer service information, including an email address. They then breathe a big sigh of relief and think "There, that's done. Moving on to the next thing." and never touch the site again, and don't bother to actually connect the email address with a live person.

As for the individuals who don't respond - I guess it goes back to the telephone thing.

Incidentally, the bank that gave me the customer service I needed, and indeed always has, is Lloyds TSB. If you ever need a bank account in the UK, I suggest you go with them. But whatever you do, make sure you do it over the phone.

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Friday, May 04, 2007

Portishead in bloom

The view from my office window (at home) of the back garden.

The view from the far end of the dining room.

The view straight out the dining room window.

We have had some stellar weather lately. The garden is in full bloom (except the daffodils and tulips are past their prime). We have just done some trimming and pruning, and cut the grass, so the garden is in fine form.

I know this is a bit mundane, but folks have been asking for more pictures of the house.
So here you go.
(Gosh, and it's almost like we own the place, except for that little detail of a mortgage...)

Tuesday, May 01, 2007


My beautiful Lily
February 2006 - April 29, 2007
May she have lots of voles to chase wherever she is now.
My heart is broken.