Thursday, January 24, 2013

FNB's Evil Banking System

I'm unhappy with my bank right now. Given that it's the end of January, this is hardly surprising. What makes it worse is that there are some people at FNB who are trying really hard to paper over the cracks, but underneath their system sucks. Like most banks, it is greedy, manipulative, and criminally irresponsible. So I'm singling out FNB because it is my bank, not because its the worst, or the best. It's just evil.
The "platinum" credit card springs to mind: it's plastic, not metal, but then marketing and lies are always good bedfellows. When I tried to "upgrade" my existing card to the "platinum" card they "approved in principle" a credit limit of 300% of my monthly salary. Yes folks, 3 times what I earn! Are they insane? I asked the FNB CEO.
He didn't deny it, and went on to say they think a monthly debt repayment amount should not be more that 30% of a person's salary. So, notwithstanding the amount I pay on my bond every month is already 20% of my salary before tax, they were happy to burden me with a massive debt every month amounting to 30% of my income. They call this "prudent"; I call it criminal.
The minimum monthly repayment on credit card debt is 10% of the amount owing, plus interest of 21%. Both of these are fixed by law. So the maths is then quite simple: if you repay 30% of your income and that represents 10% of your debt, it seems reasonable to lend you 300% of your salary. What the evil little bankers don't explain is that at 21% interest, your debt doubles every 20 months, so it's going to take a lot longer than 10 months to pay off the debt you incurred in the first place.
They also seem to think they are doing you a favour by lending you so much money. Actually, they are setting you up for a nice little interest repayment and profit. Anyone stupid enough to run up their credit card debt (notice how it's called "credit", not "debt", because "credit" sounds less evil) to 300% their salary is going to spend years getting out of that mess, if they ever do. That's another reason why the bank is criminally irresponsible.
The next "gotcha" is for people like me who keep their credit card limit low. As it turned out, the R800 limit was a little too low, and I inadvertently exceeded it. Twice. At R220 per time. What galls me even more is that if you make a payment on a Sunday, they only process it on the Monday. But they are happy to process debits on a Sunday, and charge the overlimit fee of R220, without even blinking, knowing full well that your payment will only be processed on the Monday.
When I questioned this practice, they tried to lie to me and tell me they processed the debits on the Saturday, when I have both email and SMS proof that it was done on Sunday. (See update below)
The next monumental "gotcha" happened when they "upgraded" my card. I arranged for a more practical limit of R1500, and the R61.25 card fee would be paid monthly, not annually. So they went ahead and changed the card number, issued the new cards to my wife and myself, and promptly charged me the R735** annual card fee. If I had maintained my previous card limit they would have also hit me with a third R220 overlimit fee. Needless to say I was not impressed.
The card division could easily explain to me that this was because, in spite of the fact that they opened the new account this month, my longstanding credit card arrangement still fell under the Usuary Act, not the National Credit Act, and as such they weren't allowed to charge me monthly. (Really??) This led to the most glaringly obvious question: "Why didn't you tell me in advance that the monthly option was not available?" They, of course, shrugged their shoulders and denied any responsibility. (Criminally irresponsible?)
"It's the system" was their only defence. "Well, then, fix the system!" I demanded. Silence.
Silence. Exactly. That's the evil part. The system will extract as many fees as possible in the process, and no, they will not entertain the possibility of improving it, unless that "improvement" means they can extract further bank fees or interest from the public. They are not prepared to modify their system to warn their customers in advance. Why should they? The worst the customer will do is rant and rave at a call centre operator, which is what they are paid for.
The easy part was telling me the reason for the R735** deduction. It has taken longer to fix the problem. This involved creating another new credit card account and going through another credit approval process, this time under the National Credit Act. For this privilege they are now going to charge me a further R135*, but of course they didn't tell me about that when they explained how to fix the other problem. Of course not, because I would have told them where to shove it. Why the need for a card fee at all? Aren't the greedy bastards satisfied with the 5% or more they get from merchants on each transaction, or from the 21% interest they charge when payments are late? Clearly not. And it's not like they have to find the money to lend to their credit card clients: they can "invent" most of it. But that's another story.
One further screw up: when they created the new card account they ignored the credit limit amount of R1500 that I confirmed on the phone, and changed it to R1350 instead. Why? Because they could. So it took another phone call to fix it, plus another phone call to get the new card account to show on my online banking profile. Clearly their system could do with a few improvements. For consumers.

Now you know why I believe that the collective noun for bankers is very appropriate: it's a "wunch" of bankers.
Update Tue 29 January: FNB Card Division has agreed to reverse the second overlimit fee. They claim the deduction was made on the Saturday, but the SMS notification messages were only sent on the Sunday, and (conveniently) blame this on "external service providers", while making no mention of the failure of their own internal email system. My guess is that the deductions are not synchronized with the notifications, and the notifications were only sent the following day.
Basically, the InContact "security" system is not reliable, and therefore offers no "security" whatsoever. It's a good marketing gimmick when it works, and a major pain when it doesn't. Basically, whenever you buy anything and don't receive the SMS immediately, you need to keep the slip separately, and check it off when the transaction eventually appears. In the meantime, the "available credit" figure they provide is misleading and wrong.
**Had I borrowed R735 as a short term loan from FNB, the repayment amount (within 1 month) would have been R824.90, which includes an "initiation" fee of R74.90. Since FNB took the money from me, they charged me an initiation fee of R135*, and didn't even pay interest when they reversed the transaction. I'm sure they don't think anything is wrong either.
Update Wed 30 January: *Card Division has quietly reversed the R135 card initiation fee. I had requested this because I didn't see why I should pay it when it wasn't my fault that I had to apply for a new card in the first place.
So now all the objectionable charges have been manually reversed, but there is no indication from anyone at FNB that the systems that caused them have been fixed. One can only hope, although I'm not holding my breath.