15 August 2013

A disappointed expat - my experience with Westpac

Following on from my post yesterday about Expat Banking and 5 Lessons Learned, I'm sorry to say that i have not heard back from Westpac after lodging a complaint and them advising they would get back within 48 hours.

I did promise you the full story so here it is, be warned, it is lengthy but i hope you learn a thing or two or at the very least, if you're having a bad, it doesn't seem so bad afterwards ;) 

And its not all bad, I've written 10 things Westpac can do to improve their service for their international customers, expats and travelers.


According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in the year 2012-13 there were 369,500 permanent and long-term resident departures from Australia. Clancey Yeats of the Sydney Morning Herald recently wrote an article about big banks thinking small and how Roy Morgan has found that customer satisfaction with big banks has steadily climbed to almost 80 per cent. I do wonder where Roy Morgan gets such data from and if any of the 369 thousand residents (expats), who may still use their home banks, are surveyed.

I also wonder whether Westpac cares about any of its customers that form part of those 369 thousand traveling residents. 

I have had a Westpac Earth credit card since 2008. I’ve always made regular payments, often paying the balance in full. This year has been hectic for me,and I found out the other day that I’ve missed a few of repayments. I admit it’s not the best thing, but in trying to resolve the issue, my experience could have been so much better than it has been, and might not have resulted in Westpac losing a customer.

Earlier this month I received a letter explaining that my account was overdue and that I needed to pay my outstanding balance as soon as possible. Last week I paid it off and then some. This week I needed to use my card again only to find that my credit limit was not showing on my account.


Day one: Getting nowhere

On Tuesday I called the "Overseas" number on my credit card and futility ensued, here is what happened:

First phone call: The first person I spoke to didn’t know what was wrong with my account and he put me through to someone else who realised there was a "block" on my card. She put me through to the Collections team, a member of which spent 3 seconds on the call "hello can I have your account number? Hello?" then, click, I was disconnected. The line was bad, I barely got a word out before I was hung up on - nice right? But he probably had SLA's or, as it turned out...he just wanted to leave the office not a moment past the end of his shift...

Second phone call: I called back and explained that I needed to speak to collections about a block on my card. She put me through to collections and would you have guessed it: their hours were up and they were closed for the day! Do their tier 1 support people really not know when their other service desks operate?
Third phone call: I explained to the agent what I’d already been through and asked if there was a way to email the collections team to have them call me since I was overseas. He said a) they couldn’t email, they didn’t have that facility and b) they couldn’t make international calls. Seriously? No, Seriously??? A bank like Westpac doesn’t allow its customer service teams to make international calls? He then said there were 15 minutes before a specialist team would close and maybe they'd be able to help....I was on hold for more than 15 minutes before giving up - after all, it’s only fair that they go home on time too.

Needless to say, I wasn’t happy. I had spent about an hour and a half making international calls, waiting, trying to get somewhere. I wrote a complaint email and submitted it via the Westpac website. They sent me a confirmation email (no tracking/incident number), and advised that if it was urgent, to call them on the listed numbers...between 8am-8pm 7 days or visit a local branch...yeah that’s going to help if its "urgent"...cue eye-roll....


Day two: Really? There’s nothing you can do?

Yesterday’s events didn’t go any better.

First phone call: I explained the situation and the girl advised that collections were looking into my account, so she would put me through to them. 15 minutes on hold later, she comes back to say she hasn’t had any luck but can keep trying. I asked if she could have them call me back, but she said she would still have to call them to ask, (fine by me) but that if she couldn’t get through, I could call them back direct. She then proceeded to give me the generic customer service number to use as the "direct" number, odd, so I asked for a number I could use from overseas. She gave me the same number that was on my credit card...cue raised eyebrow, that’s the number I'd called her on! Needless to say, I didn’t get a call from collections.

Second phone call: I spoke to a guy who, poor thing, could not do a thing to help but was fiercely defensive and loyal of Westpac and was more interested in pointing out that I'd missed payments than in actually helping me remedy the situation. He made no apologies for the lack of service so far, and an attitude that implied I deserved what I got. That may be, but it’s not appropriate.
However, he did explain that my card had not been "blocked" but it was CANCELLED! He said that "several" letters and phone calls had been made by the collections department. I never received a call...at least not to my international number. He said my "primary" number was an Australian number so maybe they had been calling that instead of my international one. Fine, but that puts me between a rock and a hard place.
The address on my account is a UK address, there is a UK number listed as well. Why didn’t collections call the UK number? Common sense, right? Also, the reason there is a "primary" Australian number is because I couldn’t list a non-Australian number as a primary number! Anyway, I explained my situation again and asked if there was anything he could do? "No." Was there an escalations team that could help or had the authority to help? "No." What would he do if he were in my shoes? He said, did I have another card I could use? Wow...

As it stands I don’t have another card, I don’t like credit cards in general, and the Westpac credit card is the only Australian credit card I’ve ever had. While in Australia the service was fine. As an expat however, this has been a very frustrating experience, which is a shame. I'd had one prior experience which was actually very good when I was pick pocketed on the tube, and they replaced my cards within a few days. The process was simple, hassle free and fast. This situation has been the polar opposite. Clearly the lost/stolen process has had a lot of attention and improvement but similar service is lacking other areas. Sadly, it is enough to tip the scales in the other direction.

I get that I am responsible for not making regular payments and that they are entitled to withdraw their service, but seriously, all it would have taken is for someone with a brain to call my international number as a gentle reminder and I would have paid any outstanding balance. Everyone goes through odd patches in their lives and the banks could use some humanity and consideration. Not to mention that if, in fact, my card had been cancelled, it was a fact that should have taken no more than the first 2 minutes of the FIRST phone call to discover, not a 2 day saga of incompetence, disorganisation, and rudeness. Till this year they never had any problems with me, it’s a shame that loyalty and being a good customer gives you nothing these days.

How Westpac can improve their service

So to Westpac, if you care, here are some suggestions to improve your service:

1. You need to have a DEDICATED International customer service team

a. This team needs to be available outside of Sydney hours
b. There should have the authority to sort out any issues (even if it’s on a  temporary basis) OR 
c. Have an escalations team that has such authority

2. Generic service desk improvements

a. They should know the hours of operations of other teams b. You need to have a method (that isn’t phone calls) to allow your teams to communicate with each other (at the very least this should be used for urgent cases), logging notes against a customer’s account isn’t good enough
c. If it’s true that your service desks can’t call international numbers, you need to make this possible. Not all your customers stay in Australia all the time or afford to make long distance calls with lots of time wasted on hold.

3. Collections team service improvements

a. Every effort should be made to contact a customer before cancelling cards/accounts. They should call any/all numbers listed on an account before taking any action not just the primary number
b. If they cannot get through, they should leave a voice mail
c. If there is an email listed, contact should be attempted that way too

Westpac, if your response to any of this is to a) Say that this is entirely my fault and quote terms and conditions or b) say that all of the suggested improvements are too costly to implement, then I’m sorry, but you don’t really have a customer’s interest at heart.


Final words

I will reiterate, I’m not claiming innocence here, I know I missed payments (not my intention) and that is my responsibility. All I’m saying is that the process Westpac has to resolve this has not made me feel like I’m a valued customer, nor that their processes support anyone who doesn’t live in Australia. I am seriously grateful that this isn’t an emergency situation otherwise I would be at a total loss. I have spent the better part of the last two days dealing with this, it has really wasted my time.

Lastly, I have waited 48 hours after lodging my complaint and still nothing, I'll continue to chase them especially since my account is in credit and if they really have cancelled my card, i want my money back! In the meantime, if you have had a similar experience, let me know, I’d like to hear what happened, and how it was resolved. Drop me an email or leave me a comment – even if you think I’m overreacting! ; )


  1. I think all banks' credit departments are the same. Your experience is word for word what had happened with me each time HSBC encountered a fraud with my card and cancelled it whilst I was overseas. If you can, just open up a new bank account in London and forget about the Westpac one.
    And getting the money back, I only got mine after I complained and demanded for a manager. (They DD my account even though the money owed was fraudulent and under ivestigation) All this was hard enough being in the country. I can't imagine how you'd be able to resolve this being overseas.

    1. Wow, that must have been very frustrating for you. Did you end up leaving HSBC because of that?
      You are right, I'm leaving Westpac and going elsewhere. But i'm sure getting my money back will be as troublesome as your own experience. Wish me luck!