Open Letter to Standard Bank: Moving Forward or Treading Water in Shark-Infested Seas?

[Update: 17 February 2011] After some aggressive petitioning Standard Bank’s twitter persons with cross-references to this post and other disgruntled customers, I got a phone call on the 10th to discuss my problem. A possible solution seems to exist. I’ve posted the documentation they asked for (a written request to reverse the stop on my card, which suggests it was lucky that my wallet turned up in the bus service’s lost property office) via registered mail. Whether I get access to internet banking without returning to South Africa remains to be seen.

Dear Standard Bank,

Perhaps the title of my letter is a little unfair. Perhaps you really are moving forward, but you’ve left your customers behind in the bloody water with the chum to fend for themselves. My experience with you has been a case study in client service failure. This case will be to Customer Relations 101 that Deep Horizon will be to Risk Management 101. That’s right Standard Bank—the disaster, that is your level of customer service, is on par with the “largest accidental marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry” in my opinion.

Unfortunate failings in service provision

For customer service: Insert human sacrifice here

Back in October 2010 I decided to take my son on an excursion to a Petting Farm in Edinburgh. On the way there the bus became very crowded, I become flustered with juggling a 2-year-old and all his associated paraphernalia, and I dropped my wallet.

Relief of getting off the bus soon turned to panic at the realisation that my wallet was no longer in my possession. I headed home and reported the card lost. The friendly call centre person (and to your credit, the overwhelming majority of your staff are friendly—that is not my gripe) duely cancelled it. I imagined that there would be some pain in getting access to my bank account again, but didn’t expect insurmountable problems.

Following a number of telephone conversations it become apparent that I wouldn’t be able to carry out any further transactions on my account, and that the call-centre people weren’t sure how to help me. I put my request for help in writing, certain that the email would get routed through the correct channels of your bureaucratic labyrinth. Eventual it would arrive on the desk of a wise being who knew what to do and had the power to do it.

Whahahahaha! What an idiot I was.

This was the email I sent:

I’m currently living in Scotland and lost my debit card.

I cancelled the card, but as a result can no longer carry out internet banking. For obvious reasons, I cannot just stroll into a local branch and pick up a new card.

My expensive international phone calls first led me to believe that I could send someone else into the branch with my power of attorney, but further enquiries reveal that since the person will be issued with my pin number, that probably won’t be allowed.

Right — so solve my problem. I want to be able to do internet banking from Scotland, without first returning to South Africa to collect a new debit card.

What must I do, written in clear, easy to follow steps? And I really hope that Sacrifice a virgin to Baal isn’t one of the steps.

I haven’t carried out any human sacrifices. Should I have? I suppose you can’t explicitly tell me to do that. The human-sacrifice aspect of your business is something you don’t talk openly about. Makes the investors nervous, hmm? Can’t see how throwing your customers to the sharks will make them any happier though. Or do you only feed the sharks with the customers who refuse to partake in cult behaviour? It’s all very confusing. Perhaps a FAQ on your website dealing with this might help.

Your email response was unsurprisingly bland, repeated everything I’d already told you (but blandly), failed to make any mention of Baal, and welcomed me to contact you again “should [I] require any further assistance.”

Looking back now, I think your reference to Baal was right there staring me in the face. “Should [I] require further assistance” was clearly a suggestion to ask for guidance on carrying out the required sacrificial rites. The rites needed to get Internet Banking reactivated without going to a branch.

What went wrong and what needs to be fixed

In simple terms, this is how you’ve failed me and what you need to do to redeem yourself.

  1. My problem is: I want to do internet banking, but I had to cancel my bank card, and Internet Banking is linked to an active bank card
  2. Your Solution 1: Collect a new card and pin at your nearest branch, link Internet Banking to this new card.
  3. My problem is: I cannot collect card at nearest branch as nearest branch is over 9000km away from my current location.
  4. Your Solution 2: While customer has no card, repeat Solution 1.

That’s it. I’m stuck in this infinite bureaucratic loop and I cannot find anyone with higher enough privileges to break it. It’s not even a complicated algorithm where this problem is deeply nested within the possibilities of customer difficulties, and could not have been foreseen.

What you need to do:

BREAK THE LOOP! Change point 4. to something like

  1. Your Solution 2: Escalate client request until it reaches person with authority to override standard procedure and MAKE AN EXCEPTION

I can accept that through some oversight in planning a simple potential issue like this might be overlooked, and as a result no procedure was drawn up to deal with it. This left the poor disempowered call-centre and email customer support employees unable to fix the problem.

What I can’t accept is that given this situation, where the support decision is locked in an infinite loop, is there is no procedure for breaking the loop by escalating the problem to a higher support level. If such a procedure exists, then every person who has dealt with my enquiries is either completely ignorant of the procedure, or completely incapable of abstract thought. The lack of abstract thought possibility does lend some weight to my Standard Bank is a Murderous Cult theory.

Resolving my problem may not be trivial within the constraints of your internal systems but, assuming you are not in fact a violently murderous cult populated with mindless drones, how can there be no manual overrides for any of your procedures?

Please, before I am forced to carry out some arcane ritual in a fit of desperation, sort this out.


Neil Robinson


  1. This is not the full extent of the pain and grief Standard Bank have put me through. More on Standard Bank’s ineptitude.
  2. ProTip™ for other Standard Bank customers in my predicament.
  3. A careful look at the first step in the infinite loop I’m condemned to shows that the problem should never have arisen in the first place. The “Internet banking is linked to an active bank card” clause is completely unnecessary. Other banks don’t do this. Why does Standard Bank have to?