E Taking A Long View

I am refusing to write about the latest bearishness of stock markets over fear of a trade war. China and Trump are both making big threats as a negotiating strategy. This will go on for months and we have to examine other parts of the stock market.

Renaissance Research is recommending a global bank stock I am familiar with, HSBC Holdings, which despite its name standing for Hong Kong & Shanghai Bank, is in fact UK-based. I am familiar with it because via a series of takeovers it wound up as the owner of our mortgage, now repaid. We got a price break on the interest rate charged from what was then Williamburgh Savings Bank, a leader in lending on NYC cooperative apartments, if we opened a check account, Since another bank, Manufacturer's Hanover, deposited payrolls from my husband's employer, I had to open an account to get the mortgage break. Both Manny Hanny and WSB no longer exist, having been acquired by JPMorgan and HSBC respectively. And our mortgage has been repaid.

My problems with HSBC are multiple. My credit card account was hacked not once, but twice in the last decade by an insider at my branch who went shopping at Target. Then my checking account was also considered at risk and I had to get a new one. More recently I have been driven nuts by the procedure for getting a key-chain fob which generates a changing secret code enabling me to get into my account as I need to do every Sunday to produce our tables. (My global bonds are held in my HSBC account, not with my broker.)

These devices gum up and refuse to provide a code. So the bank sends me another and I have to program it with help from the bank's tech team. Since problems usually arise on Sunday I wind up communicating with exotic folks from India or the Philippines, and they have problems sending one-time passwords to my email account. My cellphone doesn't work in my office because there is a bridge outside the window.

When a new device cannot be coded by the Asian hands, it is simply deactivated and killed. Then HSBC sends me a new device and the process starts again. I am expecting my third device for 2018. I and my account manager here think this process needs to be improved and it plainly aggravates customers and costs the bank money for the discarded devices. But there is no way to change the process.

Of course there are advantages to using a very global bank. In 2004 when Air France lost my baggage en route to India I was able to buy enough clothes and underwear to remain decent in the pre-monsoon zone while the airline dithered and delayed paying me anything. I only got my baggage back when we were in the USA.

However when the US Diebold ATM fails to work—which happens a couple of times a year—the global help desk is no help, because only US tech support people can get the repair done during normal working hours. Having access by phone or internet to someone who cannot arrange for me to get some liquid money from my account until the next US workday is slim comfort. The bank apparently doesn't trust its help desk enough to let them activate an ATM.

There are other disadvantages from international banking. About five years ago when we were in Paris I was unable to get enough cash from the local branch of HSBC to go to our favorite restaurant which doesn't accept credit cards, Le Hangar. We later learned HSBC's French CCF network had been locked down because some of its staffers were helping French clients move their money into secret Swiss bank accounts. The Swiss are still trying to nab the HSBC whistle-blower. So given its ethics, inefficiency, and vulnerability to hacking, I'm not buying NYSE-HSBC stock.

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Vivian Lewis 1 year ago Author's comment

I always inform my bank if I plan to travel to foreign lands to make sure that my credit cards will work and I can get money from local ATMs. The problems arise DESPITE my warning the bank. I think it is poor internal communications and overuse of cheap Asian labor.

Kurt Benson 1 year ago Member's comment

I've had the same problem. I remember one time there was several thousand dollars of fraud on my account. But then another time I was unable to use my credit card because of a "suspicious charge" for $1.50. A charge I had actually made. Baffling.

Gary Anderson 1 year ago Contributor's comment

Fascinating discussion of HSBC and international banking glitches. It is also a great argument why going cashless can put travelers at risk in the future.

Vivian Lewis 1 year ago Author's comment

yup