Chapter 1 - Poor service from Commonwealth Bank
My husband and I, along with our two kids, were happily volunteering at a hostel in San Marcos, Guatemala, our minds focused on making coffee and checking in guests. We made the obligatory visit to San Pedro to the nearest ATM and to our surprise my Australian Commonwealth Bank ATM card would not work. This was slightly problematic as all of our money was essentially in that account. We had a Canadian account but that was only receiving a small amount of money each month and had not been our main focus.
I called the bank and answered their questions; you know the ones - the obligatory pet name, your primary school name, your favourite food or whatever inane question they happened to be set up with. I was greeted by a helpful girl also named Michelle who said that all I needed to do was provide them with a mobile number and they would text me a new pin and reinstate it.
As I did not have a mobile number I contacted my mum who was only too willing to send me my new pin. So I called back with a telephone number only to be told by the person on the phone that this was in fact not correct and the only way to reinstate my card was to visit a local branch. I said I would call back and speak with someone else who may know more.
The third time I got a supervisor who told me that while the first person may have been polite the information was incorrect. They could not reinstate my card because I could not prove who I was. Knowing the ins and outs of my account and my passwords were seemingly not enough. Perhaps I could send a fax! Do we still use faxes these days?!
I am in Guatemala! With 2 kids! A husband! No access to my money which regularly hits the account every week and pay huge international fees for the privilege of accessing my account.
Do we know you are abroad they asked? Well yes I have been travelling for 3 years though South America and up to North America so withdrawals from random places like Colombia, El Salvador or Guatemala were hardly uncommon if they bothered to look at my account.
They were going to transfer me to fraud...5 minutes...10 minutes... 30 minutes... nothing. I hung up and dialled again watching as my Skype dollars were rapidly being swallowed.
Here we go again? Why had they frozen my account? Suspicious activity. Nothing was suspicious on my account - I check it daily as I have always done since I left for our trip. Let me transfer you again. Sorry the fraud department don't want to speak to you. You will have to visit a branch. Excuse me?
We are in Guatemala - North America; not some small town in NSW that would enable us to pop to our local branch. When are you returning to Australia? Well seeing as we are on a 2 year road trip from South America to North America, not any time soon. Sorry we are unable to help you. I swore at them (sorry mum!).
And there it was! No resolution in sight. They wanted me to travel to travel thousands of miles and spend thousands of dollars to reinstate my card of which I had no issue with in the first place.
Chapter 2 - TD Canada Trust hung up on us
So I did what any online entrepreneur would do - changed all of my PayPal payments to my joint account with my husband and sent all of my earnings to his account. We were concerned however as TD Canada Trust had already cancelled one of our cards when we first went to Peru because we were in Peru. But we told you we were going to Peru! There was nothing they could do they said.
Thankfully my card to the joint account was still working. But it meant we were down to one card - panic was slowly setting in. Our credit card had already expired and apparently they don't mail those out - you have to go to the bank in Canada to collect so we had no back up if the ATM card failed to work.
On the day in question we had spent a couple of hours touring around Tikal with a guide before our plan to cross the border to Belize on the way to Mexico. Insufficient funds the first ATM machine said - and the second. But that definitely wasn't right. The third ATM machine spat it out with no comment at all.
We had $20 in our pocket and no place to stay for the night - no access to our money and no backup thanks to the abysmal service offered by our Australian bank.
My husband tried calling them from an Internet Cafe while I sat in Burger King minding the kids. Of course that wouldn't work as it was MY card to OUR account. Obviously a huge difference to them but not to us. I was in no mood to speak to them. Did I give my permission for my husband to speak to the bank about our joint bank account. Well of course, it's a joint bank account. Can you let us know one of the recent transactions from your account? From our checking account or savings account we asked...and the line went dead! They hung up on us.
It was the second bank who didn't care that we had no money to feed our kids.
We called back. And went through it all again. Do you do online banking? Well no I don't.
And there it was...
Sorry we are unable to help you. We cannot verify who you are so you will have to visit a branch to get a new card.
We are in Guatemala. We have no money to fly to Canada. We have no money for our hotel tonight. We have no money for dinner. Sorry we are unable to help. This time I did not swear. I was scared. The line went dead.
Chapter 3 - Taking the matter in our own hands
We were stuck - neither bank cared that we had no fraudulent activity on our cards. Neither bank cared we were not in our respective country's in which the banks reside. Neither cared we had no long-term access to our money. Both failed to offer quality customer service and aid our plight.
We transferred some money to a friend who was able to send us money via Western Union. Today my husband has booked a flight to Canada for next week from Mexico to sort out the issue. $500 wasted because they were not there when we needed them. The kids and I will stay behind in Mexico in a pre-paid apartment while he tries to sort it out and spends our hard-earned money chasing the banks.
This is the inefficient state of banking these days. In a world where things are meant to be easier - often they are not. In a world where access to our money should be simple, it can be cancelled by the banks at the drop of the hat without a care in the world. As long as they have a bed for the night or food on the table; why should they care about a travelling family part way around the world.
Let's hope we are able to find a more empathetic bank who understand that popping into the local account is not as easy as it sounds.
Despite the idiocy of banks we are resolute in our strive to live happily ever after!