Don’t Want My Business

I had something of a fright this morning. I tried to buy an App for my iPhone and my credit card was declined. This can’t have been any sort of data entry error as I’d bought many Apps before, and the card was good until May, so I figured there might have been a fraud problem and fired up a computer check my account.

Worryingly, my credit card account was missing from my online banking details. I eventually worked out that RBS has set up a new and entirely separate online banking system for credit cards and I needed to open an account in that as well, but when I tried to I was told that my card didn’t exist.

Very worried now, I tried to call customer services. Skype told me that the phone number I was using, which I got from the RBS web site, did not exist.

At this point I was beginning to think that I had accidentally fallen into an episode of The Twilight Zone, but I checked my last statement and found that RBS had the wrong number for their customer support service on their web site. I called the right number, and after a long time on hold (at 18c/min) I eventually got through to a human being.

“Oh,” said the nice lady, “your account has been canceled. We don’t do that sort of card any more.”

This was, of course, news to me. It eventually transpired that notice of the termination of the account had been given in one of those “variation of terms” notices that banks send out at regular intervals to tell you that your APR has gone up and all of the benefits they promised you when you signed up for the card are gradually being withdrawn. There was nothing on the statements themselves, and I know they have the technology to add special messages. Conclusion: RBS does not want me as a credit card customer any more.

And to be honest, I’m not surprised. I am, after all, one of those annoying people who pay off their bills on time and don’t run up massive debts that cost me a fortune in interest payments. For a UK bank, that makes me a very bad customer.

At the risk of sounding like an old fogey, this sort of thing worries me. We have got so used, as a society, to having everything very cheap or free that for businesses to make money out of us they have to resort to subterfuge. That might mean banks offering very cheap credit in the hope you’ll get into debt; it might mean utility companies having direct debit deals under which they always take more money that you owe so that they are getting free loans from you; it might mean RyanAir offering ludicrously cheap flights but then nickel-and-diming you for everything thereafter; and it might mean electronics companies trying to con you into very expensive and worthless extended warranties when you buy new equipment. It is a daft way to be doing business, and it thoroughly destroys any trust between business and consumer.

Anyway, I now need a new UK credit card. I don’t want to have one, because UK banks have no real fraud protection (they claim that they do, but if you read the small print you find that they can get out of any claim). I would much rather use my US cards. But many UK retailers either won’t accept a card that doesn’t have the chip-and-pin security theater system, or in the case of online purchases won’t accept a card that isn’t registered at a UK address, so UK card is pretty much a necessity.

I’m thinking I might go to Amex. I know there are stores than don’t accept them, but I’ve been very impressed with their service in the US and they do appear to be still in the business of providing credit cards, not in the business of encouraging consumer debt.

10 thoughts on “Don’t Want My Business

  1. You might try the cooperative bank – I’ve found them pretty good – less snaeky then most, and they’ve been good at sorting things out when there have been problems. I’ve had a card with them for 10 years now, and always paid it off on time, so (touch wood) not sure that’s a problem.

  2. If a retailer won’t take your US cards, then try reporting them to Visa International (assuming they’re Visa cards). I’m pretty sure it’s a breach of their merchant agreement to decline a valid card (or rather, it’s a breach of their bank’s agreement with Visa for the bank to allow its customers to decline valid cards).

  3. Amex only does credit cards reluctantly; they’re really in the business of providing charge cards, not credit cards.

    1. That doesn’t worry me. I’m not looking to run up huge debts. I want a means of payment that, as Kendall notes below, will fight my corner in case of any disputes, and which has real fraud protection not a bunch of flimsy lies. I’m happy to pay for that.

  4. Cheryl: I’m amazed they would sneak a “your cards going away” into a terms/conditions/APR update notice! Wow, that totally bites. I expect a special notice here in the U.S. for something like that…but I’m not sure if it’s required here or not.

    Mike: I was going to mention that about AmEx, too (more charge than credit). Plus annual fee, ugh. But I love AmEx. 🙂 Also they are very good when it comes to dispute resolution, IME. And for someone like Cheryl who doesn’t cary debt, they’re a great choice. (I think they also have a more credit-card-oriented piece of plastic but I’m only familiar with their traditional card.)

    There should be some way of putting multiple addresses on a card for the purposes of buying country-restricted (YUCK!) “content”…. Not that I have a UK address to use, but I was bummed that I couldn’t buy a song from that isn’t available in the USA, just last night. I hate these stupid content restrictions, especially for content that isn’t available (and “they” have no plans to make available) in one’s own country.

    (Sorry to ramble….)

    1. The UK address thing is nothing to do with content. It is because most UK web sites use the postal code as the primary key when validating addresses. It is basically very sloppy web site design – like the sites that won’t let you enter a phone number unless it is in the standard US format.

      1. Ah! Gotcha. Having hit the “you can’t buy that content ‘cuz you live in the wrong part of the world” thing yesterday, I’m briefly obsessed by it. 😉

  5. Amex is getting less and less widely accepted in the UK, unfortunately… a lot of retailers don’t want to have the hassle of their transaction charges.

    If all else fails, for the last year or two there have been pre-paid UK credit cards that you can transfer funds to and use the same way as a normal credit card – I’m not sure what the fraud protection measures are, though, beyond the balance expiring once the pre-paid funds have run out.

    1. When I was in high school, AmEx was taken more than Visa in Venezuela, which was good for me at the time. I heard at the time the reason was that they reduced or waived fees outside the USA–at least, in some countries–to get more businesses to take them…I don’t know if any of that was accurate. (I know this is kinda tangential since Venezuela the UK.)

  6. I’m in a weird inverse of this. I’ve 3 UK credit cards I never use and a bank account I now can’t use because NatWest have, for security reasons, been withdrawing virtually all of the ways of me interacting with them from the US.

    I’ve just realised I leave for the UK on Wednesday and don’t actually have a valid Debit Card. If I can, I’ll need to get into a NatWest branch and try and get it fixed.

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