It’s always the customer’s fault


ISMAIL was relating to me a bizarre sequence of events and his frustrations at the inability of the system to solve them. On March 15 of this year, he had gone to a leading bank and wired some money to his account in the US. There were certain monthly financial obligations to be dispensed with, and a few days after this transaction, he wrote checks against this account and dutifully mailed them.

Three weeks later, the bank in the US advised him that they were receiving checks against his account, but he had insufficient funds to cover them. They had no recourse but to send them back and slap him with a $40 fee for every check returned unpaid. Furthermore, overseas phone call charges were going to be debited against his account. Ismail was surprised. Hadn’t his last wire transfer arrived? No, there had been no recent credits to his account, the branch manager assured him.

Disturbed and angry, Ismail made his way first thing the next morning to the local bank, and demanded to speak to the branch manager. After explaining his dilemma to the manager, Ismail was perturbed by the casual attitude of the individual, who said he would look into it. The bank would send an email to their corresponding bank in New York and run a trace. Three more days passed, more checks were arriving at his bank to be paid, more were being returned, and $40 was being slapped for every transaction.

Frustrated, he made his way back to the same branch again, and confronted the manager this time a little more vocally. Once again, the classic runaround whereby the manager informed him that New York had still not responded to the email. Why not pick a phone and talk to your corresponding branch, Ismail vented? After all, in this day and age of blazing speed communications, many instant forms of communication were available. ‘Oh, that would be against company rules’ was the reply.

As Ismail continued in his futile attempts to explain his dilemma to the branch manager, the response was that it was out of his hands, the fault being with the head office! The head office, Ismail wondered. ‘And what do I have to do with it. I brought my money here at this branch, and paid you to send it’, ignoring the implication of the manager to go to the head office at a great inconvenience to himself, and seek answers to his questions. Already twenty-seven days had passed, and the money was still floating somewhere with no solution in sights, and no sympathetic ear to be found.

With some indignation, the manager pointed out to the fine print on the back of the wire transfer request. Basically, it stated that the bank was not liable for failure or negligence to provide the service, and any delays or inconvenience would have to be shouldered by the customer. The small writing on the back absolved the bank’s liability for Ismail’s dilemma.

By the time I heard this story, my blood pressure was up as well. Upon locating the branch manager here and suggesting that I could go public with Ismail’s story, I was able to generate some increased activity on the bank’s attempt to locate my friend’s money. After it was finally traced to having been deposited to a wrong account at a wrong bank, the fault was corrected. The mistake was cast upon the shoulders of a poor Pakistani clerk at the head office who had sent the original email. It’s always the poor little Pakistani who’s at fault, isn’t it?

What about a consumer protection agency or a better business bureau, Ismail wondered as I assured him that his problem was finally solved, albeit with penalties imposed on his account of well over $600 and the ire of his US bank.

— The author can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @talmaeena