Call for HSBC to reverse decision to cancel Welsh language telephone service
Urgent calls have been made for HSBC to reverse the decision to cut its Welsh language telephone service.
The bank announced earlier this week that after an in-depth review it found the Welsh speaking line was “no longer being fully utilised” with only 22 calls each day – compared to 18,000 to its English-speaking lines.
As a consequence, from 15 January 2024, only English-speaking agents will be available to answer any calls from the bank’s customers.
Politicians were informed of the decision to axe the service by letter on Wednesday (8 November).
Plaid Cymru submitted an urgent question to the Welsh Government in the Senedd as well as contacting the Welsh Language Commissioner.
The party has also requested a meeting with HSBC in Westminster.
In a statement the Welsh Language Commissioner, Efa Gruffudd Jones appeared to suggest the bank hadn’t done enough to recruit Welsh language speakers despite them being given guidance on how to do so.
She said: “In our discussions with HSBC we have been offering advice on how to recruit Welsh speakers and encouraging them to better promote the Welsh language line but there is no evidence that this has happened which again is disappointing.”
Long time customer, Ann John has banked with HSBC since 1975 when she was a student living in Aberystwyth.
She said: “I have used the Welsh language telephone service for a long time and continue to do so despite having been a Premier customer for some years but it became apparent some years ago that it was in decline.
“The standard response became that a Welsh speaker wasn’t available but someone could phone me back. It was very irritating but at least the calls were answered by Welsh staff, based in Swansea, who would often apologise and say they were learning and wished they could speak Welsh.
“They would explain that efforts were being made to recruit more Welsh speakers. In an effort to be constructive, I asked what was being done eg had HSBC considered contacting Welsh medium secondary schools to raise awareness of jobs being available and requested that this suggestion was passed on.
“As things became worse, I became annoyed and, on being told a Welsh speaker wasn’t available, I would say I wished to make a complaint. A manger would ring and make the usual excuse about recruitment difficulties – but on each occasion had to admit that no approach had been made to schools, advertisements had not been placed in branches in Wales or recruitment events been considered.
“I am of the view that ending the Welsh language service because of “a steady decline in its usage“ is a pathetic attempt at justification.”
Plaid Cymru’s Welsh language spokesperson, Heledd Fychan MS, and Department for Culture, Media and Sport spokesperson, Ben Lake MP, said HSBC’s decision to axe the service was a “huge disappointment”.
In a statement they said: “The service, for many of their customers, is a vital resource.
We are seeing a large number of their high-street banks closing, cash services being restricted, and now this Welsh language service being abolished.
“Many customers use HSBC because of its Welsh language phone service, and it is true to say that the bank has not done enough to promote it.
“This is a big blow to their customers in Wales especially their older customers, and those who don’t have access to digital technology. The bank’s pledge to ‘arrange a call back in Welsh, within 3 working days’ is not only insensitive to the financial pressures some people will face, this is dangerous.
“For many, accessing their bank through Welsh is not a ‘choice’. They say they ‘have confirmed that all customers can bank in English.’ This is not true. HSBC now needs to reverse this decision, and move towards promoting Welsh-medium services.”
In a letter sent to Welsh politicians, Managing Director of Wealth and Personal Banking at HSBC UK, Oliemata O’Donoghue explained why the bank had taken the decision.
Ms O’Donoghue said: “We recognise that for some customers, banking in Welsh is still their preference, so we can arrange a call-back in Welsh, within three working days, to help with any questions they may have.
“Whilst we understand it is not their first choice, we have confirmed that all customers are able to bank in English. We appreciate change can be difficult, and therefore we have created an outreach programme to support specific customers who hold vulnerabilities or call frequently.”
“This will involve a personalised call to advise them of this change, how they can continue to contact us, including alternative ways to bank with us, and addressing any specific concerns they may have.
Ms O’Donoghue added that HSBC provides Welsh speaking colleagues in half of its Welsh branches with some of branches in Wales offering a full translation service.
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