Decision to scrap Welsh language phone line is ‘final’ – HSBC
HSBC is refusing to backtrack on plans to axe its Welsh language phone line saying the decision announced earlier this month is “final”.
The bank notified Rhun ap Iorwerth of its decision in a letter after the leader of Plaid Cymru urged them to reconsider its move.
Earlier this month, HSBC announced it will no longer be offering a Welsh speaking customer service phone line based on a claim that there had been a drop in users.
From January 15th 2024, only English-speaking agents will be available to answer any customers banking with HSBC.
Urgent calls were made by several Senedd Members who wrote to the bank calling for bosses to reconsider their decision to scrap the service which has been described as a “lifeline” for Welsh speakers.
Mr ap Iorwerth said after he wrote to the bank expressing his concerns, he received a response which began with: “‘Whilst I understand this decision is difficult, it is final”.
The Plaid Cymru leader is now urging HSBC and other banks to look to expand Welsh language provision particularly as more branches close and “turn their backs” on Welsh communities.
Mr ap Iorwerth said: “This decision is extremely concerning, and I am particularly disappointed by the bank’s reluctance to re-consider the decision to date.
“I myself have been a customer of HSBC for years and have used the Welsh telephone line significantly – although my recent experience has seen increasingly more calls being directed to the English line.
“They say the number of users has fallen, but advertising the line is very rare in my experience, and therefore hardly surprising, and by no means a sufficient reason to make the decision.
“As HSBC, like the other big banks, have turned their back on our Welsh communities across Anglesey and Wales in recent years, being able to bank by telephone in Welsh is vital for many – particularly vulnerable customers – in the absence of being able to discuss financial issues face to face. To lose that is a devastating blow.
“Our banks should be moving towards expanding Welsh-language banking services – including an online option, not taking further services away from their customers who wish to bank in their preferred language.”
The bank has claimed 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 calls to its English-speaking lines.
Mr ap Iorwerth added: “The explanation I have received so far is neither sufficient nor reassuring that customers will be able to continue banking freely in the medium of Welsh.
“While there has been a lot of movement into online banking in recent years, our needs as customers and communities in Wales have remained consistent.
“But it’s clear that HSBC no longer understands or is sympathetic to those needs, and that reflects very poorly on them. I implore them to look again at the decision.”
Dr Gareth Hughes, a customer of HSBC from Anglesey, said he felt the bank has ignored the Welsh language for some years.
He said: “As a customer of HSBC (and previously Midland Bank) for over 50 years and a user of the Welsh language phone line, I find this announcement a matter of considerable disappointment, especially given the bank’s past history of supporting and promoting the Welsh language.
“I feel that they have ignored the Welsh language service for some years and certainly over the last two years as my calls to the service have gone straight to monolingual English speakers on every occasion, and very often those staff say they know nothing about Welsh language provision.
“Is it therefore surprising that the figures put forward by HSBC show small numbers of Welsh enquirers? I think the numbers are far lower than the actual demand for the service.
“To add insult to injury, we were informed of the decision through the medium of English only. We have had to endure the disappearance of the branches of the Bank from rural Wales and now we are witnessing the demise of any attempt to use and respect the Welsh language!”
In a letter sent to MSs, Managing Director of Wealth and Personal Banking at HSBC UK, Oliemata 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 3 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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