Senedd Committee accuses HSBC of treating Welsh speakers with ‘contempt’
HSBC has been accused of treating Welsh speakers with contempt in a strongly worded letter written by MSs who dispute several of the bank’s reasons for cancelling its Welsh language customer phone line.
The letter, signed by Committee Chair Delyth Jewell, questions a number of HSBC’s claims and calls for it to overturn its decision to axe the Welsh phone service which has been described as a “lifeline” for Welsh speaking to customers
The Senedd’s Culture, Communications, Welsh Language, Sport, and International Relations Committee penned the letter to HSBC bosses following its evidence session with José Carvalho, Head of Wealth and Personal Banking last week.
In November, HSBC announced it would no longer be offering a Welsh speaking customer service phone line because of a “steady decline” in its usage.
The bank said 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 call to its English-speaking lines.
Following the news, Managing Director of Wealth and Personal Banking, Oliemata O’Donoghue wrote to several MSs explaining that if a customer requests support in Welsh, they will receive a call back by a Welsh speaking advisor “within three working days”.
However, in the letter to HSBC the Senedd committee said this is a “misrepresentation of the facts” because of the Welsh calls that HSBC receives, 94 per cent are not being answered in Welsh, despite speakers requesting to use the service.
The letter by the Committee states: “We believe that this shows a level of contempt towards HSBC’s customers, and that the bank’s language and rationale surrounding the decision to close the Service has been disingenuous.
“The effect of HSBC’s actions has been to push Welsh speakers out by stealth. To suggest that the decision to close the Service was taken because of a decline in usage is a misrepresentation of the facts and, as a result of this, we would reiterate our calls for HSBC to reconsider the decision to close the Service in the strongest terms.”
The Senedd Members involved in quizzing Mr Carvalho last week also raised concerns about vulnerable customers in the letter.
The bank said it had identified 85 “vulnerable” Welsh speaking customers out of approximately 600,000 HSBC customers in Wales – This is 0.01 per cent of the bank’s Welsh customer base.
In the letter, MSs dispute this “particularly low figure” and ask for assurances from HSBC that vulnerable customers are being “identified correctly”.
The committee also said a three day wait for a call back is “unacceptable” for vulnerable customers who may have an “urgent banking matter, such as paying an energy bill, or resolving a financial penalty on an account”.
The letter also stated that waiting for a call back would place vulnerable customers at “increased risk” of being exposed to harm, like “data theft or scamming”.
The Committee said that despite quizzing Mr Carvalho, they had not received the “reassurances necessary to provide confidence that the decision to close the service is appropriate or safe, particularly for vulnerable customers.”
The letter stated: “As a Committee, we were not convinced by your answers that sufficient consideration has been given to such potential scenarios by HSBC. This shows a significant lack of empathy on the bank’s behalf.
“We think that efforts must be made urgently to ensure that vulnerable customers are not at a disadvantage compared with those customers who are able to bank more easily via different methods. As such, we would implore HSBC, as we and others have stated, to overturn its decision to close the existing service.”
Committee Chair Delyth Jewell detailed a number of suggested changes to be put in place in order to protect vulnerable HSBC customers. These were:
- A guarantee that they will receive a Welsh language callback within one business day.
- A guarantee that a pre-arranged time will be provided for a callback.
- A guarantee that they will receive a minimum of three callbacks should the first callback not be answered.
- A guarantee that vulnerable customers who cannot fulfil the security requirements for a callback from the bank will be given additional specialist support from the bank.
The Committee also disputed the bank’s reasoning for not being able to provide a Welsh language version of their banking app.
In the Senedd last week, Mr Carvalho told MSs it’s not “…as simple as translating the app”. However, the Committee said it has since been confirmed to them that the app is available in different languages across the world.
The letter states: “We were not convinced by the reasons given as to why it wasn’t possible to create a Welsh version of the HSBC banking app. As was outlined, it is indeed possible to do this, but it would seem that HSBC has chosen not to make this investment in Welsh.
“As was the case with the bank’s inability to successfully answer calls from Welsh speakers, we are concerned that the bank is also handling technological change poorly and with complete disregard for its customer needs.”
Ms Jewell signed off the letter saying: “We were born speaking different languages in Wales, and we are still living and speaking different languages. It is vital, especially for those who are vulnerable in Wales, that they are not disadvantaged by having to wait three days to be able to speak to a Welsh language agent.
“As we have outlined repeatedly in this letter, we implore HSBC to reconsider its decision and reflect on its own words that the bank better reflects the worlds of its customers and communities.
“Should the bank’s existing position remain unchanged, we would urge HSBC to take action on the changes we have outlined in this letter. A failure to do so would in effect mean that HSBC’s commitments to Wales and the Welsh language are redundant.”
Committee member Tom Giffard MS added: “HSBC left the committee meeting having answered very few questions, and leaving us with even more than when we started.
“HSBC has offered a poor service to Welsh language customers for a long time so it’s little wonder customers have turned their bank on the service.
The bank’s solution to the problem they created is to propose an even poorer service in the future to compensate.
The committee was unanimous in calling for HSBC to reconsider its’ decision, and that unanimity is shared by all Welsh Conservative MSs.”
HSBC UK spokesperson said: “We remain committed to supporting our Welsh language customers, but due to the extremely low level of calls into our dedicated Welsh-speaking line – fewer than 2 dozen calls a day on average – we need to make changes.
“If a customer does want to speak with a Welsh speaker, that still can be arranged. We will also continue to have Welsh speaking colleagues in half our Welsh branches and will continue to respond to customer correspondence in Welsh.
“We have already committed to providing further information to the Committee, and will be writing to them shortly.”
Support our Nation today
For the price of a cup of coffee a month you can help us create an independent, not-for-profit, national news service for the people of Wales, by the people of Wales.