Brady criticises bank’s customer service manner

September 21, 2010

By Brónagh Murphy

A Newry bank has come under fire from a local MLA who is questioning its policy in relation to testing alleged counterfeit coins and has slammed its ‘complete lack of care’ regarding customer service.

Mickey Brady has blamed the Ulster Bank branch on Hill Street for causing undue upset and embarrassment to one of its customers who had been attempting to lodge a sizeable number of pound coins which she had been saving.  It emerged that the bank staff believed the coins may have been fake and refused to process the lodgement.

However, it was the way in which the customer was treated that has incensed the Sinn Fein Assembly man.

All of the coins bore an image of the Egyptian Arch and, according to Mr Brady, Ulster Bank had been aware that fake coins bearing this image had been in circulation in the area since at least February of this year but did not make this information public knowledge.

The customer in question, who does not wish to be named, said she had been collecting the pound coins with the Egyptian Arch image for more than two years and had no idea some or all of them may be counterfeit.

“The first time I saw one the gentleman who gave it to me told me it would be worth money some day and to hang on to it, so I did, and from then on I always checked through my change in various shops on the lookout for the coins with the Egyptian Arch on the back.  I was also interested as I’m from Newry and it’s a little piece of history from this area,” she explained.

Recently the lady took the coins to the bank to lodge into her account.

“I’ve banked with the Ulster Bank for 18 years and I’ve collected coins and lodged them in the past so I believed it would be very straightforward and the money would go straight into my account.”

However, on examining one of the coins, the teller went into a back room before emerging and informing the customer that they believed all the coins were fake and that they would be sent to its head office for examination.  The customer says she was given no explanation and was made to feel embarrassed and self-conscious in front of other customers who were queueing behind her.

The lady left the bank ‘in a state of shock’ but, on returning home, decided to pursue the case through the bank’s helpline service.

“The original teller didn’t even give me a receipt for the coins I tried to lodge.  I became aware that I had no paper record at all of the transaction and I started panicking that I had lost the £280.  I tried to contact the bank but I couldn’t get through to the branch directly so I explained the case to a lady on a helpline number.  She told me that someone would get back to me but no one did.

“After a few days I went back to the branch and spoke to another teller, he said that he couldn’t comment on the incident but he did get me a written receipt from the first teller I had dealt with.  After that I phoned the Ulster Bank head office.  The person I spoke to there said the matter would be sorted by the following day but when I didn’t hear anything from the bank I went back to the branch, this time to the customer services desk.  I spoke to a lady there who contacted head office there and then and they said that all of the coins had tested as counterfeit.

“I then spoke to one of the managers in Ulster Bank and they told me that the police would now be involved.  I found the whole incident very upsetting and I can’t believe how I was treated by the Ulster Bank.  The lack of customer service was unbelievable especially as I had banked there for so long.”

The lady also pointed out that her neighbour had been told in February that a number of coins bearing the Egyptian Arch image which she had in her possession were not legal tender.

“My friend said that she had four pound coins deemed illegal way back in February.  What I can’t believe is that the bank did nothing to publicise this in any way.  If I had known that in February I would have stopped collecting the coins but I had no way of knowing,” she said.

It was at this stage that the lady contacted her local MLA, Mickey Brady, for advice on the matter.

Mr Brady has berated the bank for not clearly explaining its procedures for testing counterfeit coins to the customer and questioned how one coin could be deemed fake by examining it but the remainder had to be sent to head office for testing.

“The chances of one customer collecting 280 coins over a period of two years and all of them turning out to be fake must be ‘one in a million’, he said.

“This led me to think that perhaps the bank had come across this problem before but if they had, surely the onus was on them to publicise the fact in case people were dealing with illegal coins,” Mr Brady said.

“In any case the way this lady was dealt with by the Ulster Bank is nothing short of disgraceful.  They come across as high handed, arrogant and callous having no regard for the feelings of their customer.

“I am calling on the Ulster Bank to explain their methodology for testing suspect coins.  I am also calling on them to clarify whether coins can be tested in Newry or whether they must go to head office.  Also the Ulster Bank must explain their complete lack of care for this customer and finally and most importantly of all the Ulster Bank has serious questions to answer over the fact that they failed to publicise the fact that counterfeit ‘Egyptian Arch’ pound coins may have been in circulation across the north.”

In response, a spokesperson for Ulster Bank said: “We cannot comment on individual customer cases, however we always endeavour to offer the highest levels of service and aim to resolve any individual customer issues.

“In relation to counterfeit coins, all banks, including Ulster Bank, have a legal obligation to retain any suspected counterfeit coins and report them to the appropriate authorities. We do this in order to help protect our customers and the local communities we serve by removing counterfeit currency from circulation.”