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28 February 2023

How is the customer service at your bank?

Thousands of complaints have been received by banks about staff behaviour in the past two years.

Over 3000 consumers across Aotearoa complained to their banks about inappropriate staff behaviour in 2021. The following year, nearly 2500 complained during the first three quarters of 2022. The Banking Ombudsman received 324 direct complaints about inappropriate staff behaviour over these years.

“Poor service can shake a customer’s confidence in their bank, particularly if they feel they haven’t been treated with respect… inappropriate behaviour is often most keenly felt in face-to-face interactions, with one in five complaints involving a branch visit,” a spokesperson at the Banking Ombudsman told Consumer.

In Consumer’s 2022 Banking Survey, only 44% of respondents were very satisfied with how their bank dealt with problems and complaints.

Asb experience

In June last year, I went to my local branch of ASB to close my overdraft. I’d had my interest-free overdraft for a few years on and off. It was a safety net when I was studying, when I was between jobs, and during an unexpected flat move. Although I thought of my overdraft as something for emergencies, most of the time I had it maxed out.

After graduating, my overdraft started earning interest. So, I started saving most of my pay checks to finally get rid of it and feel more on top of my finances – even if it left me feeling a little financially vulnerable.

When I did finally have enough money to close the overdraft, I was left with less than $200 until my next fortnightly pay.

The day I visited ASB I spoke with an ASB customer service representative working one of the desks and told him I wanted to close my overdraft. I said I had just started working again and so no longer needed my overdraft. I was questioned about this choice, and he recommended keeping it just in case I needed it. I knew I no longer wanted it because the temptation to overspend was too much, so I pushed against his advice.

We managed to successfully close it, and then he started talking about KiwiSaver.

KiwiSaver works so that every year, come June 30th, if you’ve contributed $1042.86 the government will put a contribution of $521.43 into your KiwiSaver as well. This contribution lessens if yours does – 50 cents to every dollar. This is what the ASB rep explained to me, being as it was close to the end of our financial year. However, I had not contributed much towards my KiwiSaver that year because I hadn’t been working for most of it.

I’d have needed to contribute over $400 in little over a week to be eligible for the full government contribution. I had less than $200 in my bank account – which the ASB rep could see on screen. However, he continued to press the importance of making the most of this government contribution, so much so that I felt like missing out on it was harmful.

After reiterating for the third time that it just wasn’t possible to get that kind of money together, he suggested asking my parents for money, dating someone rich or playing the lotto. While it could be argued some of these may have been jokes, coming from someone managing my money and giving financial advice it didn’t strike me as funny.

I had imagined leaving the bank that day would have felt good – stoked with the achievement of closing my overdraft. Instead, I left feeling uncomfortable and unable to celebrate my small payoff. Suddenly being reminded of how little money I had in such an unempathetic way, felt dismissive of my situation. Not to mention the feeling of loss and embarrassment at being unable to secure an investment in my future.

Overall, I found the entire experience to be avoidable. While I understand the value in securing most of the government’s contribution, the tone-deaf advice from the customer service representative didn't help me.

Not many New Zealanders can afford to contribute to their KiwiSaver casually, primarily because any money they do have is needed for other more urgent things. Paying their rent or mortgage, bills, for transport, food, insurance, necessities – these all take priority over a largely untouchable fund (except in cases of significant financial hardship). Trying to find emergency money through family, dating or gambling is not only unrealistic but harmful advice, especially when it is for an investment.

I ended up filing a complaint that evening after whānau and friends confirmed the customer rep's advice wasn’t appropriate. I was sent a formal apology and received a voicemail message with another apology and reassurances that the employee would be spoken to and reviewed. When I followed up with this recently, ASB told me they are dedicated to the best customer service and complete regular observations and employee reviews.

When Consumer reached out to ASB for this story they said they’re committed to improving New Zealanders’ financial wellbeing. Making the most of the KiwiSaver government contribution each year can add $25,000 to one’s retirement fund.

The spokesperson said in 2021, almost 125,000 ASB KiwiSaver members made extra contributions in the month before the end of the financial year.

How to make a complaint about your bank

First, complain to your bank. Generally, you can do this online or by phone.

If you are dissatisfied with your bank’s response to your complaint, or don’t feel comfortable discussing the issue directly with your bank on your own, you can reach out to the Ombudsman.

Once you’ve filed your complaint, the Ombudsman will assign you a case manager and begin to investigate your case. They will then try to facilitate an agreement between you and your bank. If an agreement cannot be struck, they will make a decision which is binding, if you agree to it.

Public Interest Journalism Funded through NZ On Air.

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Bank complaints templates

Our templates set out how to write to your bank about disputed credit card purchases, ATM withdrawals or stolen cheques, and how to approach the Banking Ombudsman if you need help resolving a dispute.

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