The Great Westpac Heist


Image: The Daily Telegraph.

I may be exaggerating by calling this incident a great heist, but it was, to say the least, annoying. It’s also a lesson in how to lose a customer stupidly and unnecessarily.

I was running some errands in the city last Wednesday and stopped at the WestPac on the corner of Collins and Swanston to use the ATM. Although the sign says that all international credit cards are welcome, when I fed it my Bank of America Visa card, the ATM screen went blank, appeared to reboot, and I couldn’t retrieve my credit card. I didn’t want to leave the ATM in case it did reboot or it spit out my card. I dialed Westpac’s customer service number, but couldn’t reach a person. After a few minutes, I decided to go inside the bank.

The two people at the front desk asked for ID, which is reasonable, but the only form of ID they would accept is my passport, which I don’t carry with me. I suppose the reason for this strict policy is in case some other short, fat, curly-haired, 35-year-old Cuban-American named Cosette also tried to claim a Bank of America Visa at that precise Westpac branch and at that exact moment.

I understand policies and procedures. I’ve created and implemented a fair few. They’re good things, meant to protect your interests and those of your customers. But putting your common sense entirely away and treating policies and procedures as if they are unquestionably true principles is a sure way to commit the very mistakes you’re trying to avoid. Employees need to be flexible and managers need to empower them to make the right decisions, not just blindly follow a set of rules that won’t apply to every situation. My American driver’s license and perhaps another credit should have been enough to confirm my identity.

Because I didn’t want to return all the way to the city, Sarah at the front desk offered to mail the card to my nearest branch. I didn’t like the idea of my credit card just out there in the post and wondered how long that would take anyway, but she clarified she would overnight it using Westpac’s internal email. Someone from my local Westpac branch would call me the next day when the card was ready for pick-up.

The next day rolled around, but the phone call never came. After lunch, I decided to check in with Westpac. I called my local branch and got its voicemail. This never happened to me in the USA and I hope it’s not becoming a trend, but it’s common here for you to call a customer service number and get a message that says, “We’re too busy to talk to you. Leave a voicemail message and we’ll call you back. Except we’ll never call you back.” I left a voicemail message, six of them actually between the two Westpac branches. Nobody called me back.

I called Westpac’s main customer service number and the rep told me there was nothing he could do and suggested I cancel the Visa card. After calling him four times in a row (hanging up when the voicemail came on and calling again), I got a hold of the manager of the local branch. He said nothing had come in, but he’d call the CBD branch and check, and call me back. He never called me back.

Friday morning, I had no idea where my credit card was. I called the CBD branch and miraculously got a hold of a person, Polly, the only really helpful Westpac employee I spoke with. She said my card was there (Sarah never mailed it out) and it was a good thing I called because it would have been destroyed later that day. So into the city I went with my passport and finally retrieved my card.

I don’t bank at Westpac. I bank at Citibank, which is partners with Westpac, and that’s why I use Westpac’s ATMs. Additionally, I was there to make a deposit into someone else’s account, someone who does bank at Westpac. After this incident, I probably won’t ever bank there unless they decide to inject some common sense and actual customer service into their policies.




  1. There’s nothing worse than a firm making you a promise and then not following through. Apart from showing the terrible Customer Services, you can waste time waiting in for calls that don’t materialise or spend hours trying to get through to a person.Over here it’s very often an Indian call centre that you get through to. Understanding accents isn’t my forte and I end up more frustrated than ever.
    Firms need customers to tell them their service isn’t up to scratch as much as the staff that do a good job need complimenting and being commended to their managers.
    xxx Huge Hugs xxx

    • Being from Miami, I’m used to hearing a lot of different accents and don’t mind foreign call centers. I’ve received good and bad service for both local and outsourced reps. With Westpac, it was all local and it was mostly terrible. I’m glad it got resolved in the end though. And you’re very right about giving good feedback when you get good service. Thanks for your comments!

  2. Oh wow that is awful! I refuse to have an account with most banks due to the shocking customer service here which is only getting worse and worse. I discovered the joys of credit unions and the amazing customer service they provide and I wont be going back!

  3. It sounds like a nightmare! Terrible customer service or, should I say, no customer service!

  4. It just seems that the rest of the world doesn’t really abide by American customer service norms. Or at least in your experience in Australia, do you find you have received good customer service? Because I know for a fact it was non-existent in Spain haha.

    • It varies. I find the face-to-face customer service in most retail shops to be excellent. Phone service tends to be pretty bad. It’s pretty bad in the USA too, but although I’ve experienced long hold times, I’ve never gotten a “leave a message and we’ll call you back” voicemail. I think restaurant service in Melbourne is pretty awful by American standards.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge