I’d thought long and hard about writing this follow-up blog on South African banking, but given the current state of affairs, I am left with no other option. I HAVE tried to assist my financial services and credit providers in settling my accounts, but I have been willfully obstructed from doing so – with them adding interest and fees on all the late payments. Laughing all the way to the bank methinks – if banks were humans it would be a rather narcissistic thought; them running all the way to themselves.
In Feb/March last year I was retrenched from my job. Luckily I knew I’d taken out credit life insurance on my accounts which covered retrenchment. But, it has been a gruelling, isolating and brick-to-wall-hitting few months – if I, as an informed consumer could struggle so, how much more do our poor, uneducated, struggling South Africans get taken for a ride by South African banks and credit providers? Methinks, the NCR has some digging to do…
CAPITEC – MY SUN AND MOON
My biggest loan before retrenchment had been from Capitec bank which had been in the region of R70k+. I’d initially taken the loan out to settle former debt, and it had been the most pleasant experience. So wouldn’t you know it; my claim for my ENTIRE LOAN was settled within three months of retrenchment. After a harrowing vocational horror this was the best news ever, a bloody cinder block lifted from my shoulders. Especially welcome given that, to date, my UIF had not been addressed or paid out by the Government.
But of course, Capitec is apparently the only financial institution with some ethical orientation – the good vibes end here…
FNB / DIRECT AXIS – THE BANKS THAT KEEP ON TAKING
At the time of writing this blog, I’d just received an email from FNB asking me to pay my Kulula Credit card on which I owe… wait for it… R2845002845.00. Of course, since I don’t have access to my account, have been told after a Paypal mishap that Kulula credit cards aren’t part of FNB at all AND have not received statements for more than four years this seemed rather excessive for an account with a R30 000 credit limit. I was rather perplexed when I was told I had no credit life insurance – given that it had become a requirement for credit providers even before I received my new account, but FNB/kulula wasn’t able to retrieve my recorded voice contract (which is also a legal requirement), stated I’d declined insurance. But, okay, so I let that bygone be a bygone.
↑↑↑↑ Jacob Zuma in his element!
Despite not being able to claim insurance, I’d paid my account every month, and since I’d been a bit in the red, I’d paid no mind to my Kulula Credit Card expiring in November 2017. Perhaps I will have known what I was owing had the card expiry not relinquished my access to my account.
Trying to stay on the right side of the NCR, SA law and my bank, I’d tried to change my contact details with Kulula/FNB as my phone number had changed, but alas, as my account is in arrears, I’m not allowed to change my details in order to allow Kulula/FNB to contact me about my account. Let’s read this slowly… I AM NOT ALLOWED TO ALLOW FNB TO CONTACT ME ABOUT MY ARREARS ACCOUNT BECAUSE I AM NO LONGER ALLOWED TO CHANGE MY CONTACT DETAILS.
Now, I have a Direct Axis loan as well. Until today I’d not realised it was an FNB account – there is, after all, nothing to tell you it is an FNB account. Since my retrenchment claim on the loan had been paid (for six months) and they only send statements once in a blue moon, I’d not been aware that my account was in arrears until this week – and since they’d also had cancelled (not frozen) the debit order on the account from their side I no longer had any payment details for the account. I HAVE received a statement from them today, however, but the statement explicitly asks me to make a payment to ENB. Okay, so I have since realised it’s a typo, but I’d initially tried to pay ENB via my Capitec banking app and even done a search for ENB South Africa. Of course, no such place exists here although there are ENB’s abroad. So, we are supposing they are reffering to FNB here.
Now, please note the additional conundrum; having applied for an FNB account more than a year ago and having cancelled the application before using the account (due to additional irregularities mentioned in my previous blog) – FNB both sees me as a client and NOT A CLIENT. Add to this the fact that Kulula is both an FNB account and not an FNB account and try to talk to their call centre agents who both know who you are and don’t know. I am like Keyser Soze! Or Shrodinger’s cat. I don’t exist. But I do. I owe them, or ENB apparently, but I also am not a client, don’t have a profile, cannot open a new profile and cannot access my existing information.
I had visited the FNB local branch at Tyger Valley a few times and asked to speak to the Branch Manager (the sign to the room says ‘Branch Manager’), but the staff at the branch had informed me that they don’t actually have a branch manager and the sign is just for “show”. It is just a vacant room which is unattended and the branch has no managers.
A big problem in all this, of course, is that my banking and insurance charges are even HIGHER than they’d been before, even though I’d lost all access to my accounts or credit.
O, vei… let’s continue.
NEDBANK / AMERICAN EXPRESS – THE BANKS THAT DON’T KNOW SQUAT
I’d applied for an AMEX credit card a few years ago – obviously having no foresight or knowing of my impending retrenchment, so a rather dumbass move from my side. Nevertheless, on retrenchment I’d filed a claim with AMEX and Nedbank, and after many months of tears, calls, verifications and confusions and with neither of the brands knowing what’s going on, the claim was FINALLY paid.
I’d received intermittent statements via email, but unfortunately the statements don’t give any detail about costs, insurance and so forth. They literally just state what you owe and what charges had been levied. Since I had been retrenched, my access to online banking had also been severed so I had no way of knowing what was actually on with my account
So I decided to visit the branch to get a statement. I’d been confused, in particular, by account, service and insurance charges which, after retrenchment, should have been altered according to my “new” agreement with Nedbank/AMEX. Of course I’d never received a new agreement. The Nedbank consultant also informed me that I was ostensibly no longer deemed a client, and I could no longer get statements from the branch, change any contact details or view policies, changes or any other information.
I raised this query with Nedbank on hellopeter, and what do you know? The consultant told me that I could visit any Nedbank branch to view my account if I wanted to view it – so she told me that I had to return to the branch which had told me I could not access my account to view my account. This after my original complaint had been that I wasn’t able to access my account from the branch.
I hope, dear reader, you’re also reaching for your glass of red wine right now, as this clearly is a remarkable feat of financial fuckery.
What now? How do South African banking clients approach regulators?
There is clearly no upside to all of this, except that I have been trying to accommodate my financiers and have been barred from accessing my accounts. Furthermore, these banks and financial services providers have gone out of their way to refuse me a breakdown of fees. I am a non-entity who has no access to accounts, owes millions, am not allowed to tell them how to contact me and am told to pay banks which don’t exist.
Charming story this. Something the NCR and Ombudsmen will have to deal with in the next few months. But of course, contacting the regulators isn’t that easy either. You will have had to have proven that you’ve tried to resolve issues with your banks and the entire process will take up some additional harrowing time.
But let’s just cover a few rules here, which our banks will have had to be aware of…
Consumer credit and banking rights in South Africa
Yes, yes, if you pay your accounts late you are in the wrong – we all know this. But be aware of these little facts:
- Financial services providers are not allowed to deny you access to your accounts.
- If the information remitted by the FSP or Credit provider is incorrect, then whatever charges they remit to you are also debatable.
- If you have claimed for retrenchment, then your interest, new agreements, available credit, insurance and other obligations should be explained and sent to you – if you are no longer eligible for retrenchment cover your insurance on your previous agreement needs to be altered.
- If your accounts or agreements sent to you are unintelligible, then they can also be deemed unlawful.
- If you are instructed to take particular action to remedy your account and get it up to date and such action is obstructed or prohibited, then your financial services provider is undermining the NCR, NCA, Insurance and Banking regulations, which means your provider is breaching the rules they should abide by.
- Your interest on defaulted payments can be retrieved if your bank, credit provider or FSP has allowed you to access these accounts, recalculated amounts after disputes and allowed you to provide updated contact details.
Take that to the bank!