Back in the wild and crazy mid-2000s, when we were all taking out adjustable-rate mortgages on vacation properties in Nunavut, Consumerist reader Matt decided to take advantage of the attractive interest rates on HSBC’s high-yield online savings accounts.
Well, a lot has changed in the years since those glory days. Matt even upped and got married, but he still has that account (though the interest is hovering somewhere south of 1% now), so he figured it couldn’t hurt to add his new bride’s name to it.
As you’ve probably guessed. That didn’t go so smoothly.
The happy couple filled out the required forms to add the wife’s name to the account. It was a few weeks until they finally received a call to go over the documents.
He was a bit alarmed when the rep told him she’d need 10-15 minutes to ask him a series of questions, but he reluctantly went along as she began asking for the usual identifying information — address, last four digits of his SSN, license number — but then things turned a bit odd.
She proceeded to read me a disclosure statement about the Patriot Act, and combating terrorism, before asking me for additional information, including my employment status, my employer’s name, my work phone number, my occupation (I’m an attorney), and the type of legal practice I do (‘large firm, government attorney, small firm, …’).
At that point, I balked and politely asked her whether such inquires were mandated by the Patriot Act (they are not) or HSBC policy (they are). I thanked her for taking reasonable steps to verify my identity before allowing someone else (i.e., my wife) to access to my account, but told her that I didn’t think it was necessary for me to provide these sorts of additional personal information in order to simply add my wife to an existing, low-yield, online savings account (with an embarrassingly small balance, by the way). It’s not even as though I was applying for a line of credit, which might justify them asking for my employment information.
I then politely told her that I understood she was merely doing her job, and that I would consider closing the account. I called HSBC’s customer service line and spoke with a representative whom confirmed that HSBC would not add my wife without my first providing all of the additional information they might ask for in a 10- to 15-minute call.
I don’t begrudge HSBC for wanting to gather personal information with which to market services. After all, they’re not making much money on my savings account. But I do resent that they insist on collecting this sort of information in order to simply add my wife to the account. And worse is their clear effort to imply that I must provide such information in order to comply with the Patriot Act. It’s insincere, unnecessary, and pretty cynical exploitation of people’s fear and sense of civic duty.
Matt now says he’s looking to say “see ya later” to HSBC and is asking the hive mind for suggestions on which financial institution should get what little cash remains in his HSBC savings account. So fire away in the comments.