HSBC figures out clever money-making strategy: don’t email statement until after payment is due

By | February 11, 2011

My wife and I have a Jordan’s Furniture charge account issued by HSBC NV, a somewhat shady subsidiary of HSBC with a history of predatory lending and suspicious practices. They issue “private label” charge accounts for Jordan’s and many other retailers.

We have a balance on the account under one of their frequent “buy now, pay later with no interest” promotions, which they offer to virtually anyone who is eligible for a charge account. As long as we make the minimum monthly payments on time and pay off the entire balance before the end of the promotion, we will pay no interest. However, if we are late for just one payment, the promotion is canceled automatically and we have to pay a high interest rate retroactively back to the day we made the purchase.

We are signed up for paperless billing on the account. Instead of sending us a paper statement every month, they post our statement on their Web site and send us email notifying us that it’s available.

Several months ago, that email never arrived. I aggressively scoured the logs on my email server and could find no evidence that it had ever been sent. Fortunately, I have an automated process that warns me when I’m about to be late paying one of my credit cards, so I was able to make the required payment on time despite never being notified of its due date.

But how many consumers don’t have such a process? How many consumers ended up paying a late fee and retroactive, high interest because HSBC never told them a payment was due? Does anybody want to place odds on whether HSBC proactively told their customer service representatives to be on the lookout for people who call about this and to refund the late fee and restore the promotion for anyone who complains? I think that’s highly unlikely. Rather, I think that anyone who called about this probably got the runaround for hours and hours, with HSBC hoping that they would just give up.

Note that the CARD Act requires card issues to send statements at least 21 days prior to the payment due date.

I didn’t complain about this the first time it happened, because while I was pretty certain that I never received the email, I wasn’t positive about it, and I certainly couldn’t prove that the missing email wasn’t my fault (how do you prove a negative?). Then, HSBC really stepped in it.

This month, I once again didn’t receive an on-time email payment-due notification. Note that I said on-time. I did receive a notification, but it came five days after the payment due date. And the headers of the message make it clear that it wasn’t delayed in transit — it wasn’t even sent until five days after the due date.

With the proof I needed in hand, I filed a complaint with the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), which oversees national banks such as HSBC NV.

A day later, I received a second email payment-due notification from HSBC, again for the payment that was actually due several days ago. This one, however, said “Your latest Saks Credit Card Statement is Available Online”. As noted above, it’s a Jordan’s card, not a Saks card. Nice screw-up, HSBC!

A few seconds after that, I received a third email payment-due notification for the same past due date. Don’t you just love it?

Do you think the OCC will do anything about this? I don’t. *sigh*

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4 thoughts on “HSBC figures out clever money-making strategy: don’t email statement until after payment is due

  1. Pingback: HSBC takes its queue from the “we’re a large corporation and we don’t care about you” playbook « Something better to do

  2. MJ

    Hi, Jik. I got these, too, and the dates seemed very suspicious to me since they didn’t match my cycle. I also got three of them, for “credit card,” “retail services”, and “Saks.” I made the payment but it felt wrong. This morning I received yet another statement, this time back in line with my cycle, and with no minimum payment due because the one I’d just paid was applied. I don’t think this is predatory, I think this is just a grand computer screwup. Of course, searching to find out if it was a known problem brought me right to you. 🙂

    1. jik Post author

      Hi MJ. I think you may very well be right that the missing and late statement notifications may be attributable to stupidity rather than malice, but they’re part of an ongoing pattern, so even if at first it was unintentional, the fact that they have failed to address the situation would tend to suggest that they really don’t care about their own incompetence (and violation of the law) causing their customers grief.

      They’ve never notified customers about the problem, which would seem to be required after a screw-up as big as failing to email statements to a large number of customers.

      Furthermore, I don’t know about you, but I’m willing to bet any amount of money that they didn’t automatically waive the late-payment penalties for everyone whose statement wasn’t mailed or was mailed late, and that, too, would seem to be required after a screw-up like this one. Instead, I think it’s rather likely that they only waived the penalties for people who called and complaint, and even that probably after arguing with them for a long time and trying to convince them that it was their fault, not HSBC’s.

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