20 September 2019
Standard Chartered has been accused of being too aggressive sometimes in chasing consumer business in Hong Kong. Photo: Bloomberg
Standard Chartered has been accused of being too aggressive sometimes in chasing consumer business in Hong Kong. Photo: Bloomberg

A standard but not chartered card experience

Standard Chartered is well-known in Hong Kong not only because of the annual Marathon race that it sponsors, but also due to its marathon efforts to sell people anything from credit cards to personal loans.

Personally, I am not aware of any financial institution that is more aggressive that the London-based bank. I say this as I am a customer and had experienced first-hand its untiring sales pitches.  

StanChart is a pugnacious cold-call entity, especially in the tax season when you will get unwanted calls during lunch time.

Two weeks ago, I got a call from a sales representative who, for a change, teased me with a certain mileage card and said they will send over the details via email because that will save my time.

Seemed like a God-sent gift that one should take. Few days later, the rep called again and warned this time that the call would take 10 minutes because they have to comply with tightened rules that were put in place after the Lehman Brothers mini-bond debacle. (StanChart had been a major distributor of some securities issued by Lehman, the US investment bank that went bust in 2008).

The call was really odd. The caller read out a long statement that she seemed not too familiar with, and I, engaged in some window shopping, was not really listening to what she was saying – just as most people I know – except a few lawyers – wouldn’t bother about the disclaimers anyway.

Luckily it did not last too long. But the sales rep rang again because she realized I could perhaps apply for one more dual-currency card so I can save on the overseas charge of 2.3 percent a bankcard would charge for overseas spending (thanks for the information – and for helping me learn of a new gimmick where one tries to sell you another product by talking down the previous one).

I already had two rarely used StanChart cards, but still I accepted the offer. I made the decision not because of the welcome gift of a supermarket coupon that the bank had dangled, but probably more out of consideration for the lady who was probably having a tough time meeting her sales target. 

But the trouble came when the bank sent me an email starting with this line: “Thank you for your interest in using our Unsecured Lending Service.”

I became anxious as I wondered if I had unwittingly signed up for something other just a plain credit card.

When I enquired, the sales representative – and her managers including a very polite man from the customer experience department – explained to me that credit card is a form of unsecured lending.

Well, I accept that it is indeed the case, but must say I still have a bone to pick with them on the matter.

My question is this: why didn’t the bank simply acknowledge I was applying for a credit card, instead of resorting to jargon?

“Unsecured lending” is not a pedestrian term that an ordinary consumer would immediately understand. And I say this as a writer, penning business-related articles for publication almost daily for over 20 years.

I have no complaint on the sales pitch, but I do not understand why the bank opted for a black-and-white statement that only caused confusion.

Why not be clear and tell your customers in plain English what they are getting into, instead of making the people sweat and getting them to understand complex wording?

StanChart should know that being upfront, rather than overly-clever lines and marketing pitches, will yield better results in terms of winning more business and consumer trust.

– Contact us at [email protected]


EJ Insight writer