HSBC's HK customers had a few scary hours

June 23, 2021 10:19
Photo: RTHK/Reuters

The last thing HSBC wants is to scare, rather than serve, its customers.

Unfortunately the city’s No.1 bank shocked many of its customers yesterday for a few hours over a service update statement that sparked concerns whether they could access online banking services outside Hong Kong.

HSBC quickly apologised for the unwanted confusion that went viral over the social media last night, and reassured that customers could continue to use its services from outside and there is no plan to change it.

But the damage is done. In a two-hour span, I have personally received a few dozen messages – mainly from people outside Hong Kong. They said HSBC is, again, bowing to political pressure and wondered if it is a good idea to shift the money out of the bank. I suppose this kind of worry prompted HSBC to take action to avoid a potentially PR disaster.

In an email titled “Changes to Online and Mobile Banking Terms”, HSBC warned its customers not to use, download or distribute online or mobile banking outside [Hong Kong] or if you are not our customer.

It reads, "If you use or download online or mobile banking outside [Hong Kong], we may not be authorised to provide you with those products and services in the country/region where you are located or resident.”

“The use, download or distribution outside [Hong Kong] might not be permitted by the laws or regulations in that country/region."

Despite having made clear that the change meant to “write new terms in simpler language and make them easier to understand and fairer to you” and “the new terms won’t otherwise adversely affect your rights and obligations”, it deplorably confuses rather than clarifies to its customers.

With Hong Kong facing an exodus of thousands of families going to United Kingdom using the British National Overseas Passport almost after a year of the passing of National Security Law, the change came at a sensitive time.

It also hit the soft spot of the citizen’s freedom to move money freely in and out of Hong Kong, given some reported cases of denying the early withdrawal of mandatory provident funds because of emigration.

Luckily the matter is largely over. But there is a lesson learnt – don’t do anything stupid in June, the most sensitive month of the year if you want a happy summer.

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EJ Insight writer