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In another terrific example of “community as journalist”, we bring you this fascinating saga of the misleading NAB visa statement.

Back in July 1999 NAB changed the format of its Visa statements. Yes, you guessed it, “….in response to customer feedback”. NAB’s interpretation of “feedback”, however, is feeding lots of customers’ money back into the bank @ 15.25% pa!

NAB Customer Relations claim “the actual information contained on the statement has not changed”. They must obviously bank somewhere else!

A fundamental change since July 1999 is the careful deletion of any mention that the balance of the Visa account can be paid in full, thereby avoiding interest charges. Going by the statement, such an option would appear no longer to exist. Even any reference to the date by which the full balance should be paid has been completely expunged.

Innocent oversights? Not when considered in conjunction with other changes. NAB’s statement still shows a closing balance but you try to find it. Instead of it being displayed logically at the end of the transaction list, (where it was previously) the NAB “Design Team” cleverly blends the closing balance into a box with seven similar money amounts back before the start of the transaction list on PAGE ONE! Just in case you missed it though, the monthly instalment amount AND minimum payment figure (aren’t they the same thing?) are both shown prominently.

Being manipulated to NAB’s new culture doesn’t stop there. Customers are not encouraged to scrutinise detail. NAB’s gifted “Design Team” prints the statement on mottled paper which resembles a camourflage pattern from a jungle war – apart, of course, from the NAB logo which is still prominently displayed against a plain white background – just like the whole statement was before alleged advent of “customer feedback”.

Perhaps fuddy duddies will persist in reading NAB’s Visa statement regardless of difficulties placed in the way. The “Design Team” anticipates this with tantalising messages where the closing balance USED to be. Here we are told things like “MINIMUM PAYMENT ON YOUR CREDIT CARD IS NOT REQUIRED THIS MONTH.” If you’re persistent and read on you find, “HOWEVER NORMAL INTEREST CHARGES WILL APPLY”. Don’t look for an explanation as to what “normal interest charges” are though, and how they are calculated, because none is given. Such is the culture of the new statement.

Surely, bank shareholders are overjoyed. Well, we know two who aren’t. They believe the format takes unfair advantage of customers. They believe Visa statements should indicate that a closing balance can be paid in full and say by when. They feel (naively?) that the bank’s integrity and long-term reputation is being compromised for short term gain. In other words, the “Design Team” is being too smart by half.

Being loyal shareholders (and loyalty is in short when NAB’s shares fall from $30.14 to a low of $19.89 in less than twelve months), our conscientious couple first complained to the tellers. They pointed out that the Visa statements lacked essential information and had been made unduly difficult to follow. The tellers emphatically agreed but nothing was done. This was “feedback” which NAB did not want to hear.

The next step was to write to NAB’s Head Office. The letter was ignored.

Angry at being snubbed, our shareholders wrote to the Chairman. Again, no answer. They telephoned the Chairman and asked if anyone was home. A response subsequently arrived from Customer Relations (the source of the above quotes). It contained significant factual errors. As well, the letter went on to tackle “high tech.” information such as being able to access Visa account detail via the Internet – ie accounts could be monitored and paid from overseas. Two days later a member of the NAB “Internet Banking Support Team” (to whom they’d been referred) vehemently denied this suggestion. “High tech” is apparently not NAB’s strong point when it comes to settling Visa accounts on time and in full.

Really stirred, our shareholders now wrote to the Australian Banking Industry Ombudsman. The letter was returned undelivered. NAB’s current pamphlet had given an address which was FIVE YEARS out of date. Contacting the ABIO by phone, a correct address was obtained and a second letter was sent. No reply. ABIO had mislaid the letter. The shareholders phoned and wrote again. ABIO – prompt reply, third try!

Only this time the ABIO said it couldn’t do anything because (and we’re not making this up) the complaint “raises issues affecting larger numbers of customers”. Perhaps embarrassed at making such a statement, ABIO helpfully offered to refer the matter back to NAB, but, being professional, they needed authorisation. At this point our shareholders were surprised when a second response arrived from NAB – a direct response to the letter which ABIO had apparently mislaid – so much for “professionalism” and waiting for “authorisation”.

Really cheesed off by now, our shareholders wrote to ACCC. Same old story – no response from ACCC. They phoned. “Nothing doing!” according to our CONSUMER watchdog, “it’s not a COMPETITION issue”, (note the smooth juxtaposition) and, anyhow, the officer handling the complaint gets Visa statements which are equally as bad from his bank. Thus the considered decision that, “it must be industry practice” (and therefore OK????).

In complete disgust, our NAB shareholders decided to stop using their NAB Visa and open an account with ANZ. So far the story has a happy ending:

1) ANZ’s Visa statement shows a closing balance at the end of the statement.

2) It shows the relevant due date.

3) It clearly explains how interest is calculated if accounts are not paid in full by the due date.

4) It uses stationery with alternating lines of light and shade to help pinpoint information and,

5) there have been no messages suggesting that they skip minimum payments (and incur interest charges).

“Should NAB be allowed to get away it?” Our two shareholders intend to battle on. As readers of crikey.com.au you will have your own opinion BUT, should you also decide to open a Visa account elsewhere, the less said about “customer feedback”, the relentless objectivity of the ACCC or the independent professionalism of the Australian Banking Industry Ombudsman the better.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
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