Dear Westpac & HSBC, can we have our $2,000 back please?

We pay all our writers by international bank transfer and have done for years. Nearly all the time it works fine. We’ve very infrequently had problems wiring to accounts in the US, but generally speaking we’re able to pay a bunch of people, month in month out, without problem.

Place money in waterproof bag, attach to pigeon, tell to fly to London.

Place money in waterproof bag, attach to pigeon, tell to fly to London.

All the payments are done through the Westpac ebanking platform meaning there are no painful trips to the bank required, and over the years it has proved to be a convenient and reasonably affordable means of paying people.

Until now.

While the following was kicked off by a mistake by us, the ongoing problems clearly indicate some issues that Westpac could better handle.

Back on 18 August (yes, over a month ago) we sent a wire to the UK account of one of our writers for an amount just shy of A$2,000. Their invoice listed all the details we normally use for transfers to the UK (account name, account number, SWIFT code and intermediary bank details). We had made a previous payment to this account without problem.

On the invoice, the account number was listed as (xxxx) xxxxxxxxx. When we tried to enter this into the ebanking, the system choked on the brackets, so, in our error, we tried it without the bracketed section. The details were accepted and a receipt number was issued. Bingo.

The problem of course was that the bracketed section was vital (it is the branch indicator) and so without that number, HSBC (the intermediary bank) would be unable to determine which branch to send the money to. We discovered this weeks later, when we realised that with the first transfer, we just removed the brackets rather than the bracket and number.

Anyway. At this stage we didn’t know anything was wrong, but just to be clear we are aware this entire shebang was kicked off by our error.

A week later, on August 24, we received a message from the writer, politely enquiring after the funds.

We then called Westpac who advised the branch identifier was missing, so we then filed, by email, a payment adjustment request. According to Westpac, this request would be forwarded to HSBC who would connect the dots and forward on the money.

On 30 August we received another message from the writer, noting that the money had not been received.

So on 30 August we contacted Westpac again, only to be told that they had “overlooked” forwarding the details to HSBC. So, they would do so immediately and confirm this action by email. We never received an email from them.

On 31 August, we called Westpac again to ask after the email and to check the instructions had been forwarded to HSBC. Instead we were told that the funds had been returned from the UK and had been retransmitted by Westpac (without notification to us) with the full correct details. This apparently took place without the money hitting our account at all. We were also advised that this action would be confirmed to us by email. We never received an email from them.

On 6 September we received yet another message from the writer, noting that the money had not been received.

On 6 September we checked with Westpac and were told the funds were re-transmitted on 31 August for effect 1 September. Westpac agreed to contact their “investigation branch” and have a trace sent to recipient bank. During this call, the consultant noted that “IBAN should be used in UK transfers, but that transfers would work without one, just easier for the recipient bank”. We then advised that we had an IBAN, but they neither requested that nor any extra information. As with the other calls, the consultant then advised the above would be confirmed by email. No email was received.

On 9 September we received yet another message from the writer, noting that the money had not been received.

On 9 September we checked with Westpac and were advised all Westpac can do is wait for response from UK bank.

On 13 September we received yet another message from the writer, noting that the money had not been received.

On 13 September we contacted Westpac again, and were advised that the UK bank had responded, saying “we are investigating and will revert”.

On 16 September we received yet another message from the writer, noting that the money had not been received.

On 16 September we contacted Westpac, they advised they would forward another trace and at our request copy an email to us — this email actually was received. We also instructed Westpac that if funds are returned from the UK bank, the funds to be returned to our account and we are to be advised. Absolutely do not re-transmit to UK.

On 17 September we received yet another message from the writer, noting that the money had not been received.

Separately to this, on 16 September, we sent a new wire for the same amount and the writer received it within 12 hours — so they have been paid, but Westpac and HSBC, given it has been a month, we’d really like that $2000 that you’re collectively sitting on, back please.

Update
On 20 September, we called Westpac again and were told they wait five days before chasing HSBC.

On 21 September, still no money back from Westpac.