I opened a bank account in Newry, Northern Ireland and deposited a small amount of cash. I thought it might be useful to have ready access to sterling.
Ulster Bank sent me a letter confirming the account details. I have the letter here. It is dated November 9, 2012.
Following that letter, I received a cheque book and then a debit card. The letter accompanying the debit card said that a PIN number for the card would be sent out under separate cover.
By mid-January I began to wonder why I had never received a PIN number. After a half-hour of research I uncovered a telephone number for the branch, rang it, and was immediately diverted to their head office in Belfast.
I explained the problem and the young lady at the other end took me through their security procedures: Name and address, account number, my date of birth, account overdraft limit. I was stumped by that last question. I said, “I have no idea what the overdraft limit on the account is.”
“I’m sorry, sir, but you have to give me an answer to the question.”
“I have no intention of ever having an overdraft,” I said. “I never asked for one, and none of the documentation I have received from the bank specifies any overdraft limit.”
“I’m sorry, sir, I cannot help you further until you answer the question.”
I said, “As far as I know I don’t have an overdraft limit,” and that seemed to satisfy her. She asked for the last 4 digits on the card, and agreed to send me a PIN number by post.
Today, still PIN-less, I rang the bank again. This time I rang a number on the back of the opening bank statement.
“Hello and welcome to Ulster Bank. Please enter 1 for automated services or 2 to speak to an advisor.” I keyed in 2. “Thank you. Please key in your customer number.”
Stumped again, I disconnected and went in search of a customer number. Couldn’t find one. Never one to give up without a fight, I rang back and, by keying in a sequence of stars, got through to another (maybe the same) young lady.
We went through the same security procedure as before and ran into the same problem again. “I have never been informed what my overdraft limit is. I don’t think I have one.”
“I’m sorry, sir, but you must give me an answer to the question. Otherwise I will not be able to help you.”
"But I don't have an answer to the question," I said. "Is there no way forward?"
"You could visit any branch in Northern Ireland, bring along some identification, and they will be able to tell you what your overdraft limit is," says she.
That suggestion seemed impractical to me. Surely I wouldn't have to drive all that way just to be told that I had no overdraft limit.
I gave it some thought and, taking a wild guess, I said, “My overdraft limit is zero.”
“Thank you, sir,” she said. “I will send out a new PIN number in the post.”
Perhaps it's just me, but I seem to get into some terrible pickles with people on the telephone.