23 Jan 2020
A HSBC customer has spoken of his three month ordeal to have his bank account released after the lender shut it down without warning – leaving him unable to pay his staff.
Agustin Larocca, 37, opened an account with HSBC in 2015 to run his small business selling vape products.
However, in July 2017, he says he woke up to discover his business debit card had ceased to function.
In a panic, Larocca says he went into his local branch, where he was told his account had been “frozen”.
He claims staff told him they were unable to provide a reason for their decision – along with any advice on how to release his funds.
“This left me distressed and in limbo,” Larocca explained in a letter seen by Mirror Money and addressed to HSBC, the Financial Ombudsman and several MPs.
“I had no access to my cash flow to run my business.”
After several more visits to his branch, Larocca was informed that he should contact HSBC’s commercial banking division to arrange a meeting to discuss the reasons for their decision.
Larocca says he tried this, however on every occasion, hit a wall.
The bank later said it had written to him on several occasions – and had left him calls in January 2017 to discuss his account.
Larocca claims he has, to date, never received these letters.
“I had around £76,000 in my account at the time,” Larocca explained.
“It was frozen on July 13 and released in mid-September.
“After spending large amounts of time and effort with HSBC’s customer services and safeguard department, and not receiving a solution, I made the decision to contact HSBC’s CEO. He actually assisted me further to solve the issue.”
Mirror Money got in touch with HSBC – who, after three years, have now agreed to pay Agustin £1,000 in compensation.
“As part of our efforts to stop financial crime we are conducting detailed ‘KYC’ reviews in which we ask customers to provide information about themselves and their businesses,” a HSBC statement said.
“We allow several months for this process because we may need to speak to customers several times to acquire additional data and to clarify what they have told us.
“We apologise for the inconvenience this causes, but urge customers to respond to our requests as promptly and comprehensively as possible.
“If we do not receive all the information we need we may be forced to restrict or suspend certain services like foreign currency payments or, as a last resort, to close their account. We want to work with customers to ensure we don’t have to do this.”
But Agustin’s case is not a one off.
“Hundreds of cases of frozen bank accounts”
Mirror Money has heard from dozens of customers and businesses who have also had their bank accounts frozen without warning, some for months, others for years, with no explanation.
Solicitor John Binns specialises in anti-money laundering cases at BCL law firm – and he says he’s seen a spike in customers who have been accused of this in recent years.
Binns says he currently has number of clients who are subject to account blockages and are struggling to deal with the harsh measures that banks are increasingly adopting.
“We’ve not kept count but can safely say we’ve had hundreds of queries on this in the last couple of years, from businesses and from individuals,” he said.
By Emma Munbodh, Daily Mirror, 22 January 2020
Read more at Daily Mirror
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