Not In My Name

Outdated procedures make banks unfriendly places for married, working women

Counterpoints Social Affairs

At the beginning of the last century, only six per cent of married women worked. Since then, we’ve had the vote and been emancipated and more than 60 per cent of us carry on with our careers once we’re married. Many of us choose to keep our single surname too for professional purposes. None of this is surprising.  

Except apparently to banks, who don’t know or don’t want to know how to deal with us. Twenty-odd years ago, just before I married, I opened an account in my single name at the local branch of what was then Midland Bank, now HSBC. They called themselves “the listening bank”. I also gave a sample signature of my married name to be able to pay in those rare cheques made out to me in that name into the same account. There were no problems.   

Recently, for the first time in ages, I tried to pay in a cheque for £36 addressed to the married me. But, in the words of Little Britain, “the computer said no.” “It’s to stop money-laundering and fraud,” the bank clerk explained, adding that I would have to open a new account. For £36? For complex reasons, the government organisation which paid me doesn’t use electronic banking. 

I told a female married friend, expecting her to be surprised. Instead, she told me she has a similar problem, this time with NatWest. To access internet banking, she was told, all her accounts had to be in the same name. She chose her single name, so each time she receives a cheque in her married name she has to ring her “relationship manager” in advance, then go to her local branch with her marriage certificate, which has previously been stamped by the bank as bona fide.    

I agreed to set up a new account, only to be told  I had to prove who I was. I took in my passport. It is in my married name, but also contains the statement “also known as Angela Levin”. It was not good enough. The HSBC needed proof of my address.  If I am the same person who lives at the address on my account, I argued, it can’t be rocket science to work out the married me lives there too. But the computer said no again. I argued. I argued more loudly, to no avail. In the end, I had to pay for a new driving licence, costing £50, plus £10 for a new photograph, and had to go through the hassle of changing the name on my electricity bill to provide further evidence. I now have my new account, which came with the option of a “relationship manager”. HSBC’s slogan was changed some years ago to “the world’s local bank”. I wish they’d go back to listening.