Let’s Talk: Why aren’t bank emergency call centres manned 24 hours? 20

Let's Talk


View Profile

I received an email from my bank on Friday night at about 6.30pm Queensland time. It said “Your daily payment limit has changed”. I hadn’t changed it!

Given the number of hoax emails travelling the internet from financial institutions, our first response was to ignore it. Then, after we chatted a little, my husband and I decided to take it a little more seriously and log into our account to see why the limits had been moved and what to.

The login didn’t work. We tried several times from his computer using all the identifying tools the bank offers, to no avail. None of our bank accounts were accessible to us, and we couldn’t change the passwords to prevent access by someone else either because we couldn’t get into them. So off we went to the website to find the bank’s phone number and call them. No doubt this would be easily cleared up on the phone. Nonetheless, the colour had drained slightly from my husband’s face as he sat on hold.

By this time it was 8.10pm Queensland time on Friday night. The call centre at Westpac is the only number given for emergencies and issues. You call it, plug your way through the menu options using “voice” and number keys to indicate the help you need, then sit on hold. After about 4-5 minutes you are greeted with an automated voice that says “Thank you for holding. Our phone lines are manned from 7am-8pm Monday to Friday”. We tried every number on the website. Each time we ended up back at the same message, even if we selected different menu options, or said to the voice menu that it was an emergency.

I have to admit being rather flabbergasted at this point. We had received a worrying email that asked us to take it seriously; couldn’t access our bank account and couldn’t get onto anyone on the phones until Monday.

It left me wondering what happens now in cases where there is a real need to speak to someone that can help you and avoid someone stealing from your bank account through prompt response? Would I have been insured if someone had accessed my bank account and withdrawn my money?

Have you battled with the plight of the automated voice message when your situation really required urgent support by a person that you would have expected from a company who provides your services? Tell us about it today.

[post-script: After much angst we found an old credit card in an old filing cabinet with Westpac and called the “emergency” number on that. We found someone who could help us and they were good. But the question remains – why is it so hard to get help in a crisis?]


Rebecca Wilson

Rebecca Wilson is the founder and publisher of Starts at Sixty. The daughter of two baby boomers, she has built the online community for over 60s by listening carefully to the issues and seeking out answers, insights and information for over 60s throughout Australia. Rebecca is an experienced marketer, a trained journalist and has a degree in politics. A mother of 3, she passionately facilitates and leads our over 60s community, bringing the community opinions, needs and interests to the fore and making Starts at Sixty a fun place to be.

  1. In N Z.you will get an offshore call center where they cannot speak real English

    1 REPLY
    • Or you get someone who speaks to fast so you ask if they could repeat a little slower please and they decide to give you a mouth full of abuse!

  2. While overseas I called my bank as my credit card would not work when I went to pay a hotel bill and I find this bank has been a bit too quick on a couple of occasions to cancel my card due to something they regard as an odd transaction. I’d told them I was overseas and where I would be. First difficulty is finding a number you can actually dial, too many contact pages list only their freecall numbers. Then while you sit on hold after negotiating the selection menus $ signs flash before your eyes. Fortunately eventually I did get an answer, they were undergoing computer upgrades and going offline briefly overnight in Australia. It was hit and miss the next week as I tried to pay for items overseas in what overnight Australian time. Luckily I did have more than one card with me.

    6 REPLY
    • I recently got sick overseas. I was able to pay $3.5k to doctor but when i went to pay for script at chemist it was rejected. Fortunately i had enuf cash to pay but i was so wild.

    • O would much rather the bank froze my card than allowed a suspicious transaction to go through always call my bank if I am buying something expensive or unusual., But it is difficult if you do not have human contact.

    • A few years ago my daughter and I spent a week in Tahiti for her birthday. I advised Westpac that I was going to be using my card overseas. I also took Travellers Cheques and I got Westpac to get me some Pacific Francs so I would have money if I needed it when we got there. As you can see I like to be prepared for every eventuality. I used my card as little as possible. Mainly our hotel bill and tours and cashed travellers cheques for everything else. Loved lining up in a Bank it was fun.

    • Ruth I wouldn’t mind if they put a temporary freeze on the card then checked with me. What I objected to was them cancelling it because they thought something maybe dodgy without checking. They did this to me on one occasion as I was just about to depart on holiday, i explained my dilemma, an overseas trip imminent with one of my cards out of action and to their credit they did rush me a new one express post. The next time they did it was ridiculous, as if they had bothered to check the odd payment to an overseas phone company for my SIM card was a monthly payment and had been occurring for two years. All their haste to cancel cards didn’t stop three $99 fraudulent payments appearing on my card in the guise of payments to Telstra. If you shop online regularly you will understand what a pain it is to remember to update credit card details over numerous sites.

    • Yes Debbie it certainly pays to have more than one way of getting money. We’ve never used travellers cheques but where we can we take some cash, (some currencies aren’t available through banks in Australia), and multiple cards, on a couple of occasions getting the debit cards a loaded with overseas currency. We had my husbands card swallowed by a teller machine in the UK on my first trip overseas and although we could access other money it was the money source we were relying on most, since then we always make sure not to have all our eggs in one basket and have lots of ways to access money.

    • Agree multiple cards are a must when travelling overseas. Even found neither of our oz credit cards would work in the French autoroute ticket machines (never got an answer to that one, they just insisted they should work??). Always make sure I have enough cash for what we anticipate doing for a couple of days – once both our oz credit cards wouldn’t work where we had Sunday lunch!

  3. Found the Westpac credit card a/h service excellent while overseas. They even sent a replacement card to where I was staying.

  4. Goodness me I would have been freaking out as the young people say. I bank with Westpac I hope this never happens to me. I assumed that their call center would be 24 hour 7 days a week.

  5. ANZ have a 24 hour call have not used it for a while & any emergency has been at the weekend but they answer— you are on hold for a long time but they get to you .Its been a while since I used them they may be off shore now I always tell the person on the other end I just cannot understand a word they are saying get the supervisor or talk slowly Please !!!! I would be onto Westpac Customer relations in Qld to complain never the less,just not good enough & maybe we all should make sure we have an emergency number

  6. In Europe our cards etc were stolen. We had nothing but brilliant service from Westpac. Within 4 hours we had cash to keep going, all cards cancelled including those not with Westpac and all good. They phoned back from both uk and USA to help us. The best service. Yes, I know sometimes it is frustrating but we actually learned from others and have a record of emergency numbers where you talk to a person – automated is crap. Out of hours, again frustrating, but once you get the number, keep it. It will save you frustration, big time.

  7. Westpac used to have this service. I phoned them at midnight one time after receiving a text from them as there was an odd transaction on my credit card from overseas and they knew I was in Brisbane. They were wonderful. Cancelled the card for me and also reimbursed me for the transaction. New card arrived within days.

  8. Yes I tried to ring my Commonwealth local bank. You just get a general call centre now. Banks are very much like our local council, they take more and more money from us and give back less and less.

  9. You’re with the wrong bank…Suncorp has 24Hr telephone service with Aussie staff

  10. Change to ANZ

    General enquiries
    Transactions disputes
    24 hours a day, 7 days a week

    Report a hoax or suspicious e-mail
    24 hours a day, 7 days a week

    Internet Banking enquiries
    24 hours a day, 7 days a week

  11. Tip – should you receive an email from your Bank, press the reply key & look at the ‘address’ which comes up….. Quite often this will make you aware it is a scam.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *