Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Things Fall Together, and FNB

When I booked my Schengan Visa appointment with VFS yesterday, I didn't put much thought into the appointment time. Given the choice, I skipped over everything before 9 AM in the online booking form (I'm still a skeptic, and am not convinced that times earlier than this actually exist), and chose 9.30. Had I thought more about it, I'd have chosen 3 PM to keep things properly civilized. Had I thought more about it, I would probably be going back for attempt two tomorrow, instead of managing to finalise it today.

I hadn't been able to find a convenient check list for a Schengan Visa. I had a general idea of what I needed from when I did this in 2010. Unsurprisingly, with hindsight, I was missing some ever-oh-so-important documents. These missing documents included air tickets, travel insurance, and original bank statements (Seems kind of obvious now, doesn't it?). Somehow I thought that if the UK consulate was happy with my documents (and they'd already indicated that they were by stamping a delightful visa into my worthless Green Mamba passport), that the Austrians would be too. I mean, they're not even Austrians anymore -- both visas were done through VFS Global, and all the staff I interacted with were all South African -- so I thought I wouldn't have to worry about any stereotypical Austrian order.

But no. Copies of bank statements are not good enough. Copies could be, well, copied? Perhaps someone at the Pretoria Consul has a fetish for sniffing original bank stamps. Maybe it's just another obstacle to weed out a few more of us nauseating tourists. Only let the determined ones in. Jawohl.

Luckily my terrific Dad managed to organize travel insurance in a time comparable to a Usain Bolt hundred meters. He also phoned the premier FNB banking service, and had someone call me to arrange to collect the bank statements (with the scented stamp) at a Cape Town branch. Unluckily, the better half of me was still absent, as my Samsung S3 was in for repairs. This meant that I had to find things the old fashioned way (in my case, wandering round in circles until after several passes things begin to look familiar and then moving on to new territory). I eventually found and entered an internet cafe, booked some provisional flights out of Schengen territory, downloaded the insurance docs, printed everything off, and left.

Tried to leave, that is. My fingers were stuck to the revolting keyboard, and one of the many crapware toolbars had come alive and try to bite me, while Windows XP just sat back and cheered it on. Eventually I got out, making a mental note to change my Gmail password ASAP. That seemingly helpful guy from Premier hadn't phoned me back yet to confirm which branch I should go to, but I'd already got Google Maps to do that for me, so I started meandering FNBwards.

I got to FNB and still no phone call, so I went in to look for someone willing to make my problems their problems. The daemons that be picked on a certain Merlane and the poor woman came to ask me how she could help. Having heard my story, and being unable to trace my consultant friend from Premier, we decided to start over, and Merlane did not bat an eyelid as a complicated string of phone calls took place. Outdated numbers, forgotten security protocols, even an entanglement with the Dwyer Home Phone, and she finally managed to get hold of Dr Dwyer Himself, on a number which I had produced from thin air. Even though it obviously crossed her mind more than once that this could all be part of some elaborate plot for me to get my nose on some of that fragrant FNB ink, Merlane acted the perfect host, making idle small-talk while waiting for ringing phones to be answered. She mentioned with a laugh that normally they would not be able to hand bank statements to anyone but the account holder, but that obviously in this case she would make a plan. Within 20 minutes of walking into FNB, I left with stamped statements. I told Merlane that FNB had just won a loyal customer for life, and walked down the street handing out FNB flyers and telling all and sundry that they should change to FNB now (in spite of their new online banking site).

The new documents were accepted, and I left with a debit card noticeably lighter after they'd deducted various visa fees, processing fees, courier fees, and stamp sniffing fees.

I got back, and remembered to acknowledge FNB's service a complimentary tweet. I started reading the day's emails (Email once a day is still something very strange to me. Luckily my phone should come back in under 48 hours), and was surprised to find the following from FNB

Good day, Mr Gareth Dwyer 

The statements needed for your applciation for VISA, Cape Town branch are unable to grand statements as your father is needed at the branch with you.
You being in seperate towns, it is still not viable to get the statements without your father as he is the account holder and you the dependant.

Mpumelelo Bohali

This email had arrived at 3 PM, and didn't fully explain why I hadn't got the phone call from Premier.  By the time they'd sent this, my bank statements were probably en route to Pretoria. In presentation, punctuality and punctuation this provided such a stark contrast to the experience I'd just had with Merlane that I had to quickly unplug the router and take my Gran shopping, as my fingers were already halfway through typing out a reply full of nasty language and insults. In the evening, once I'd eaten supper and finished scraping paint violently off Gran's front step, I composed something less emotional.

Dear Mpumelelo,

I do not bank with FNB to receive emails such as this one. I do not bank with FNB to be told that my requests are not viable. I do not bank with FNB to be labeled "a dependent", especially when this is irrelevant to my request.

If I wanted service like this, I would bank with Standard Bank, or ABSA, where bad service is considered normal.

Luckily, my request was handled by the Adderley Branch pleasantly and efficiently, exactly as I would expect from a bank with the reputation of FNB, and I received the bank statements I needed before you sent the email saying this is "not viable".

Your email was the only blemish in my otherwise very positive experience with FNB today. 

I am disappointed by your attitude.

Yours faithfully,
Gareth Dwyer

We'll see if he deigns to reply. I almost hope that he tries to defend himself, like Imaginet did after they overcharged me for my domain and then emailed me with a similar attitude. I had a lot of fun then, but that was in January. A renewal is needed. And yes, there is indeed a direct correlation between number_of_snotty_letters_I_write and number_of_days_since_my_vacation_began. Well spotted.

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