Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Another banking wally...

Another bank gets added to my 'wallies' list...

When I was back in the UK I went into Abbey to close my business bank account. In a branch, face to face with a nice human being who did everything needed before my eyes and got me to sign all the relevant papers. She (of course) also tried to dissuade me. Well, actually, she accepted it because I told her that I had already opened an HSBC account to change to. She said they would close it and send me a cheque for the balance. The balance at that stage was just a few pounds and paying this in to my Cyprus account would have cost more than the value of the cheque.

Next thing I find is that somehow I have money coming into this account [Ooops, I had forgotten to tell someone the new bank details] and the bank are still sending me statements. Irregularly. Strange, since as part of the closing procedure they had removed me from the Internet banking system.

Yesterday I phoned the bank. All the usual security questions. Including 'What is the number on your bank card?' I don't have a bank card any longer, I destroyed it because I should no longer have this account!

'We have no record of you requesting the account to be closed'. Is this another method of keeping customers? But you closed my Internet banking correctly. 'Could you go into your branch please and do it again'. I am in Cyprus, so, no that's not possible, can I FAX you the instruction? 'Yes, no problem, here's the FAX number'.

I immediately go and type a FAX, sign it and add a copy of my passport - I don't want them then coming back wanting evidence of my identity. In the FAX I ask them to FAX back confirmation that it is all done.

No FAX reply so today I phone again. Same security questions. Except new one 'Can you tell me all the recent transactions on this account?' No, because that account should be closed and all the deposits are in error. I can only tell you transactions from when you irregularly send me statements as I don't have a card for the account, which should be closed, and cannot access Internet banking any longer. Eventually they accept I am who I claim to be.

I then ask them to tell me the status of the instruction I FAXed them yesterday. 'We don't have any FAX from you, sir' - banks generally start using sir when they are covering up some incompetence or another. But I have a FAX confirmation that you received it. 'That's only your word against ours.' OK, can I FAX it again and will you wait on the line to confirm you get it? 'Sorry, sir' [sir again] 'The fax is not in this room and we don't have access to it'. Can you get whoever is in the room to check while I FAX it. This is the third time I am trying to close my account with you!

'Will you hold for a moment, sir.' I wait while innocuous so called music assaults my eardrums. I put the call on speakerphone so that its not quite so bad. Minutes pass. More minutes pass. 'Did you send the FAX from Cyprus?' Yes, I did, why? 'Did you use the correct country prefix?' Yes, of course I did, I also know I connected to your FAX machine since I heard the FAX tones and I have a receipt to show your FAX machine accepted it.

'Will you hold for a moment, sir.' I wait while innocuous so called music assaults my eardrums. I put the call on speakerphone again so that its not quite so bad. Minutes pass. More minutes pass.

'We think we have found it now, sir' [I wonder which pile of papers scattered around the room they had to knock over and plow through to find it... do we really trust our money to people like this?] 'My supervisor has now signed off on it and it will not take the normal 3-5 days for processing, but we will do it hopefully today or tomorrow.' Hopefully.

Well that was the irritating bank problem. Now the very irritating one. We pay our utility bills through bank transfers online. You should also know than in Cyprus they use a comma not a full stop to show the cents. Mostly. Usually. Not always. So £12,34 means twelve pounds and thirty four cents.

The Bank of Cyprus Internet banking system here doesn't have separate fields for pounds and cents like the Abbey one in the UK to ensure you get it right. When you type the amount as £12,34 the system says do you want to transfer £12.34. Yes, you did read that right. One place is a comma the other a full stop.

Not consistent. Easy to make a mistake. Today we did. By accident. Now instead of paying twenty one pounds to one utility company we paid two thousand one hundred and have all the hassle of getting the money back from them.

Just a thought... often when you call a bank or similar organization you get a message something like 'Calls may be recorded for training and...' Is it legal to record calls to a bank and then send it to them for their training?

Monday, December 17, 2007

That Monday morning feeling...

Aiieee... came in this morning to find one of the servers in the cluster had locked up and the system had not automatically swapped to the the backup. First server lockup in about a year. And before that we had not had one for maybe a couple of years. Servers are supposed to never lock up. Now to find out why. What a way to be greeted with on a Monday morning!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

We won't be popular!

One of the things that has taken a lot of time this last few weeks [in between everything else] is planning for the new year. That involves three things - budgeting, time budgeting and prioritizing activities. Cyprus changes from the Cyprus Pound to the Euro on January 1st, so one thing we had to do was change the way we budget from Sterling/Dollars to Sterling/Euro (and Dollars). With the dollar weakening by the day we had to look at how projects that work in dollars will affect our cash flow. Also meant that except with partners from the USA we will either work in Sterling or Euros, whereas we had worked in Sterling or Dollars.

In reviewing all the finances to produce a budget we found that the most significant cost in terms of labour was not the administration of all the services we provide to partners, but the ongoing development in terms of labour for the services. Ongoing development is the upgrades to the services we need to do each year to ensure that all the security etc is working and up to date. For instance, for email it takes more than 8 man weeks of labour to do the annual upgrades. So we have decided that as a result of this we will add in an extra line to our invoices to partners to show the cost of doing this so that get a truer idea of the costs of these services.

That overlaps with looking at our time budget. Our total labour cost in administrating services is nearly half a man year and our total labour cost in development/upgrades for services is over 1 man year. When you take into account organization admionistration, vacations etc, we reckoned it basically took Pete and me working full time to keep going. And we are not here to be a service organization!

We realised that if we continue on as we are, we have no time for the new projects that are coming up. These new projects are more important to our aims and objectives as an organization than some of the projects we had been providing services for for partners. We're not saying that some of our partner projects are unimportant, to them they are, and to other people they are, and if we had time we would help. It's just they are not core to our organization. So we took a long hard look at what we are doing in the service area. It was difficult, most of the services we provide to others we need for our own projects too.

There was only one thing we could find we could cut that would not adversely affect our own projects. Its quite a big service we have been providing to five of our partners. But if we can redeem any time for the projects that are critical to us then it has to be cut. We won't be popular!

So that looks like it just might work, especially if we can expand and take on a couple more workers this next year as apprentices so that by 2009 they are starting to carry more of the workload. In discussions with one partner it looks possible we shall have funding for this to happen...

But... this week I have a couple of colleagues over from the Middle East and they have brought with them a number of other projects they want us to help with. Groan. In Europe and North America you just 'Sorry, no way'. But in the Middle East, where relationships are key this is a big problem. So, they were expecting us to increase in what we could do with them and we are trying to decrease. What's more they are looking at some of our freelance staff to do more work for them, which will make them less available for us. Aieee... just when you think life is complicated enough, it gets more complicated.