I need a rant so where better than my own blog to air my views, which I’m afraid I have neglected a lot recently, but you’ll find me at The Ahain Group and Tweak Your Biz if you are looking. Recently I have become very frustrated by online transactions and the exchange difference between Sterling and Euros, Ireland and the UK, and a few other things like PayPal, bank transfers, Avon, Hertz and Aer Lingus.
Firstly, I should say for those that don’t know me I am Welsh and living in Ireland. I have a UK bank account and an Irish bank account – both via my Irish address. I keep the UK one going mainly because it’s easier if somebody in the UK wants to pay me in sterling. Plus there are other reasons which you’ll see if you carry on reading,
Okay here are some annoying bugbears that I’ve come across recently:
Exchange rate discrepancies
A few weeks ago I purchased Dragon NaturallySpeaking from Nuance.co.uk. It’s really useful if you write a lot, in fact I’m using it now. It’s a way of dictating rather than typing and makes work a lot quicker for me. You will probably see them advertising a lot lately as there are lots of banners around. I have nothing against the Dragon product I hasten to add, just the purchasing options.
I checked out the prices and the euro price was €189.99 which I thought was a bit steep as I’d seen it advertised in sterling for £119.99. The website gives you the option to switch between currencies and sure enough in euros it was €189.99 and sterling was £119.99. This is effectively an exchange rate of 0.63 and on average over the past month the official exchange rate is actually around 0.85. Their prices are varying constantly with sales going on so I couldn’t get a screen grab but have my receipt for proof of the sterling amount I paid. Since then I have noticed the exchange differences aren’t so vast now – maybe they took note of my tweets about it at the time.
Luckily, in this instance, I was able to use my Irish debit card but still choose the sterling option. The amount debited to my bank account was €144 therefore I saved €45 using this route. Anyone can do this, so bear it in mind when you have a choice of currency on a website. Use this currency converter website Oanda Currency Converter to give you an idea. Although bear in mind this isn’t the exact rate your bank will use but it’s a starting point and shows the huge difference mentioned above.
Lingerie and Online Catalogues
I have a favourite bra that is a Triumph bra; you don’t need any more detail On the Triumph online shop in the UK it is £25. In Ireland, online and in shops, it is €37+. Again this is an exchange rate of 0.68. I normally stock up when I’m home visiting the family.
I sometimes order clothes online from Simplybe.ie and my parcel arrives with Oxendales.ie paperwork inside. So I thought I’d look at Oxendales.co.uk and Oxendales.ie to compare prices too, and look what I found. The same dress; even the same model, spot the difference! One is priced at £79 and the other is priced at €109.99. This is an exchange rate of 0.72.
How can this be justified? I can guarantee you that these big brands will be getting much better exchange rates between their different currency bank accounts than are available on the street to their customers.
One of my previous tasks when I was a Financial Director in London and also starting out as an accounts clerk in Cardiff many years ago, was dealing in foreign currency transactions speaking directly with the bank traders buying spot deals. The rates are far better when dealing in bulk and being able to plan ahead obviously. So these brands using a heavily weighted exchange rate on us are laughing all the way to the bank, whilst us punters are struggling to negotiate better deals with our banks. Not fair!
I’ve had this discussion before on Twitter with friends regarding well known chains like Debenhams and Marks & Spencer and lots more. No wonder people want to head to New York or London on a shopping spree and spend out of the country. That’s great for Ireland isn’t it? Not!
Those that know me know that I like my wine. When I’m visiting family in Wales I can buy my favourite wine, Marques de Caceres, for around £5 a bottle. In Ireland it ranges from €13 to €16. Other wines I see in the UK are normally at least half the price you would pay in Ireland. In Irish restaurants the wine prices are at least €10 more than they would be in the UK. This isn’t a knock at the restaurants because I know the prices are marked up before it even reaches them. Is the hike in tax on alcohol really helping combat heavy drinking – does it ever? Add in the exchange rate weighting and its stupid prices in comparison.
Yesterday I tried to place an order with Avon UK. For those not in the know Avon have pulled out of the Irish market completely. Leaving, I’m guessing here, 10’s of 1,000’s of potential customers without a way of ordering anything and 100’s of reps without full-time and part-time work. Beaut.ie have a good post about Avon leaving Ireland.
Now whilst I understand Avon probably have very good reasons for this; cost savings to be the main concern; doesn’t it make sense to have had a backup plan in place? Something simple like oh I don’t know, the nearest country, maybe the UK, having the ability to send those little Avon parcels over to Ireland? I’m sure that loyal Avon customers wouldn’t mind paying that extra delivery charge so long as they can stay with their favourite products; it’s not as if they are very expensive anyway.
It’s an income avenue that they have cut off when they didn’t need to. It doesn’t make sense to me at all. With all the press about it and their “statements” on their websites why not just say “oh but you can order from the UK if you want”, maybe offer a discount to the delivery charge to incentivise people and keep the Irish customers.
However, Avon UK do not deliver to Ireland – you’d have thought they’d have zoomed in on this waiting market straight away; they were always quick enough to ring your bell. I don’t often use Avon products; however I have found that their Skin So Soft dry oil spray helps to prevent me from getting bitten by midges in the summer. Google it and you’ll find out more – not that I want to advertise for them at this moment in time however if you are plagued by bites like me I really feel for you so check this product out as it’s brilliant.
So in order to place my Avon order I used Parcel Motel for the first time and it looks an amazing service so have a look. You can arrange delivery to their Northern Ireland address as it’s classed as UK and just pay €3.50 to deliver to a parcel motel near you. Ideal for companies in the UK that don’t deliver to Ireland – another huge crowd that are cutting off a revenue stream for the sake of delivery which they charge for anyhow – don’t get me started!
The next problem – I couldn’t get my payment to work on Avon UK because it automatically defaults your debit/credit card address to the UK and you can’t change to a different country. I could have had a rich uncle in Spain wanting to buy me stuff and using his card but no go. I tried twice with my Irish debit card and once with my UK card but they were all declined. I ended up using my brother’s credit card and address because he is based in Wales. I did pay him back straight away via a bank transfer – and it was immediate as a UK bank – read on for a rant about Irish bank transfer times.
Later I was checking my bank account and noticed the balances weren’t adding up. I knew what should be pending on my account, i.e. payments by debit card that haven’t actually shown on your bank statement yet but are held as pending and therefore considered out of your bank account and not available for you to spend.
I phoned the Irish bank and they said there were two payments pending for Avon UK. So despite the fact Avon UK declined my payments they still kept them pending on my account so that money is not accessible to me. The bank said that this can take up to 10 days to be released and available to me. I checked my UK bank account and it was the same there.
I phoned Avon UK and I think I got through to a call centre in another country where English is not their first language (sorry but that’s another bugbear of mine) and was told they couldn’t do anything about it at the moment because the accounts department was closed. This was at approximately 3:30pm Irish time on a Friday. Apparently she will get the accounts to call me on Monday, although it took me about six tries to give her my phone number and even then not sure she got it right, so I’m not holding out much hope there. I have tweeted a few times to @Avon_UK but no response – great customer service guys.
No Irish Postcodes
Oh and UK sites that do deliver to Ireland – WE DO NOT HAVE POSTCODES HERE – so don’t make it mandatory to fill out that box if we have clicked Ireland as our country. Yes you can sometimes get around it by XXX XXXX or something but I’d say the majority will give up when it doesn’t get accepted first time. My poor Mum in Wales has had to post me several things in the past because of this blocking or not recognising Ireland addresses – hopefully ParcelMotel.com will take over so Mum doesn’t have to trek down to the post office any more. She says thanks.
Banks and Paypal transfers
Due to the fact I have an Irish bank account and the UK bank account I set up two PayPal accounts. One that connected to my Irish bank account and another that linked to my UK bank account. I used PayPal.ie and PayPal.co.uk to do this. I wasn’t aware there was anything wrong in doing this. I get paid from a company in America via PayPal for work that I do online for them. Previously they paid to my Irish PayPal and immediately on receipt I would transfer the money to my Irish bank account. This would take 2 – 3 days to reach my bank account.
I recently requested that the payments be made to my UK PayPal account instead as I needed cash in that bank account for something and found that the transfers from UK PayPal to my UK bank account only took about an hour. Same payer, same amount, same currency in (US dollars) but takes at least two extra days to get from Irish PayPal to an Irish bank account compared to UK PayPal to a UK bank account. WTF?
As I said I am an accountant, and deal a lot with bank transfers nationally and internationally. In my previous job in London I dealt with high-value bank transfers, in the millions, and used to track the transfers around the world because, obviously, a lot of money was involved. This was over 10 years ago and often the transfers would be next day however sometimes they could be same day. So I know the way the system works and how they “sit” in a clearing bank overnight.
But I really don’t understand why it can take two days to reach a bank account from Irish PayPal whereas in the UK it just takes an hour. Why the difference? While that money is trying to reach your bank account and sitting in different clearance banks who is earning the interest on your money? It’s left the payers account and hasn’t got to yours so someone has it!
Because I reached the £1900 limit for transactions I have been asked to verify my PayPal account in the UK. Yes I tried to be sneaky and used an old savings bank account in my name to prove my address there with my Mum – I just wanted the quicker transaction times. However because the bank statement is made out to Miss S.E.A Phillips and not Sian Phillips they won’t accept it, despite also using my passport which shows my full name is Sian Elizabeth Anne Phillips.
I know I live in Ireland so I accept the fact I shouldn’t have tried it, however what if I still lived in Wales (with my mother so the bills in her name) and only have that bank account statement and my UK passport to prove my address – it wouldn’t work even then.
Besides, as PayPal is global surely it must understand that you can live in one country and have a bank account in another, as long as the bank has the correct addresses surely that should be good enough for PayPal to accept? It prides itself on moving money between countries easily doesn’t it?
Another thing I noticed yesterday was that I could make a transfer from my UK account to my brother’s bank account, which is a different bank, and he received it immediately and this was about 4.30pm on a Friday. I had actually transferred from my Lloyds account to my Natwest account first before transferring to my brothers account in Barclays because I had him set up as a beneficiary on that account. This was all done in the space of about 20 minutes – it would have taken 3 days to do the same in Ireland!
Please correct me if I am wrong but in Ireland it takes at least one day to transfer from one bank to another. If within the same banking system, e.g. Bank of Ireland to Bank of Ireland, it is same day before a certain cut-off point. I personally bank with Ulster Bank and my clients’ banks are Bank of Ireland and AIB – all are next day payments if transferring to a different bank. Why is this different to the UK? Who is making the money from where it is sitting overnight, because believe me someone is and I’d hazard a wild guess that it’s an Irish bank – who’d have thought?
Car hire deposits
And another rant sorry. Did you know when you rent a car with Hertz or Avis, and probably any others that hold your debit card details for the deposit, it can take up to 10 working days for the deposit that they hold on your car rental to be back and available to you in your bank account? Again, it’s held as pending so isn’t an actual debit from your account but that money is not available to you to spend so it’s more or less the same thing. This happened to me over Easter recently, and they held £200 against my card over two weeks – not great timing.
And finally…..Aer Lingus
And finally, to quote the legendary Barker and Corbett, here’s a little tip for those using Aer Lingus to fly between the UK and Ireland. Did you know that if you arrive too late to check-in but before your flight has departed, you can re-book your next available flight for just €75? This is only applicable to flights between the UK and Ireland though.
Now it took me four months to get a refund from Aer Lingus but I argued the point back and fore that I was at the airport before the flight took off, despite the fact it was delayed, therefore I should only have paid the €75 as per their T&C’s – see below for a screen grab from their website. It says ‘departed’ and I was told twice by Aer Lingus on the telephone, whilst stuck on the Severn Bridge because of the M4 closure hence my delay, that it was when the flight “left the tarmac”
I was going to write a post about this when it happened because I was getting very frustrated, but then I finally got the refund so decided not to as I was going to scan and include the stupidness of the 5 letters they sent me but felt it was wrong to attack them as they backtracked in the end – although they still didn’t acknowledge their own T&C’s. Just take it from me to hang in there if you know you are right.
Okay, so my rants are over and I’ve also shared some useful tips with you regarding buying in different currencies and also possible refunds from Aer Lingus if you are slightly late for a flight. I’m glad I got all of that off my chest, thank you for listening if you have stuck with me to the end. If you have any rants or tips to share please let me know.
Update – I received this email and I have permission to use it here to show yet another short-sightedness by Irish banks. The writer wished to remain anonymous.
“Great Article Sian, Really enjoyed it.
I was going to reply publicly but decided not to. I just wanted to share my own experience, feel free to use it on the condition that my name is kept out of it.
My own experience in the last couple of weeks has been extremely frustrating to say the least.
I’m starting a new online business where I’ll be dealing primarily with the US. My supplier is based there, my main customer base is there, I have someone lined up to do distribution there. I’m based in Ireland.
I want to open two business accounts, one for taxes (like to keep them separate) the other for trading. I’ll be taking payments with paypal only, I have a business account already & need to attach this to the company account.
I have circa €10,000 in cash to start the company & deposit. I’m not looking for an overdraft, cheque book or credit card.
Like so many other business owners, I have a damaged credit rating resulting from events of the last number of years where we were literally juggling money around to try to ensure everyone got paid. They did, but not always on time, but they were paid in full eventually. (I never went looking for additional discounts after agreeing to pay the initial charge as that was the deal we did & it’s not their fault if my customers don’t pay me on time).
I was upfront with each bank as I applied & told them I had a bad rating, but had cash & wasn’t looking for credit facilities:
AIB told me that they’d accept the application but it would have to be approved at head office level – This is despite me having personal accounts with them for over 25 years. I decided not to go with them as they do not have a business debit card available.
Ulster Bank refused me. Under no circumstances could they give me a business account, despite the fact I didn’t want any credit arrangements from them. I have two personal accounts with over €15,000 with them right now (not for long).
BOI, I have a meeting with tomorrow. I’ve spoken with the business manager & he’s told me they have a business debit card (so do UB, AIB do not). But I did pick up on a little uncertainty from him. This meeting was arranged by my accountant who certified my company’s liquidity.
By comparison, I was looking into banking in the US as most of my dealings will be there & they’re falling over themselves to do business. With the proviso that you have to physically walk into a branch to open the account – seems like an excuse to go to NYC to me.
In addition, they seem more innovative, paying interest on current accounts of minimum 1.5%, If you’re dealing with a lot of cheques, they’ll give you a cheque scanner so that you can “lodge” them through your online banking, you then mail in the physical cheques at your leisure, the cheques (or checks), are lodged to your account once scanned. One particular bank has an iPhone/android app that you use to photograph & scan the cheque, once again, immediate lodgement.
I believe that banks in Ireland are throttling business & recovery, it’s not going to end well.
Also, there’s a number of services I want to avail of in the US which require a US based Credit/Debit Card. Stamps.com for example allow you to hook up a digital usb scales to your PC/Mac weigh your parcels/letters & print your own postage either direct to the envelope or to a label, (it also prints the address from & to). You set up an account & it deducts the cost of postage with every one. I want to get this set up ($15 monthly charge but worth it for the time saving involved), to allow my person on the ground to process deliveries as efficiently as possible. I’ll also be able to keep an eye on them as I’ll know what orders came in & what was sent out on a daily basis.
I got around this by having them order a paypal rechargeable debit card to their address in my name. I can connect this to my paypal account here in Ireland & feed it from there. There’s a charge of $5.50 per month for the card, but no further charges.
Maybe the banks here did me a favour by having me think about how to do things better, but they will lose my business. I’m intending on opening a personal & business account on my next US trip. I’ll be transferring funds in & using them in the future.
They’ve pushed us toward electronic banking & cut the number of branches we can visit, not to mention the number of windows open in those that remain. What they didn’t think about was the fact that we don’t *have* to do business in Ireland & they’re not the only banks in the world ”