A Nationwide Building Society phone support fiasco...

Forgive a little rant, but.... the folks who man support lines at big companies and organisations are, I'm sure, nice people, but they're not always trained very well at diagnosing what's wrong when a customer phones in....

So I'm buying a used car (my first for a decade!), £7,000 or so. I contact the Nationwide during the preceding week:

"When I arrive at the dealers (a 100 mile drive), will I be able to transfer the money from my account to the dealer using your phone app?"

"Absolutely", the Nationwide man said, "as long as it's under £10,000 you'll be fine. Just have your Nationwide card reader to hand for authentication."

I thanked him and now we move on to today. I drive the 100 miles and settle down to pay the car dealer. On the first try, following the usual steps and using the card reader, after the final 'Pay now' step I got an error message: "Transaction failed due to an unknown problem".

Ah. How helpful. I tried again. Same error.

I whipped out my laptop (see how prepared I was) and tried to log into the Nationwide with that. "There is a technical problem, please try later". Wow. What was the chance of a Nationwide outage the very moment I try and transfer money?

So I call the number on the back of my Nationwide debit card. "This number has been changed, please call [etc etc]". Sigh. I redial with the new number.

I get through to a lady and bring her up to speed. She checks her systems and, after a few minutes, "I'm sorry, there are no reported faults!"

Well, I'm reporting one. She starts asking about the app on my iPhone. "Does my phone name have an apostrophe in it?"

WHAT? Yes, it does, because that's Apple's default, e.g. "Steve's iPhone". Almost EVERYONE'S iPhone name has an apostrophe!

I explain this. "Are you honestly saying that my transaction is failing because my phone name has a character in it which is tripping up your Nationwide app?"

"Yes, removing it often helps." Well, no can do. Not only because it would probably confuse all my connected gadgets, but because I couldn't see an easy way to rename the iPhone on the fly in Settings.

"I think it would work if you uninstalled the Nationwide app and reinstalled it"

"Are you suggesting I do all that and then do all the set-up and authentication again from scratch, in the hope that your app might start working?"

"Yes"


This is insane. I have the money, I just need the Nationwide's systems to actually work. And it's nothing whatsoever to do with apostrophes or authentication, I've done everything right and the app seems to like me in general. I do explain to the lady that I work in IT and all these suggestions are sketchy at best.

Happily, the story twists in a positive fashion at this point. The car dealer helpfully prodded their debit card reader towards me, suggesting that we try this instead.

I try the debit for £7,000 and it comes up as 'Not authorised'. Sigh. I tell the lady on the phone this.

And, finally, she comes up with the right answer: "Have you frozen your card?"

"No, why would I? It's here in front of me and I want to use it!"

Regardless, I go into the 'Freeze card' section of the Nationwide app and, lo and behold, the card is 'frozen' on the toggle. I un-freeze it and try the card in the debit card reader again.

It works! And I can buy the car, finally.

What's happened, of course, is that the initial transfer attempt - as an unusual amount from me - had triggered the app to assume that someone had grabbed hold of my phone, somehow face authenticated and was trying to buy something on my money. So the freeze toggle got set.

Which shouldn't really happen given that I'd had to use Face ID to get into the app in the first place a few minutes before, but is, at least, vaguely understandable.

So why wasn't this the very first thing the support lady suggested, rather than dragging things round the houses for about half an hour while suggesting vague apostrophe and uninstall hacks?

All rather frustrating. Though it did rather make me long for the old days when one would approach a car dealer with a 'banker's draft' (cheque). Apparently they stopped taking these because they'd had some good forgeries.

Oh well. A learning exercise all round, if I'm being charitable!!

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