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On Account : Closing Balances Last Updated: May 19, 2012 - 9:19:12 PM

The Strange Saga of the "Limbo" Account
By Craig W Walsh
Jul 4, 2004 - 11:04:00 AM

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On April 28, 2004 our account manager at Coutts, Stephen Cannons, telephoned to say that the Bank wanted to close all of our accounts as of June 1.  Stephen explained that the Bank only had to give us 30 days' notice, so they were being accommodating by giving us until June 1 (a Monday).  I set about the task of establishing new bank accounts for us personally, and for our limited company.

Stephen assured me that he and his colleagues would do everything to make the transition as smooth as possible for us.  This was the last time Stephen called me: I haven't spoken with him since.

We had a Coutts Business Card for our company, with a 5,000 credit limit.  The balance on this card was paid in full each month, by direct debit from our personal current account.  We received the card statement for the period ending April 27 on April 30, 2004:  it showed a balance due of 2,156.48. In accordance with our long-standing arrangment with the Bank, there was a computer-printed notation on the statement indicating that this amount would be paid by direct debit on May 7, 2004.

On May 13 Stephen wrote to us to say that our funds at Coutts were running low, and that he would now close the credit card account.  So much for the June 1 (rather than May 28) concession.

These figures didn't reconcile with our Quicken records.  At our request, Coutts sent us bank statements twice each month, and had for many years.  Our May 14 statement was received on May 18, and the source of the problem became clear.

Coutts had, without our permission or knowledge, debited our current account for 2,321.66 on May 5.  These funds were sent to the Coutts Commercial Card Division by wire transfer, and we were charged a 25.00 CHAPS fee.  The "normal" direct debit, of 2,156.48 took place on May 7, as I had expected it would.  Coutts had paid the credit card bill twice.

I sent an e-mail to Stephen's associate Joanna Hunt at 12:39 PM on May 18.  I also pointed out that the title documents to our home had not, as yet, been returned to us by Coutts.  You'd have thought the bank would have automatically sent these along with their letter of April 28:  instead, I had to nag for them.  (Just wait, it gets worse.)

Joanna replied by e-mail within minutes, "I will look into the queries you have raised and hopefully get back to you as soon as I can with some answers."

On May 20 I e-mailed Joanna, "Any joy with the apparent duplicate payment yet? It would be great to have the money back in our current account. Also, any joy locating our home (and other) title documents and releasing the mortgage(s)? Sorry to be a pest."

No reply.  On May 21 I e-mailed again, "Any progress on the duplicate payment yet? And our title documents and release of mortgage? Sorry to be a pest, but an update would be appreciated before the week-end if at all possible."  I felt a bit bad about nagging, but Stephen's letters to me of April 28 and especially May 13 implied that time was of the essence for me to act:  wasn't it fair that this expectation should be reciprocal?

By May 24 I still hadn't heard from Joanna.  I telephoned the Coutts Commercial Card Division in Southend to see if there were two payments on the business card.  But there weren't.  The only payment on the card was the payment I knew would be made:  the May 7 direct debit of 2,156.48.  The Card Division had no record of the earlier 2,321.66 wire transfer. 

So I called Joanna.  She professed she'd been "let down" by her colleagues.  After our conversation, I sent her a confirming e-mail message: "I called you, and was a bit disappointed that you still hadn't obtained an answer to this dilemma from your colleagues. I waited on hold while you called your CHAPS colleagues, and understand that the funds were sent to the wrong Coutts Business Card account. You indicated that this was a data entry error made at the time of the CHAPS transfer. (I did not request the CHAPS transfer: it was done without my approval or prior knowledge.)

"You confirmed that the amount of this second debit (2,321.66) plus the amount of the CHAPS charge (25.00) would be refunded back to our current account today.

"I also asked you to please check on the whereabouts of our title deeds and the release of the mortgage currently held by Coutts. I would like to have this resolved, if at all possible, by the end of this week. Please let me know if that will be a problem.

The Limbo Account
"As I requested during our telephone conversation, please send me an e-mail message confirming the foregoing credit."

Joanna e-mailed me late the next afternoon, May 25: "Thank you for your email. I too spoke to Card services in Southend. It was confirmed that the account the monies were sent to by CHAPS is the underlying account for the cards, not a keying error as I thought, on receiving the monies from Coutts they returned them as they knew a Direct Debit was due. I don't want to bore you with our internal procedures, in short the returned monies were never applied to your account and existed in Limbo. They are now being credited and will show on your statement with the refund of the charge.

"The title deeds are being released, fingers crossed will be sent out tomorrow, I will arrange for a courier."

Based upon Joanna's assurance that the duplicate payment was in error and would be refunded, I issued several cheques on the Coutts current account.  But when I checked the account balances online in the wee hours of Saturday, May 29, there was still no sign of the promised credit.  The 25.00 CHAPS charge had been refunded, but the 2,321.66 was still doing the limbo.  I e-mailed Joanna that morning, "Let's talk on Tuesday to figure this out once and for all, please.  The promised deeds and release of mortgage haven't arrived yet (now early Saturday morning).

"I would think that the Bank would want our departure to be dignified and professional. I know that I have worked to accomplish this. I am quite disappointed that this relatively distasteful experience has been made slightly more painful by the incorrect duplicate payment, and the delays in simply correcting this mistake. What a shame."

Old bank ledger - no computer problems
On June 1, at 10:35 AM, I still hadn't heard from Joanna (or Stephen, who had been copied by me on all the e-mail messages).  I e-mailed Joanna again, "Postman has come, and gone. Still no deeds, mortgage release, etc. Please advise when these were sent (courier company? tracking number?). Or please confirm that they will be sent to us today.

"Please advise about the erroneous duplicate Coutts Card charge. Where is this money, please?  [ ... ]  Today is D-Day per Stephen's letter to me of April 28. It's only fair, I believe, that the D-Day should also encompass the refund of a duplicate charge, and the return of our house deeds and release of mortgage.

"Sorry to be cranky. Thanks, Joanna, for your understanding and your assistance."

At 11:37 AM she replied by e-mail, "I am sincerely sorry and I am so embarrassed! I have spent the morning chasing up on the outstanding. I have been advised that the deeds will be released and sent out today. The credit to the account has ended up in the form of a cheque, I have tracked this cheque down (it is between London and Southend). I am trying to have this cheque cancelled so we can key a credit direct to your account."

I growled back at 12:31 PM, "It is truly unfortunate that our departure is marred by inefficiencies with unauthorized duplicate payments - and a complete failure to correct this problem after almost two weeks of my gentle nagging. And why should I be left to have to grumble and growl for the return of our own deeds?

"I don't know who Rosanna Cavanagh, Lisette Camille-Fletcher, and David Foster are, but note you've copied them on your message to me. Between the four of you, and Stephen Cannons (if he is in town), please sort this out today. If it would be helpful for me to speak with one of these individuals, or with someone else, please let me know and I will be glad to do so. Thanks for your understanding and for letting me vent."

Light at the end of the tunnel
I was disappointed that Coutts had dishonoured the cheques I'd drawn. I issued these cheques based upon Joanna's earlier promise that the refund of the double payment would be made on May 24.  At my request, Alex Rumsey at Coutts subsequently wrote to me to confirm that these cheques were returned in error, and Coutts reimbursed me for the service charges assessed by the recipients.

Joanna replied at 2:26 PM on June 1, in an e-mail she called, "Light at the End of the Tunnel," that the funds had been received from the card division and had been sent by CHAPS to our new bank.  Joanna explained, "I do not wish this relationship to end on such a low note. I hope that tomorrow when you have received the deeds everything will be as you have instructed. The people I had previously copied into the email have been involved with your accounts, I wanted them to see and understand the issues and resolution."

The deeds and release of mortgage were duly received, but there was a problem with the June 1 transfer.  It was 1,236.03 light.  Here we go again.

In the late evening of June 2 I sent Joanna yet another e-mail message.  I wrote,  "I'm confused. I was able to reconcile the 1,507.40 you transferred yesterday to the penny. To come up with this figure, Coutts would have PAID the [four] direct debits submitted yesterday. [...]  With these four direct debits paid (and I must admit I was surprised that you did this), then the 1,507.40 figure works. Without the four direct debits paid, the amount transferred should have been 1,236.03 greater --- the total of these four direct debits.

"But it does not appear that these debits were, in fact, paid. So Coutts should have 1,236.03 to send, via CHAPS. I can then use the funds to pay these debits. Why is this so painful?"

The reply came on the morning of June 3:

Mr Walsh,

Many thanks for your e mail.

Joanna was unable to make it in to the office yesterday and I am not sure if I will see her today. Joanna has copied me into her mail with you as a senior management colleague of Steve Cannons.

With your permission, I am inclined to suggest that we await her return to address the issues, rather than have fresh eyes, cause more confusion. If Joanna has not returned by Friday, I will allocate new resource to having this concluded.

I trust that this is acceptable to you and thank you for your continued patience.

David Foster

Senior Private Banker

Joanna, however, was in later that afternoon, and she e-mailed me:  "I truly empathise with your disappointment and frustration. I have tried to resolve the issues that have arisen and now feel confident that I have.

"It is with regret that the monies that were sent out Tuesday for the sum of 1,507.40 representing the final balance, took into consideration the direct debits that were applied for by the respective companies, of course these were not paid, but the balance reflected the debits in suspense. So on looking at the accounts this morning we have a credit balance of 1,636.82 which I made arrangements at 10:15 this morning to send to your [new] account."

Think that resolves it?  Remember the name of this website.

When we received the final Coutts statement, there was a discrepancy.  At this stage I e-mailed Adam Sorrin (who had helped sort out the large interest overcharge).  My message, dated June 10, said, "I just received a statement showing transactions through June 7. There is a 375.12 credit on June 1 for "refund deb int" and this 375.12 was included in the first amount sent to [our new account] on June 1.

"There is a credit on June 4 for 375.13 (REFUND INT), a second credit on June 7 for 375.13 (S/C REFUND), a debit on June 7 for 0.01 (TO CLOSE), and a debit on June 7 for 375.12 (LAST PER'D). After all these debits and credits have been posted, the account has a credit balance of 375.13. I suspect this is in error. What a surprise...

"If this is in error, please process a final debit of 375.13 and close. In the unlikely event that we are, in fact, owed a further refund of 375.13, please send me a cheque. But it seems quite odd that we would be entitled to refunds of 375.12 and 375.13."

Adam promptly replied, "Just a quick email to acknowledge your last. There have indeed been further errors on your account and I am in the process of ensuring these are rectified. Needless to say, this is a continued embarassment for all concerned here, and I can only apologise for the further inconvenience occasioned to you.

"[...] I know that Stephen does want to speak to you concerning this closure although he has had a hectic week being just back from three weeks away on business, and hopes to call you on Monday when he returns to the office."

Adam confirmed that a final transfer to our new account was made on June 11.  He went on to say, "I've been assured that this final stage of closure will go smoothly and can offer the same assurance to you. While I am sure you are sick of hearing this, please accept my apologies for the consecutive errors experienced."

Guess what?  He called later to say that the transfer had not, in fact, been made.  It was made the next day.

Stephen Cannons still hasn't called.

Here are the closing entries --- the end of an 18 year banking relationship:

Coutts Closing Statements

Our Relationship with Coutts 1986 - 2004

I suspect it goes without saying, but this site is not affiliated with Coutts & Co., nor is it endorsed by them.  Their website is at

© Copyright 1998-2008 by Craig W Walsh

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