Bank will not tell me where my €20,000 payment has gone astray

Q&A: Ulster Bank’s only mistake here appears to be having made no effort to explain to you what was, or might be, happening

I made a €20,000 online bank transfer from Ulster Bank in June to my daughter’s Irish Permanent account but it has not arrived. The recipient Iban address was checked and correct.

After five telephone calls and two visits to the Bray branch of Ulster Bank, I still have no information as to what happened. I have now filed a formal complaint in writing.

I know this may be a difficult question to answer without all the information, but whose responsibility is it? I used Ulster Bank’s app in its online facility and nobody but me seems to care that €20,000 has left my account and is now missing.

Mr J.H., email


I can understand the distress. Very few of us are in the position where we can afford not to pursue a missing €20,000.

As so often is the case, the biggest issue here seems to be communications. What is it about banks that they are so poor at customer service?

You have clearly made significant efforts to track down what has gone wrong. If there was any proper system in the bank, details of your various phone calls and personal visits would all have been collated on one file regardless of who was dealing with you so that a chain of events could be understood and the chances of you getting hugely frustrated would be minimised.

There is, as you presumed, a very detailed process for pursuing missing payments.

Ulster Bank tells me that, as you would assume, almost all payments are processed seamlessly and quickly. There’s no reason at all to doubt that. Where a payment does not go through, the most common reason (as you suspected yourself) is an incorrect Iban. Other potential issues include where there might be some class of block on the recipient’s account or if the payment triggers some class of sanctions screening alert.

In sum, the most likely reason a transaction would not be processed is if there is something wrong with the payment or the account to which the payment is being applied, the bank says.

“Ulster Bank can normally trace the payment once we have the specific details to establish the current status of the payment [ie, is it still in the Ulster Bank account or is it with the beneficiary bank]. If it is with the beneficiary bank, we can send a query to that bank,” they said in response to a series of questions I put to them.

However, Ulster Bank tells me that if the cash has gone to the other bank – Permanent TSB in this case – the owner of the recipient account will need to ask them what is going on. Clearly, PTSB wouldn’t have any reason to talk to you, so it would be your daughter who has to make that approach as the accountholder.

If there is a block on the recipient account, that would prevent the money being lodged or otherwise made accessible to your daughter. That would be a very serious issue as you can’t just block accounts willy-nilly. But, if it was the case, it could certainly take weeks to unravel, if at all.

If in the end, because of a block on your daughter’s account, the money could not be lodged, it would eventually most likely return to your account, unless of course the payment got caught up in whatever issue triggered the block in the first place.

It appears the issue here is not at Ulster Bank. Funnily, they seem to accept they have a responsibility to keep you informed if there is a processing glitch on their part but don’t seem to feel beholden to keep you informed if there is an issue at the other end – if only for you to alert your daughter that she needs to raise it with her bank.

By the way, not that it is relevant here, in cases where there has been an Iban error on the part of the person making the payment, repayment will be requested from the inadvertent recipient. However, I am told, somewhat surprisingly, that that depends on the recipient agreeing to the repatriation of the funds. Otherwise you’re apparently looking at legal action which could make your €20,000 look like chips.

I gather the bank has now been in touch with you following our intervention and I hope the issue has been resolved. It would have been better if that could have happened following your first contact with the bank almost six weeks ago, or at least efforts made to keep you in the loop. After all, €20,000 is a lot of money.