HSBC to scrap Welsh language phone line in 'disappointing' blow

  • Siân Howys, chair of Cymdeithas yr Iaith, discussing the necessity for parity between the Welsh and English languages

HSBC is set to scrap its Welsh-speaking customer service phone line due to a lack of people using it.

The move comes after the bank launched an in-depth review which revealed the line was receiving only 22 calls each day. Research revealed the English-speaking lines, however, were receiving up to 18,000 calls a day.

It also stated 73% of Welsh-speaking customers would only use the service a few times a year.

HSBC apologised to its customers after their services crashed during Black Friday. Credit: PA images

However, numerous Welsh speakers have aired their frustrations online, claiming that each time they would try and call the Welsh language line, their request would be met with an automated response stating there were no Welsh speaking operators available.

The change will come into force on 15 January 2024 and will mean Welsh language customers will only have the choice of English-speaking service. 

Speaking to ITV News, Siân Howys, chair of Cymdeithas yr Iaith, discussed the necessity for parity between the Welsh and English languages.

She admitted the decrease in the number of Welsh language phone calls could be because of the growth in online banking, but argued that the online services are only in the English language.

She continued: "At the end of the day what we want to see is community services available for people locally and then that would have more of an opportunity for people to use Welsh in their local branches.

"The bank is making the excuse that every Welsh speaker can speak English and that's a very dangerous principle.

"Of course they can speak English but they're choosing to speak Welsh and they want to speak Welsh about sensitive issues to them. It is a right we have established in Wales.

"We want to see that the language is expanding, in terms of there being a purpose for you to be a bilingual speaker, you need to be able to use it in all aspects of life.

"That argument that they have come up with is something we want to quash in every way".

Cymdeithas yr Iaith is calling on the Welsh government to strengthen the legislation in terms of the language, making Welsh a legal requirement in the private sector.

Cymdeithas yr Iaith believes this is further proof of the need for greater legal protections for the Welsh language. Credit: PA images

Conservative shadow Welsh language minister, Samuel Kurtz expressed “bitter disappointment” in light of the decision. 

Should customers wish to discuss their banking in Welsh, HSBC has confirmed a request can be made to receive a Welsh language phone call within three working days. 

Sam Kurtz has labelled this offer as a “token-gesture”. 

He continued: “With banks shutting their branches, leaving holes in our high streets, telephone banking has been a lifeline for a number of customers. 

“For a bank operating globally in a number of languages, I strongly urge HSBC to reconsider their decision and to keep Welsh-language provision available for customers as and when they need it.”

Welsh Language Commissioner, Efa Gruffudd Jones told ITV News in a statement: "It is disappointing to hear that HSBC intends to discontinue the Welsh language telephone service and the offer of a call back within three working days in Welsh means that they are offering a sub-standard service to Welsh speakers. 

"While presenting evidence to the Senedd committee this week I expressed my frustration with the banking sector in terms of meaningful action and unfortunately this has proven my point.

"In our discussions with HSBC we have been offering advice on how to recruit Welsh speakers and encouraging them to better promote the Welsh language line but there is no evidence that this has happened which again is disappointing. 

"I have already written to HSBC asking to meet urgently to discuss the situation in the hope that they will be prepared to consider other options, rather than closing this important service."

A spokesperson from the bank told ITV Wales: “We are proud of our efforts to serve our Welsh speaking customers, but due to the extremely low level of calls into our Welsh-speaking line we need to make changes to telephone banking from 15 January.

They added: “If a customer does want to speak with a Welsh speaker, that still can be arranged. We will continue to have Welsh speaking colleagues in half our Welsh branches and will continue to respond to customer correspondence in Welsh.” 

HSBC has joined Duolingo as another organisation that will not invest further in their Welsh language resources.

The language learning app announced it would "pause updates" to its Welsh course from November.

Over two million people have started learning Welsh on the Duolingo course since it was launched. There are 659,000 active learners.

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