Listening to recent revelations in the UK about staff at one of the UK’s major banks currently dealing with claims for the mis-selling of personal protection insurance did not surprise me. Reportedly, staff were told to automatically decline claims on their first presentation, on the basis that most people fail to pursue the issue further. This reminded me of a recent problem that I had with a major bank in Spain.

For many years I have had a gold credit card, issued by my Spanish bank, which I rarely use. When the time came for its renewal I considered cancelling it to avoid the hefty annual charge, and I discussed this with a member of staff at my local branch. Needless to say, I was advised to keep the card on the basis that it provided me with valuable additional services, such as travel and accidental damage insurance. As I also take out an annual travel insurance policy to cover my partner and myself during our visits to the UK and elsewhere, the bank suggested that I no longer needed this as I was duplicating the cover with that already provided by the gold card, assuming that I used it to book the tickets. To me, it made good financial sense to accept my bank’s advice to continue with the card, and to not renew the travel insurance policy.

A few months later, I booked flights and hotel accommodation with my gold card for my partner and myself to visit the UK. My partner had a heart attack and was hospitalized, and we were subsequently warned not to fly because of his condition. I contacted my bank and was told to contact the insurance company, with whom I also insure my car. I submitted a claim for about 900 euros for the refund of flights and some of the hotel accommodation that had been paid for in advance, and which I assumed were covered by the credit card insurance.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. My claim was declined on the grounds that it was my partner who was taken ill and not myself. This was despite the fact that we have a joint credit card on the same account. This seemed a ridiculous situation and I can image many circumstances where flights are booked for husband, wife and possibly children, yet if another member of the party was taken ill there would be no cover. I complained and raised a number of salient points in a letter written in both Spanish and English and sent it to the bank’s head office for further consideration, which again was quickly declined.

On this occasion, I had the distinct feeling that because I was an expat living in Spain, I was not being treated in the same way as a Spanish citizen. Discrimination of any kind always makes me angry and so I wrote another, stronger letter in Spanish, threatening to close my bank account, credit card, as well as home and car insurance with the company. I sent this to the bank
branch, customer service department, as well as to their Chief Executive at their head office as well as the insurance company. All letters were sent by signed for post, with additional copies sent by fax (which the Spanish still adore) and email, which are usually ignored. It is a process that I call the ‘scatter gun’ approach to complaints, which usually works for me.

Two days later I received a phone call from the insurance company to tell me that my claim had been reconsidered and that the company had decided to make an ex gratia payment for the full amount. Although it was a victory for me, I would have preferred the payment to be made to me as a matter of right, based upon the conditions of the policy and not simply because I was able to shout loud enough to make a point.

I have learned a valuable lesson; I will no longer trust the free insurance offered with my credit card; indeed, it will be cancelled later in the year and I will be looking for a travel insurance policy with its conditions written clearly in English.

Meanwhile, when making a complaint against a bank or insurance company in Spain, my advice is never to take no for an answer.