The causal power of (stupid) algorithms: why I’m leaving HSBC

I just had my card stopped by HSBC for the second time in a month and the seventh or eighth (I’ve genuinely lost count) time this year. As with previous occurrences, I spend twenty minutes on hold and go through a tedious security check process to confirm that my last ten transactions were indeed my transactions. I don’t want to leave my bank. I’m both lazy and very busy. It’s a massive hassle, the prospect of which fills me with no enthusiasm. But their fraud detection system is absurd. I’m told repeatedly that they have identified irregular transactions – in fact I am told this regularly and they are (roughly) the same transactions in each instance.

One upside to this frustration is that it’s left me keen to read about data analysis techniques for fraud detection (the brief wikipedia page is interesting) in order to understand why HSBC’s are so idiotic. What seems IOTTMC (intuitively obvious to the most causal observer) is that routine transactions shouldn’t be flagged as problematic: it’s desirable to build a profile of routine activity based on the available data in order to detect transactions that deviate from that routine. As far as I can tell, HSBC instead uses a series of red flag events in a rather mechanical fashion, presumably opting for a lowest common denominator approach because it’s cheaper in the long run.

They really dislike the film service Mubi for some reason (despite the fact I’ve been a subscriber for months) and generally find international micro-payments suspicious, all the more so when they are clustered. I can see why this might be a good idea on paper but in practice it makes life exceptionally irritating if you’re someone who uses iTunes (etc) a lot. What’s even more irritating is my inability to get any comment from HSBC beyond “I’m sorry, sir, I realise that must be frustrating”. So I’m leaving HSBC, entirely because of their idiotic fraud detection system, though thanking the bank for helping sensitise me to a causal power of algorithms that I might otherwise have failed to recognise: inciting people to take action by routinely pissing them off.

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