Getting my rights - an experience with the Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA)

Firstly, I must apologise for the length of this post. I tend to be loquacious in my writings, and I have also included quite a few details of my experience. That said, I have broken this down into sections for ease of reading.


At the beginning of 2017, I received a brochure from the Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA). This was not entirely surprising, as I am one of the bank’s many customers (though once I have found a decent replacement will be one of its ex-customers, due to the events described below).

The brochure encouraged me to open up a credit card account with CBA. I had no particular reason to do so, as I had a credit card that was entirely suited to my needs, but this offer included some freebies – and I’m a sucker for freebies. Accordingly, I decided that I would apply for the card, comply with the conditions and get the freebies, and then cancel it.

A cunning plan? No doubt; unfortunately I was not expecting the mendacity of a bank that I had entrusted with my money for thirty years.

The offer – key points

So, what was I being offered, and what was required of me? There were different offers attached to different conditions, but I have summarised these in two parts.

The bank’s offer, most of which is still available via its website, promised:

  1. A low rate credit card
  2. A waiver of the first year’s annual fee
  3. $250 cash back.

The conditions:

  1. Apply by 28 February
  2. Spend $500 on the card by 31 March 2017.

The letter also specified how to apply: this could be done online, by posting the completed form, or in person.

Finally, it specified the conditions in detail, and what I needed to include with my application (such as proof of income).

Reality bites

I scanned the completed application form, and submitted it at the local bank branch on 22 February. Three days later, on 25 February, the bank wrote to congratulate me on my new credit card.

During March 2017, I eschewed the points I would earn with my main credit card, to ensure I spent at least $500 on this card – and thus qualified for all the benefits of this offer. I spent $789.45 by the time I received the first statement, for the period 24 February to 20 March.

The first statement contained a surprise: on 20 March it listed “Annual fee” – for $59.00, bringing the statement total to $848.45! I was not happy, and immediately contacted the bank to ensure that I was going to receive the promised benefits.

First contact

My first contact with the bank resulted in a promise to respond once the matter had been investigated. I got an email on 28 March, in response to my complaint:

…because the credit card was applied for in branch there is no cash back offer and also because it was not submitted via the offer prompt, If the branch had advised otherwise, You will then need to attend the branch and speak with them directly…

I sought to respond to the writer, using the bank’s online communications, on 29 March – but received no response. I was later advised that my response would not have been received, as the ‘case’ had been ‘closed’. Accordingly, I rang again on 3 April – speaking to another person (because why would anyone care about a consistent communications channel?). This time I was able to email the new contact’s supervisor (apparently not all bank staff have emails) with a copy of the application form – showing clearly that it provided for application in the branch.

Contact 2

I received a response to this enquiry on the same day:

…it was the branch, not yourself that did not submit the application correctly… I have emailed [name omitted] at the [branch]… asking her to follow up the application and refunds and requested she contact you ASAP…

In talking to the bank representative, I was informed that it was up to the branch whether it wished to honour the offer.

My response to this latest communication stated in part:

It may well be that your branch failed to follow appropriate procedures, but that is not my problem. I fulfilled the requirements of the bank’s offer when I lodged my application. That is, I entered into a contract with the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, not with a particular branch. If the bank has a problem with its internal processes, that is (obviously) an internal matter. I now expect your confirmation of the credit, and its placement against my account, by COB Tuesday 04/04/2017. This is REGARDLESS of whether a branch followed the ‘correct procedure’, or what the branch may wish to ‘decide’…

In other words, I was getting annoyed.

Contact 3

On 10 April 2017, I received a phone call from the local branch’s representative. She stated that I had applied for the credit card “outside the offer period”. At this point I was ready to get really angry, but managed to retain some semblance of composure while explaining to her that I had already provided the bank with the evidence showing that this was not the case. I was, I told her, utterly sick of the bank giving me the run-around.

In response, I was advised that she would check with her manager and ring me back the following day to inform me “what can be done”.

True to her word, this representative did indeed ring the following day. She spoke very briefly, advising me that my credit card should soon show two transactions crediting me with $59 and $250. I rang her on 12 April as only one of these credits was visible, and she stated that the other may take some extra time as it involved ‘a different process’.

I had won – sort of.

Outcomes and considerata

While I have not yet abandoned the CBA, I intend to do so as soon as I have found the best replacement for my family’s banking needs. Additionally, I wrote a letter detailing this experience, and sent it to my federal representatives (Senate and House of Representatives), the ACCC, and APRA (Australian Prudential Regulation Authority, the agency responsible for regulating financial institutions). One of my senators has since responded to seek my permission before writing to ASIC in relation to this experience.

At a broader level, what was this experience telling me about the bank I have used for my entire working life?

  1. It is too big to be able to deal consistently with most of its customers. I dealt with three different bank employees (four if I count the manager involved in my second contact). Each time I had to explain what the problem was, and respond to the same excuses (you applied too late and/or the wrong way).
  2. Bank employees are not across the requirements of the bank’s offers.
  3. There appears to be a culture of “no”. ‘We can’t do that’; ‘we are unable to’; ‘you are asking for something I cannot do’ etc.

This third problem is the major concern. I do not think the bank has issued its employees with instructions to deny benefits to customers; instead, I suspect that remuneration packages are designed to get new customers in as cheaply as possible. That is, the problems I encountered are likely to be endemic, but are unlikely to be due to an explicit policy. Instead, I suspect that incentives for employees – from the front counter on up – are designed so that if a promise can be reneged upon it will be.

I suspect that the bank has misled many more customers than just me in this deal. Given that every one of the contacts I had commenced with being told that I was not eligible for the offer that I plainly was eligible for, I expect that many thousands of Australians have encountered similar situations. Worse, most of us do not keep copies of everything, and so most people that the bank has managed to scam in this manner have had no recourse.

We need a royal commission to examine how banks are failing us, and why. These are institutions that are ‘too big to fail’, and that clamoured for government assistance during the GFC – they have obligations to the taxpayers that assisted them in their time of need, and they are not currently meeting those obligations.

I would be keen to hear from others who have been offered this ‘deal’, and then been refused the benefits because ‘stuff’. How have you responded?


Yes, do not doubt for any minute that the CBA is in the wrong. I have had emails deleted and staff terminating my phone calls. There is a culture of very poor customer service. Ian Narev has lost control, in my opinion. I have to spend time chasing up emails that have been deleted and staff who have terminated my calls ( usually because of their own stress re lack of product knowledge). Legally they are in dangerous ground as they are not disclosing fully the required information to clients.


I applied but they said because I didn’t have a job I couldnot get one.

I like your story - it illustrates some good points which for what it’s worth I think you did well - tenacity/don’t give up, keep records, be confident, and don’t expect big organisations to be consistent, take no prisoners.

I like that you set out to take advantage of ‘the scheme’ - ‘the scheme’ being one in my cynical view to chain a debt device to your ankle and drag you under, forever paying interest to the evil giant CBA. I’ve often looked at these kinds of things but haven’t found many that actually offer a clean win for ‘us little guys’ - there usually seems to be a catch of some kind. In this case, maybe they were difficult because they realised they’d forgotten to write the catch into the terms and conditions and what you saw as inconsistency and confusion on their part was a carefully choreographed dance to extricate themselves from their mistake? … I mentioned my cynicism - doubly so with banks.

My question to you and others is this: Where would you go to get better service? and on what knowledge would you base that decision ?

I can tell you personal stories I have with Westpac, BankSA (before it was sold), ANZ and National. Stories that make me feel reluctant to ever deal with them again - however in my story about Westpac, BankSA was the hero - and it was all due to lack of communication and muppets in Westpac. In my BankSA story (who hung me out to dry for 750k$ a few days away from a house settlement (incl bridging) on a question I had answered successfully weeks prior that suddenly became a problem), NAB came out the hero - and in my NAB story they just defecated in their own nest about a dozen times too many … The bank I’m with now? if they give me cause (hint: as they have just done to you) - where would I run? Is it better to stay and fight? does one complaint make a difference to process or do you only ever fix it for your own specific instance? I’ve involved the BIO et al in the above stories, but does it result in real change?

I think for now I’ll just sit tight and address any issues that come up with my current bank on a case by case basis … but I won’t guarantee it … doing that feels a little like giving up.

Maybe some of the smaller players, credit unions, etc might offer a better service? I’m not big on answers at the moment - wish I could say ‘banking corporation x’ is the best, you won’t be disappointed!! :wink:


I haven’t had a similar credit card experience, in fact we recently switched to CBA from Heritage. The only reason being we moved from Queensland to NSW where Heritage currently don’t have a presence. If they did we would have stayed with them. Heritage were great and said they were willing to communicate via phone, email, etc. but when buying a house in a limited timeframe the risk was too high. My husband and I were both extremely impressed with Heritage (my only gripe is their online banking isn’t very user friendly, even if you are tech savvy) and I would happily recommend them. I had previous experience with CBA prior to this year, but I must admit there service was a lot better 10+ years ago. We have already had a few issues with processing, figures and interaction with our Mortgage Manager and that is just since January. I would consider switching but as you said, who to?? I too, would love to see a Royal Commission into these big banks.


You are not alone in your views on the CBA, views which equally might be applied to so many other large corporations.
CBA recently built a new “branch” at Kmart East Burwood, and I was looking forward to having an outlet with “real people”. Unfortunately, now that it’s open it turns out to be a glorified auto-teller, complete with a staff member who is there to tell you that you can’t do the things you expect of a branch. They have basically done away with service and are increasingly making customers deal with them either on-line or via machines.
The attitude is common now as service is becoming a thing of the past as is honesty, trustworthiness, accountability and all of the other things we should be able to expect.
I would suggest trying the credit unions, which thus far seem able and willing to provide something a lot closer to the banking systems of old.
Either that, or resign yourself to a corporate world which is predicated solely on making money rather than providing a service.
I have experienced similar values at Coles and Qantas as well as CBA and unfortunately there is little sign of any real positive change in the corporate world.

Yes,I agree wholeheartedly that the banks are no longer our friends as they were 30-40 years ago, but high powered customer manipulators. And the information provided generally benefits the bank, rather than the customer - from past experience.


Banks have never been our friends.

They have always provided a service, and their bottom lines have always driven investment and business decisions.

What has changed is social media and ones ability to get any gripe easily into the public space, along higher levels of regulation to protect the economy as a whole. Such regulations are needed when there is bias to a few banks (the 4 pillars).

One still has the ability to move to another bank if they are not satisfied with the service given. Moving gives the strongest message to the banks about their service levels and ethics, and will lead to change.

Having personally dealt with big and small banks, none are perfect and have their shortcomings.

Banks should be judged how they respond to problems, not the problem themselves as all banks have consumer problems .

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You make some really good points. Not just banks though, if shareholders are involved then the consumer only benefits where that benefit is in complete congruence with shareholder return …

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The CBA is my bank too. Although I cannot complain I do believe a Royal Commission is overdue, given the obscene salaries the CEO and Chairman et al reward themselves and the Comminsure fiasco, rigorous investigation is overdue


Not all Banks were our friends even 30-40 yrs ago!
CBA has not dealt fairly with customers for many years! We were customers in the 1970s and in the days of Netbank. We had a home loan with them, when we finished paying for the home loan and went to retrieve the Title deeds from the envelope we lodged with them (supposedly secure storage, which we PAID for) - there were NO Title deeds. We were not told that all these documents had been digitised and were held as computer records by the State government. Everything happened without customers being notified. -
And some may remember NetBank - it worked well, I really liked it – but then, we were told that we could have only 12 transactions per month for free, after being urged to use the service! And, I remember having to pay a ‘transaction’ fee for paying for the home loan in North Rockhampton whilst the original loan was improved in the Southside Branch.