Briton's house sale money blocked when French bank transfer fails

Heightened security and a loss of personal contact meant his €280,000 savings were stuck in France

Mr Sarti could not resolve his issues through normal channels
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A British man has warned how heightened security and a loss of personal contact with bank managers led to his life savings being stuck in France when he moved to Spain.

Trouble began for Roy Sarti, 81, in February, when he moved to Spain to be closer to his son.

Mr Sarti, who has been a widower for two years, had lived in France since 2003 with his wife. The couple were customers of the Cahors (Lot) branch of Banque Populaire, which had an international department with English-speaking staff. 

"We were happy with the bank,” he said. "There were only a couple of times when we'd had minor problems and they were sorted out quickly and easily."

Heightened security 

However, after the move to Spain he found it impossible to make money transfers. The problem was traced to an error in the phone details held by the bank, which prevented him receiving security codes to his mobile.

He was unable to correct the number via the bank’s website, and subsequent attempts to change it over the telephone were also unsuccessful.

The situation came to a head when Mr Sarti tried moving the bulk of the €280,000 from his French house sale into various foreign accounts.

Despite writing to and emailing the bank, setting out exactly where he wanted the money to go, nothing happened. Phone calls proved similarly futile. 

Mr Sarti was dismayed to find himself speaking to staff in the Toulouse regional office, “who would not listen to what I had to say,” rather than his usual contact in Cahors.

“They ended up seeming really hostile and nasty on the phone, and I feared the worst,” he said. “I was really worried that the money, which represents most of my life’s savings, would disappear.”

A key demand from the bank was that he send an electricity bill from the last three months confirming his new address – a common verification procedure in France.

“However, since I am renting a villa in Spain, with utilities included in the rent, I could not produce an electricity bill. I explained this over and over again, but they would not listen and talked over me. I came off the telephone shaking and upset.”

Roy Sarti

Identity documents provided by Mr Sarti included the Spanish equivalent of a carte de sejour, which is only granted after background checks by the Spanish police, and health service paperwork showing the new address.

The bank also lost recipient bank details, so Mr Sarti had to resend these.

A loss of personal contact

After The Connexion contacted Banque Populaire’s owner, Groupe BPCE, for an explanation, Mr Sarti was contacted by telephone within hours and the transfers went through. 

“The woman who contacted me from the bank was someone I have had good dealings with in the past. She explained she had been on holiday, the international division had moved to Toulouse, and she did not know of my problem.

“She sorted it out very quickly,” Mr Sarti said.

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He believes his bad experience could be linked to new anti-money laundering rules, as well as banks losing personal contact with customers.

“Once they found someone with experience and confidence, the problem went away. I would warn people that the old days when bank transfers were painless have gone and you should make sure there is someone senior you know in the bank ahead of time to make sure they go through.”