Was I wrong about Wirex?

This is a tough blog for me to write.

I may have to publicly admit I was wrong about something I was very passionate about. I don’t like being wrong, I like admitting it even less (as my other half will testify to!), but the facts are indisputable. Let me explain.

People who follow my blog know that I have often talked about Wirex since my first blog on the subject . It’s that cool looking debit card that allows you to spend your crypto at any location that accepts traditional debit cards. Any conversation about crypto that I have been engaged in I have inevitably produced my Wirex card. Any talk I’ve given has warranted a mention and even my second book “How to explain Bitcoin to your mum“, a book that reached Amazon’s Finance Book charts, has a whole section on the card and it’s uses. I have to say I felt quite honoured when Pavel Matveev, the CEO of Wirex, tweeted me a photo of my book on his desk, apparently having enjoyed reading about his company therein.

wirex

In fact, I’ve promoted this card so often over the last year I have received several inquiries as to whether I was on the payroll! The answer is an emphatic ‘no’ – I’d not even used the referral links when recommending the card to people! I’m just very passionate about a product I believed is filling the gap between crypto accumulation and real world use. And, in my defence, it does this pretty well.

But, recently, it all started to go wrong. It all seemed to start with an obligatory password reset.

Getting the email about this was unexpected, but I did complete the instructions as requested. Shortly afterwards, however, I received an email from Wirex telling me that my account had been blocked and to contact support. Intrigued, I logged in to my account and noticed that this time I had to verify the device I was using which was odd as it was the same one I always used. It was indeed blocked, but it also now seemed to have an extra £600 in it from a transaction I didn’t recognize. Who the hell is Mr Mendes? or Mr Napper? And why had one transferred money to me referencing the other?

In some ways I was reassured. It must have been a dodgy transaction and the system had picked it up. This actually isn’t the first time this had happened to me, with both my PayPal account and my personal bank account being the recipients of unexplained deposits on two separate occasions, albeit several years apart. In both cases, as here, I simply reported it, made sure I didn’t spend any of it, and the money was reversed out and presumably tracked back to where it came from. My Paypal account had also been frozen temporarily while it was processed, but in the end no harm was done.

I contacted support as requested on the same day I got the email announcing the block on February 20th and got an acknowledgment. 48 hours later I’d had no response, so chased again on the 22nd. Obviously, a help support agent picked it up and unblocked the account. I logged in, the transaction was still there. I was confused, but no sooner had I logged in than I got another email from Wirex; the account was blocked again.

This was immediately followed by another email confirming that the balance had changed. It had been changed back to what it had been previously including this mysterious £600 balance. So …. this was legitimate? But I didn’t know who these guys were? This seem more and more odd. It was irrelevant anyway as the account was still blocked.

So I raised another ticket and received another acknowledgement. The next day I was relieved to receive the following. It looked like Wirex were on it!

anthony 1st email

After this, however, it ‘went dark’ at Wirex. I chased again on the 26th, and yet again on the 1st March  but with no response. But then I had an idea – I’d had some direct conversations with Wirex’s Twitter guys over my book and various other promotional things I’d done for them, so I raised a Direct Message and received a prompt reply; They’d look into it for me. Sure enough, a few hours later, I received a new message from Anthony apologizing for the delay due to a ‘high load’ (as before) and explaining that they were still waiting for a reply from their ‘bank partner’. There was no explanation as to what this meant or what we were waiting for exactly, but I thanked him anyway and asked him to let me know anything as soon as he did.

It went quiet again for another few days. I was still promoting the card, but secretly hoping no-one would ask me to do any transactions with it as it remained blocked. The next communication from Wirex was as devastating as it was bewildering:

anthony 3

What the hell? Excuse me? What violation? And how does it help sending a link to a huge list of terms of conditions without any clue as to what it could be? At best, this was rude and at worst, well, it makes you sound like a criminal doesn’t it? My journalist side was also peaked though – just WHAT was going on here? It was time to do some research and ask around, perhaps there was more to this than I was aware of. I wrote back to Anthony and politely, but very firmly, asked for clarification on this and then settled down to see what I could dig up. I also raised it with the ‘Escalation Team’ but this has thus far been a dead end as over a week later I still haven’t received an acknowledgement, let alone a reply. I’m assuming this is not a real team.

The research I carried out shocked me. On Bitrust, Wirex had a score of just 1.92 out of 5. Other sites weren’t much better and even the best I could find was ‘Average’ on Trustpilot. I read all 786 reviews. The words “scam”, “thieves”, “terrible service” and “they stole my money” were rife. I was certainly not the only one facing a total shutdown of service and communication.

Further analysis revealed what I suspect might be happening. The reviews have an unusual split, with a high number of great reviews being offset by an disproportionate number of extremely negative ones – 24% to be precise. That’s a pattern you don’t see too often. The reason is clear: It seems Wirex does work exactly as it supposed to – and even I can testify to that. However, if things go wrong, well, you’ve had it, mate. You’ll be treated with contempt, ignored and have your account taken away with no explanation. Oh, and your money on the card? No, you’re not getting that back either. There’s talk of legal action, threats and even police involvement, not once but many, many times. That’s OUTRAGEOUS. Just who have I been promoting all this time? Well, I’m certainly not comfortable promoting it any more.

Meanwhile I was still chasing clarity on what was going on. I still needed to know on what grounds I was being ‘thrown out’ of the Wirex community. Could I even open another account? What do I do now? I chased via another email and contacted the people I had conversed with before via Twitter, but noticed they too were no longer responding. It seems once you are barred, you really are completely ignored as other people had found. It didn’t seem to matter if it was not even your fault.

A few days later, I got another response from Anthony. He hadn’t addressed any of the questions, but he had found time to write back:

anthony 4

It’s not well written, but I get the gist … and just what ARE these activities he’s referred to?

I responded again asking more questions and requested escalation again, but it seems that the people who were writing the negative reviews really weren’t making it up. Something is very, very wrong at Wirex and they’re either operating a dodgy system or, as I’d prefer to think for my own sanity, have grown so fast they’ve made a mess of the backend and are simply ignoring it. That strategy is very dangerous. As ex-brand manager of Microsoft, I can tell you we had to spend millions of pounds and install company wide processes to try and offset the ‘arrogant, non-caring’ image we had cultivated for ourselves whilst going through enormous growth in the mid to late nineties. Trust me on this, it’s much easier to fix it now than later. I can even give you a few pointers.

The fact is that you really measure a company based on how they deal with it when things go wrong. They always go wrong at some stage so you get to see how they think about you, how much they want your business and what the company’s values are. It’s also a great opportunity, as the best PR people know, but more on that later. In this case, I now knew my place. I was the lowest of the low and not even worth responding to.

I think was so offended by this because of the way I have promoted this company so tirelessly and so consistently for so long without expecting any compensation, payment in kind or any other form of recognition save that of knowing I’m doing my part to spread adoption of crypto. But it possible I just caught them on a bad day? Or, in this case, days? I need to be fair if I’m being critical.

In a final attempt to try and get to the bottom of it, I wrote this blog and invited a response from Wirex’s PR team – possibly the only team within the company who would not ignore me. Within an hour I received a response from Amelie, part of the PR and New Media Communications Team, apologizing, assuring me that it would be looked into and answers would come. History is littered with companies that have made monumental mistakes and then turned them around at the last minute by being sincere, holding their hands up and doing something to compensate, turning a customer with a truly negative experience into their biggest advocate. And I’m not really talking money here which research shows has a surprisingly low, short term effect, I’m talking about a gesture such as senior brass getting involved personally, or sending a hand written letter or inviting people to see the offices – the sort of thing that shows you want to re-build a relationship. Perhaps, just perhaps, it was all going to be OK.

I could tell from the page stats that Amelie was true to her word in that she circulated the blog internally. It was read many, many times on a hidden URL. She requested any further information I might like, so I submitted some questions, some based on the research I’d seen, to get a comment. This was promising.

Her response, submitted on time as promised, was a bit, well, ‘corporatey’. Here it is in it’s entirety:

amelie response

It reminded me very much of the sort of stuff we put out in the heyday of Microsoft I referred to earlier. Technically correct, toeing the party line, containing an apology and fixing the problem. All the tick boxes are there. My account, hitherto all but deleted if I tried to log in, was restored. There’s a good explanation, and a reason why resources were strained at the time. The problem was resolved. I should be happy, right?

The trouble is, this would have been fine – more than fine really – right at the start. But Pandora’s box had now been opened and what was noticeable from Amelie’s response was the absence of answers to specific – admittedly ‘harder’ – questions that I’d raised:

Why was it never sent to the ‘Escalation Team’ as I requested? (I still haven’t had an acknowledgement!)

If I hadn’t written this blog, would it be true to say that my account would never have been reinstated?

What reassurances do I have that this won’t happen again?

And, most importantly …

Why is there such a vast number of people making the same complaint as me – and much worse – so consistently? These negative reviews are WAY too many, WAY too samey and going on for WAY too long for there not to be a systemic issue of some sort. This, THIS was the moment to tackle it head on, an opportunity to acknowledge, open up and deal with the problem directly with specific, concrete steps. The time for ‘working on it’ has surely passed.

I emailed Amelie again pointing out that some of these questions hadn’t been answered, but her response that she felt they had been. She invited me to resubmit them, but since they were already in the email trail and clearly not addressed, there seemed little point.

Perhaps I’m being overly picky and my experience as a PR/spokesperson for a large corporate in my former life is generating cynicism. But if it had been me, I’d have escalated this to the top, dealt with it hard, fast and head on and turned it into a force for positive going forward – there’s no point trying to hide away from what is plainly on the net if you look for it. It’s true there are far bigger influencers out there than me, but that doesn’t matter here. This should have been a ‘do whatever it takes to get him on board and see if he will help us sort it’ moment. But it was all a bit, well, ‘low key’ and ‘minimum requirement’ wasn’t it? I even got another email from Anthony, the guy who had sent me the rather rude ‘go away and don’t bother us again’ email, cheerily informing me that my account was now unlocked and would I rate his customer service? I’d better decline I think.

So what’s next?

I’ll keep my Wirex card, but I just can’t be passionate about it. I’m just not convinced that the support or, more importantly, the desire to support is there at the moment. I don’t want to risk going through weeks of hassle again or losing any money, something that appears to remain a possibility. I won’t be necessarily negative – that’s not professional or required – and I genuinely don’t believe it’s a scam company as some people seem convinced it is. But there’s definitely a feeling of ‘growth before customer experience’ and that can be very dangerous in the medium and long term. I sincerely hope they get it sorted – it’s a great app – and perhaps one day we’ll meet up for a drink (in a virtual sense) and discuss old times, like a couple of ex-lovers who still miss the good things that the other bought them.

I’ll do some detailed research on what the alternatives are and come back to you, dear readers, with my findings … unless, of course, you have your own suggestions. I’d be happy to hear them.

And, as for you? Well, you pays your money and you takes your choice. Wirex DID sort it, in the end, but it felt a bit half hearted and it took a lot of effort on my part. Perhaps your use will all be fine and you’ll never have to experience what I – or many others – have. And anyway, is anyone else any better in this crazy, growing market?

Let’s hope so … and I’m going to find out. In terms of global adoption of cryptocurrency, this is far too important to get wrong.

Watch this space!

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