Saturday, June 22

My Current Identity Crisis

There are different kinds of identity crises. I could have doubts about whether I’m a woman: but no, that’s not a problem. My main reservation about really being a woman is the risk of NZ First chaps hanging around women’s toilets, supposedly to champion my sex against blokes dressed in female gear. (At least Shane Jones will be too tied up hunting the blind frogs who’ve omitted to donate to his election campaign.) Or I could be standing for public office, and thus confront an identity crisis from having to reinvent myself every three years – or, were I a NZF MP, annually.

My current, specific identity crisis results from dealing with large institutions: most memorably, the Public Trust in New Zealand, together with – as a cosmopolitan type – one of the big UK banks.  

Last year, I was told by the Public Trust that a late friend had left me some money. They found me because someone mentioned my link with Auckland University, and my email address there is in the public domain. To confirm my claim to my legacy, I had to validate my identity. Cue a scan of my driver’s license.

Home and hosed?  No: my friend’s will had named me as Joanne Wilkes, whereas my driver’s licence includes my middle name. Cue a visit to a JP who would affirm that the two identities represented the same person. Bingo!  But no, Shane, I haven’t received the money yet…

There are in fact at least two women named Joanne Wilkes in New Zealand. I know this because in the late ‘80s, I rented a unit in a block of five – and then suddenly stopped receiving any mail. It transpired that one of the other residents in this block was also a Joanne Wilkes. The posties, unsurprisingly, didn’t believe that there were two of us in a group of five units, and so delivered the mail for two to only one. Fortunately, the other Joanne Wilkes investigated, and rang me.

The late ‘80s looked like my peak time for identity crises. I had been a student in England earlier that decade and ended up with two bank accounts in the same British bank. Naturally, when I moved to Auckland, I advised them of my change of address. Cue bank dividends arriving for me in Auckland! Unfortunately, I’d never had the dough to become an actual shareholder, and the shares were actually in the name of the Rev. John C. V. Wilkes, of Oxfordshire. As someone who was then poor, honest, and (ongoingly) female, I posted the cheque back to the bank.

The bank indeed caught on to the difference between a male, UK-based cleric and a female, New Zealand-based academic. In particular, they got the message about my residence in New Zealand. Some years later, I spent several months in England, and tried to get a debit card to use while there. I went into the local branch, ordered a card, and specified that I’d like it held there for collection. When I returned to pick it up, the teller beamed at me and assured me that the card had been posted to New Zealand….

So I get to last year, and now that bank doesn’t want my money any longer. They don’t want the money of most account-holders living overseas. This made no sense to me until I noticed that the reference number on bank correspondence always started with ‘BREX’. After Brexit, the tight little island rejected the funds of us dubious foreigners. However desperate the UK’s current Tory government is, nonetheless, they can’t actually steal our dough – the bank had to return it.  But of course, in order to get the money reimbursed, we had to prove our identities.

Cue a flurry of identity-validation activity on my part, which has left me out of pocket. I’m currently in the middle of the third round, having begun in December. But to call it a flurry is perhaps a misnomer, since I had two rounds of getting letters saying my documentation was inadequate. And because the postal service, which served me well in earlier identity crises, is a shadow of its former self, everything takes ages. You can of course ‘phone the international division of the bank, but since Brexit, UK institutions have forgotten that not every country follows British time (Greenwich ultra-mean time). This circumstance likely isn’t a problem when they’re dealing with those pesky Europeans, who (I can reveal exclusively here), remain an hour ahead of the Brits. But on the other side of the world, the difference is very inconvenient.

Not that ringing the bank is a solution, as it’s hard to reach anyone who’s at a pay-grade that allows them to convey useful information over the phone. (And of course, they don’t know who I really am..) In addition, the bank refuses to communicate by email in any circumstances.

For me, then, it’s a waiting game.  But at least I know the name of a shareholder in that bank, and he is a sort of namesake. Even if we’ll never use the same kind of toilet.