A Tale of Three Banks

Bank A – Thank you and good night.

I’ve been with bank “A” since August 1999. In December 2007 I got a letter from them informing me that they were switching my account to a new account in January. On examining the documentation more closely, I was incensed to find that the account that they were switching me to carried with it a $15 monthly charge that they generously waived for the first six months.

To say that I was not best pleased would be a massive understatement.

I phoned Customer Service, and spoke with “Tony”. He informed me that it would be impossible to keep my old account, because all accounts were being “harmonized”. An interesting choice of words; you might think it harmony to charge me to the tune (geddit?) of $15/month, but for me it sounds like discord.

The following day, I arrived home to find a message from an employee of this bank. I called back a few days later, but she was off that day. I left a message for her to call me. I never heard from her.

I resolved to change banks before that charge reared its ugly head.

Bank B – Wonderful people, broken system.

My first port of call was the local branch of a major national bank. Their website mentioned that they would pay a $100 bonus if I opened a new account and set up Direct Deposithey, a hundred bucks to do something I was going to do anyway can’t be bad, so…

1/23: Went into my local branch to open an account. After about a three-minute wait I was ushered into an office where the Manager greeted me and gave me options and details. I decided that this bank would be as good as any other, so off we go.

When I mentioned the $100 bonus she claimed not to know about itshe thought it was $75, then she checked the website. (Did I mention that she was the manager?) We shall see…

Anyway, she took my details, did her due diligence, and had me input my PIN. When signing the paperwork, I noticed that my middle initial was wrong. I mentioned this to her. She did not say anything, but typed a few keys on her computer; I assumed that she had made the correction. She also took my opening balance ($20) and ordered my first batch of checks. I asked if I could specify the starting number, and she said “no”, they start at 500.

Time spent: 30 minutes.

1/25: Went online to set up web access to my account. The website gave two ways to set up online banking: The first was “I have my Debit Card“, and required Debit Card Number, PIN, SSN and Account number; the second was “I don’t have a Debit Card“, and required SSN, PIN and Account number. Since my debit card had not arrived yet, I took the second option.

It didn’t work.

Naturally I called customer service. After being told that my call was important (but not important, enough, evidently, to warrant hiring sufficient staff), I was told that the second option was for those who had not been issued with a debit card. Since a Debit card had issued I had to wait till the card arrived and use that option.

Suggestion: Change the wording to “I have/have not been issued with a debit card“. That would have saved me a lot of time and trouble.

Time wasted: 45 minutes.

1/26: Good news: my debit card arrived – YAY! Bad news: unfortunately the card still had the wrong middle initial. Whatever the manager had done, the name on the account was still wrong.

Phoned up customer service. Again. Ran the “Your call is important to us” gauntlet. Again.. Sadly, in order to fix the account I had to clear security, and since I did not have online access set up, they did not have enough information to clear me. Fair enough, though a bit of a catch-22 situation if you ask me…

I went online and got web access set up. Fast and simple.

Time wasted: 20 minutes.

1/30: Phoned up Customer Support and had them change the name of the account.

At first she said that it could not be done by her; I would have to go into the local branch and get it sorted out there. I persisted and explained what I had been told. She said that she would take care of it. After she put me on hold for a couple of minutes, she told me that the named on the account had been changed (I had asked her to drop my middle initial entirely), and that a new Card would be issued in 7-10 days. Fair enough. I asked if the checks that had been ordered were also corrected, she said that no checks had been ordered.

Finally, she mentioned that a charge for the replacement card may appear on the account (apparently suppressing that charge was not an option at this time). If that happened, I was to call and have it reversed.

Time wasted: 30 minutes.

1/31: Went online and checked my account. Sure enough, there was a pending “Miscellaneous Payment” for $7.50 on the account. Called Customer service again (I now know the number from memory). She told me that she couldn’t do anything about it until the charge had “cleared”.

Time wasted: 10 minutes.

2/1: The charge has now “cleared”, so I phoned up Customer Service again. After the obligatory wait I spoke to a pleasant chap who took my details and put me on hold again. Finally he told me that the charge would be refunded.

Time wasted: 15 minutes.

2/6: My account has received a mysterious credit of $75! A few days ago I transferred $500 from a savings account with a different bank; looks like they thought that it was my paycheck and the $100 bonus was paid as the $75 that the manager was expecting. I spoke to the manager, but she seems convinced that the bonus was $75, not $100.

2/15: Got a letter from the manager, with a form that I need to sign and date, and return to her. A form that I have already signed…

2/20: Dropped by with the form. The manager admitted that I had signed the form but the back office had lost itkudos to her for honesty. I mentioned the $75/$100 bonus; she remains convinced that it should be only $75.

2/25 My first batch of checks arrives. A large box contains one book of only 30 checks. Talk about cheap.

Bank C – Smooth Operators

About a week after opening my account with Bank B, I was sufficiently browned off by my less-than-salutary experience at their hands to with open a new account elsewhere. A neighbor of mine works for a small local bank that we shall imaginatively call “Bank C”; she was a customer before she was an employee, which is a high recommendation in itself – would you want to work for an outfit that has mistreated you as a customer?

2/2: Milady and I arrived at the bank at 10:45 on a Saturday morning. We were greeted at the door and seconds later we were whisked into the presence of our bank-account-opening person. She was very friendly and professional. After explaining our options, she took copies of our Driving licenses and opened our joint checking account (we decided not to open the savings account yet; there was a $200 minimum balance requirement, and being between paychecks, money was a little tight; we’ll do that later).

There was a $10 setup chargethough you do get a free batch of checks and a $25 bonus every year. I asked if we could specify the starting number, she said “sure”. I asked for the checks to begin at 1626 (our current batch of Bank A checks ends at 1625).

She was very thorough; she went through our automated payments and filled out and gave us paperwork for them “just in case the payee requires something in writing”. It would have been nice to have a folder for all this paperwork, but that is a minor gripe.

Another gripe was that when filling out paperwork the e-statement section was presented as if it was mandatory. I am not averse to electronic statements, but I prefer to have paperwork, all other things being equal. I have found that businesses love it when their customers “go paperless”, because it saves them printing and postage costs to the tune of millions. But so far only one companyVerizon Wirelesshas offered to pass some of those cost savings on to their customers. Any road up, I asked if it were possible to receive paper statements; she said yes and crossed out the e-statement section. I am happy.

She also informed me that I would receive an e-mail when my online banking was set up. The entire process took twenty minutes from start to finish.

2/4: My wife received a call from the bank asking if everything was all right and if there was anything they could do for us. This small personal touch goes a long way.

2/6: Received an e-mail letting me know that online banking had been set up. Sign-up took less then ten minutes, most of which was spent choosing a password that was acceptable to both of us.

2/8: Received a card from the bank, hand-signed by the staff, welcoming us.

2/10: A thick envelope arrived in the mail, containing a flattened box and two books of 25 checks, starting with 1626, as promised. Yay

Final thoughts:

Bank A: Buh-bye. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but someday soon and for the rest of your life.

Bank B: Nice websitethe best of the threebut too many screw-ups to be trustworthy. I plan on keeping that account open and using it as my tech stash/eBay account (Paypal’s terms and conditions give them the ability to lock the bank account that is linked to a Paypal account, so it pays to not give them the keys to the kingdom), so the effort was not completely wasted.

Bank C: We expect our cars to just work; you turn the key and the engine roars to life. The car takes you where you are going, and you get on with your business. This was the only bank that charged to open an account, which just goes to prove that you get what you pay for. I’m impressed. Good products, good service, nice people to do business with. We all make mistakes, it’s how they are handled that counts. And I get the impression that these folks do things right.

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