Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Customer Satisfaction

I eventually finished reading The Ingenuity Gap and meant to write a review. But something came in the way. That something being the previously mentioned attempt to close my Bank of America accounts. So instead of learning something worthwhile about the problems our world will be facing in the future (such the subtitle of the book), you get today another therapeutic frustration post about the problems I am facing in the present.

I called the Bank of America customer service hotline on Jan. 22nd, payed off my credit card debt and closed that account, transferred my savings into the checking account, and closed the savings account. After this, nobody was able to tell me the exact balance on the checking account, so I ended up adding and subtracting numbers with a pen on a paper (seriously). I issued my last check to myself. That check was cleared on Jan. 25th and brought the balance on the remaining checking account to exactly zero. That account should then have been closed on Jan. 25th at midnight.

What happened instead was that 2 minutes before midnight I received 8 cents remaining interest rate from the already closed savings account. As a result, the checking account didn't have zero balance, and could not be closed. Since it wasn't closed I was then charged the $ 20 service fee for the month of February. And since that damned account was now undead, another $ 15 automatic payment went off to the no-longer existing credit card account. (After a longer investigation of that interesting event I learned that an account being closed does not mean one can not transfer money in or out of it.) Then I was charged an overdraft fee, and another fee of $1.50 that I couldn't quite figure out where it came from.

[My account statement. Details scraped out for privacy reasons]

I don't want to know where this would have went hadn't I called them yesterday to find out why I hadn't been send a confirmation on the account closure yet. I called the local service hotline, made my way through the automatic menu but was kicked out after 10 minutes or so. Calling again, the line remained busy. I therefore called the national service line, made my way through the automatic menu, hung on hold for 20 minutes and got a 'customer satisfaction accountant' who didn't know nothing about nothing and was very happy to pass me on to another accountant from the credit department.

That women then kept repeating the same useless information about the status for the next hour or so, while I got increasingly upset. Highlights of that conversation include

"Is there ANYBODY in your company who has a clue what the others are doing?" - "No ma'am." ,

"It seems like the remaining option is to jump on a plane to California and just pay the $1.50, is that what you're saying?" - "Yes, ma'am.",

"How I can solve this problem?" - "I don't know."

I have to give it to her she remained very calm and polite. If somebody had yelled at me the way I yelled at her, I'd have hung up. After one hour our so I gave up, banged my head against the wall for a while, and called again. I made my way through the automatic menu, hung on hold for 15 minutes and got connected with another 'customer satisfaction accountant'. The women had a slightly Indian accent and after the identification stuff she asked how she could help me. "Could you please, please, please just help me close my bank accounts," I said. And then the miracle happened: she typed something in her computer, probably brought up my file, and said "Oh, I see you've had some problems, I connect you to somebody who can help you."

I was then connected to a guy who apologized profoundly for the inconvenience, said he'd waived all my fees and the account would be closed midnight Feb 11th. I didn't even know what to say except for 'Thank You.'

Well, given that I've never in my life overdrawn an account, I find this very annoying indeed. Yes, I am one of these old-fashioned people who Don't buy stuff they can't afford ;-)

PS: And here is the BAC stock. I swear it started dropping yesterday at exactly the time I called in.


  1. Just out of curiosity, why were you interested in closing your account? I mean I do not see why it is a problem if you have an account with zero balance. My bank (JP Morgan Chase) does not charge me an annual maintenance fee so I can keep it forever...

  2. This happens to everyone. Banks have been around since the days of the Medicis, but closing an account is still a challenge. Poincare said that the surface was invented by the devil, and I suppose bankers feel that way about closing accounts.

    The right way to close an account is to send a letter to the branch at which you opened the account. Ideally, spend an extra dollar or two and get the letter certified or at least traceable so the bank knows that you can prove that they received it. Ask them to close the account and send you the money. Be ekphrastic. Make sure you include an address and telephone number.

    Don't be surprised by zombie accounts and transactions. They may look scary, but they are an ordinary artifact of the closing, sort of like surface plasmons. The opening and closing of accounts takes place in a different space-time manifold from the bookkeeping manifold, and there are all sorts of artifacts in the $-brane crossings.

  3. a) because they were charging a fee. That was partly my fault though and could probably have been fixed with more patience. There was no fee when I opened the account. I was probably informed of that fee in some mail but...

    b) they insisted on sending my bank statements and other information in Spanish. Unfortunately I don't speak Spanish. I have complained about this at least 5 times. Was assured I would receive them in English, but kept receiving them in Spanish.

    c) Because I don't need it. I have sufficiently many other Bank accounts in various currencies, and should I ever move back to the USA I will pick a different Bank.

    d) Because they'd probably have continued sending me all kinds of crap like advertisements, emails about updates, and the like. Again, I complained re-re-repeatedly I don't want the online banking to send me anything, but they weren't able to fix that.

    e) Because my experience with them has been without exception ANNOYING in capital letters and I don't want to have anything to do with them anymore.

    Btw, I had a Chase account earlier and never had any problems with them (not even with closing the account).



  4. BofA Corp, Board of Directors as of Feb 2008:


    Andreas Dombret:
    Vice Chairman of Global Investment Banking In Europe and Head of German-Speaking Countries of Investment-Banking Team

    Send each of the bastards a scathing letter - wholly in German - protesting the abuse, demanding compensation for losses, and detailing public disclosure of their incompetences. Cc: the US Federal Trade Commission and Fedral Bureau of Investigation, and your representative in Ottawa.

    Shit rising evaporates. Shit descending exponentiates. DO NOT PAY.

  5. Hi Uncle :-)

    Thanks, I was writing this letter in my head while on the phone. However, given that the guy in the end told me I wouldn't have to pay anything, I think I will wait and see whether I eventually get a confirmation on the successfull account closure...



  6. Dear Bee, you have my sympathy..

    I spent a significant portion of my October and November closing my various accounts before my international move, including my bank. That one was relatively easy though, because I was there in person, compared to the others I closed remotely (phone, gas, electricity, internet, insurances). Some of my accounts I never received verification that they are closed, though (despite my registered letters with faxes giving them my new address out of Italy). You say that automatic payments can continue from bank accounts that are closed? I don't think that my old bank can do that, but now you do have me a little bit worried.

    But, it could be worse with your bank service people. In Italy, if a customer person can't figure out how to help you, they hang up on you, because they know that you will call back and probably get a different person who might be able to help. So besides the frustration of getting through the busy signal, and then the phone menu system, there is a high probability that after a few minutes the service person will hang up on you, and then you'll need to start the process all over again.

  7. A friend of mine received a mobile phone as a "gift" from a purchase. He didn't want the mobile phone, but it was a gift, then he took it anyway. He used it a little, didn't like it, then decided to close his account. After many frustrating attempts at the phone, he found out that he couldn't close the account! There was no such option.

  8. I mean, "after many frustrating attempts at the phone menu system of the company"...

  9. "Yes, I am one of those old-fashioned people who don't buy stuff that they can't afford"

    You are you kidding?

    By purchasing a seat on the Fundamental Physics Locomotive, you and many others, have a ticket that the whole of mankind cannot afford.

  10. What is the cost of the Fundamental Physics Locomotive, e.g., compared to $2 billion a month in Iraq?

  11. Phil

    Hi Christine,

    “He didn't want the mobile phone, but it was a gift, then he took it anyway…….. After many frustrating attempts at the phone, he found out that he couldn't close the account! There was no such option.”
    He didn't want the mobile phone, but it was a gift, then he took it anyway.

    He should have become suspicious if the name of the phone provider was “Trojan” :-) This is one time he should have looked the gift horse in the mouth.



  12. Hi

    Another example of Gotcha Capitalism.


    Gordon Pasha

  13. I've had more or less the exact same experience before. Usually with French banks, but recently with an American one too.. Eg unable to close b/c of .15 cents or something like that.

    The worst situations happen when your credit card is stolen, and have to go through the archaic fraud departments. I've had situations where crediting companies have come after me in the meantime before the bank gets their act together. Last time it was so frustrating and time consuming, I ended up simply paying the 40$ to the crediting agency, just so I wouldn't have to waste more time


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