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We Value Your Bullshit
In addition to studying French, I study the language of business bullshit. For example, "We value your business." (Translation: "We're fucking you up the ass.")

Friday afternoon, I got a letter that started out "We value your business" from Blank Of America (I'm calling it that since a big blank is what they seem to have have in place of customer service).

My accountant told me at the beginning of April that I needed to put money in my IRA no later than April 17. On Wednesday, April 12, to leave plenty of time before tax day in case there were any screwups, I did this over the phone with "Mitchell." He gave me a "confirmation number" (which turned out to be confirmation of not much in particular, except that I'd waited on hold almost 20 minutes to talk to Mitchell, and then bent over and gave him a lot of personal information).

I'm on deadline Monday and Tuesday, so Wednesday, April 20, I toddled over to pick up my mail, and saw I had a Blank Of America envelope waiting for me. Oh, good...confirmation of my transaction. I opened it. I was shocked to find a letter informing me that they "regret to inform you that we will be unable to fulfill this request through our written or telephone channels."

When I called back, the rep told me that it turns out that they do credit checks when you contribute money to your IRA (I guess because all those Afghanistan-bound suicide bombers have a habit of contributing to a tax-free fund for their old age.) Anyway, I have a freeze on my credit to prevent identity theft -- lest, say, some dumb monkey from BofA or some other company take home a laptop with a lot of personal data on it, then have it stolen.

I now find out that, because they couldn't check my credit, I have to go into a branch and show them my driver's license, and they'll retroactively make the deposit. Forgive me, but I have full Internet access, multiple home telephone lines, and a cell phone. Couldn't one of their customer "service" reps have picked up the phone and given me a little yoohoo? The Blank guy informed me that they simply can't make such calls. Nope, instead they sent me a form letter -- dated April 17, the day my taxes were to be mailed, postmarked April 18 in San Francisco, and received April 20.

Best of all, it was totally generic: "In order to open this account," etc. -- never saying which account exactly, although I had a pretty good idea, since I'd only opened one account in the past week. At the end before it was signed by "Brina Mata, Lead Operations Representative," it did say "thank you for your continued business." Sorry, Brina, I'm not really looking for thanks, just good customer service. That said, I'd even settle for adequate customer the 20 seconds it would take to make a phone call and leave me a message on my answering machine in a timely manner.

I'm a little busy to be changing banks right now, and I need a bank with locations all over the place in our country, plus a corresponding ATM system in France (I can currently get money without a charge at Bank Paribas), but it sure is tempting. At the moment, I'd settle for a little truth in customer servicing, such as, "Hi, this is Mandy, how can I fuck you up the ass today?"

Posted by aalkon at April 21, 2007 11:25 AM


The further bureaucratization of life.

My dad talks about the days when he could borrow money in our small town by just calling his banker over the phone. Now the paper work is measured by the pound.

One of his older bankers was here for dinner, and he talked about how when loans went bad, people used to take the consequences. Then they started getting lawyers, who often enough got them out of the loan on some technecality. Ergo, new rules.

Posted by: doombuggy at April 21, 2007 4:23 AM

"I'm a little busy to be changing banks right now."?? This is exactly what keeps customer no-service at the lowest level. If someone screws you, refusing to have anything to do with them is the only way they will change. When an organization or company does not perform you must leave them. Otherwise the service stays the same at best or slowly worsens as they realize how much crap you are willing to take from them. (By the way, the same concept works with people.)

Posted by: Jay at April 21, 2007 6:04 AM

Jay, I'm not one to take getting screwed lying down. But, a close friend just died and I put a lot of time into being with her and her daughter, and now I'm a little behind in everything. I was supposed to go to France in May -- I canceled my trip -- and in addition to my rather crushing regular weekly column deadline, I'm working like mad to get a book chapter done so I can get an advance, plus moderating a panel at LA Times Festival of Books (Sunday, 3pm, more on that tomorrow), plus I have a magazine deadline and another secret project deadline that got moved up by about six months. To say I need to be cloned right now is an understatement, so the idea that I'd drop everything to research moving my money -- including my CDs and IRAs -- in addition is a bit counterproductive. It's something I want to do, but would you, if you were me, really put it front and center?

P.S. If it hasn't occurred to you, I'm doing something by writing about it, no?

Posted by: Amy Alkon at April 21, 2007 6:44 AM

Amy, maybe your assistant can do the bank changing for you? At least she could research which bank will have customer service and will let you access your funds in France.

I'm using one of those internet banks (ING Direct kind of a thing). No service fees, lots of ATM access all over the city, etc.

Posted by: Chrissy at April 21, 2007 7:11 AM

Thanks, but that's not what my assistant does. I use every bit of her time to edit my questions, etc. I deposit checks often because I get a lot of small checks from papers, and this BofA is close to my home, and there's another on the way to the airport (I usually end up putting checks in on the fly as I'm leaving town), and there really are no other major banks that are. I will probably end up moving my CDs and IRAs elsewhere when I can.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at April 21, 2007 7:33 AM

Sad story Amy, but typical of B of A nowadays. As you noted, there's no real moral to the story except "I need to change banks ASAP."

Chrissy, can you tell us which internet bank you use? Specifically, do you pay zero ATM fees?

I use and like ING for short and mid-term savings. Moving money in an out of my conventional bank checking account is easy. Here's a piece from Digg last month that may be of interest (so to speak): ING is comes out at the bottom, but I admire their sturdy systems... Maybe that money goes into operations.

The secret of my long-term investing: No-load mutual indexes. I have a lot of very smart friends who dick around with individual picks. They always have things to talk about when we go to dinner, but they don't beat the Street.

Posted by: Crid at April 21, 2007 8:02 AM

Actually, what would be great is if any of you are using great banks, and you could recommend them. Let's just say my forte is not the world of finance, and my assistant is fantastic but her abilities in the world of finance are probably somewhat similar to mine!

Posted by: Amy Alkon at April 21, 2007 8:07 AM

I started learning the language as an adult and nothing from French in Action made my ears ready to hear it when I was there. Here is a great site for French listening.

If you ever get the BofA thing figured out, let us know.

Posted by: miche at April 21, 2007 8:23 AM

Try Mulligan's Bank. Is based somewhere in Colorado...

Posted by: André-Tascha at April 21, 2007 8:32 AM

That link is mostly for the comments. There are 160 of them, and they're each short and sincere. Theme: You can chase pennies if you want to, but once you're in a fundamentally organized position and your minding your chores (as you TRIED to do with BofA), then you're probably not getting burned.

This blog post resonated because I had a bad experience with a bank's (Chase) red tape yesterday. These are huge institutions that lose money when they help sane, articulate customers handle matters on the telephone. Anyone computer-savvy enough to read blog comments in in a great position to deal with these things nowadays. My heart breaks for those to old or simple to attend to such things. BofA exists to exploit them. Bank of America is not about community involvement: All those people on the other side of the counter are part-time, and don't you forget it.

Also, it's nice to live near Brentwood, the only place I know of where the BofA teller is across an open-air console, and not shouting my account numbers at her customer (me) through a two-inch sheet of Lexan.

These people are recommended by others, but I haven't read the fine print:

Posted by: Crid at April 21, 2007 8:34 AM

I dumped the Wank of America ages ago. They were utterly hopeless in the international transaction department, and in other ways.

Not before I got a free laugh, however. The loan officer at the Ocean Beach branch, whose name was Roxie, asked me if I and my wife might be interested in swinging with her and her old man. The answer was no, Roxie got canned shortly thereafter and the branch is now a gym.

Strange the ways of US banking... in UK it's all about developing a personal relationship with your bank manager. In France it's all about flirting with the tellers, natch. On the US side I'm with Wells Fuggo now -- they're OK, and I can pay checks written in UKP or Euro straight into my current account.

Posted by: Stu "El Inglés" Harris at April 21, 2007 9:07 AM

I used to have a personal relationship with the bank manager, John somebody, whom Deanna Stillman put me onto. He was great. Then, he left. and I've never liked banking there since. Always some stranger working there when I go there. Too many companies don't get it -- part of the reason you go to a business that's a big chain (sometimes a big part of it) is the way you're treated by the people you work there, and the relationship you have with them. I love my local staples because of this great guy with dreads who works there, and Mark who used to run the copy center but still works there, and was there with me all the way from the start of my Advice Goddessing as I was running off huge mailings to try to pick up papers.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at April 21, 2007 9:45 AM

My household banking is at BofA, but my small biz and libertarian county party stuff is at View Point. It is a TX bank and because it is local it is awesome for face time. The only drawback is that we sometimes chat too long. I will take that problem any day though.

Posted by: miche at April 21, 2007 10:30 AM

Bank of America? Barf. Let me tell you about the royal fucking I got from them:

About ten years ago I moved from (large Pacific Time Zone city) back to my home state of (east coast state). Before moving, I went to my friendly local Bank of America branch and asked if I could use my current account across the country, or if I needed to close this account and open a new one in my new location. I was advised to do the latter. So I said, "Very well, I'd like to close this account."

Apparently, what the BoA teller heard me say was "I'd like to take all the money out of this account, but not close it, so the next $2 monthly fee will send my balance below zero, which will give Bank of America the right to charge me outrageous 'account maintenance' fees every month. Please do not notify me this is happening, not even once, even though I left you a forwarding address and a phone number. I'd rather find out about it four years from now when a several hundred dollar bad debt to Bank of America shows up on my credit report and keeps me from getting a much-needed car loan."

And to add insult to injury, after I moved, the local Bank of America branch told me my credit score was not good enough to open a checking account. Seriously. Though in retrospect, I suppose they did me a favor by forcing me to do business with good banks (Wachovia and USBank, who have treated me fairly).

Posted by: Gary S. at April 21, 2007 10:50 AM

Too little, too late:

You can extend the deadline for an IRA contribution to Oct. 15, if you file a tax extension. That buys you another 6 months, with the downside that you have to pay 6 months interest on your taxes. Still better than paying the taxes on all your income, without the deduction for the IRA contribution.

As a house of writers, we often have to do this in order to have the cash for an IRA contribution, because nobody mails out the April royalties in a timely manner.

But that's a subject for another post.
Bottom line, of course, BofA should have done their job.

Posted by: Harriet at April 21, 2007 1:00 PM

I have been using Presidents Choice Financial for the past 5 years. They outsource to CIBC, so I can use their ATMs all over the city. I get free cheques, free ATM use, bill payment online, over the phone, or at the ATM. I have never paid a service fee within these parameters. If I use another banks ATM, they charge me a fee, so I never do that. I have a chequing account, 2 savings accounts, and a line of credit, so they are my only bank. I'm very happy with what I'm getting.

My investments, tax sheltered accounts, etc. are with an investment guy, so that's elsewhere.

Posted by: Chrissy at April 21, 2007 3:07 PM

You;re not FROM our country! You're a FOREIGNER!

(The link above has thoughts from Canadians as well)

Posted by: Crid at April 21, 2007 3:57 PM

There is NO WAY I am filing a tax extension. Apparently, they can back-date it if I go in with the letter I got. I'm going to check out these banks people are mentioning (the ones you say you've had good experiences with) and see about where I'll move my money. Thanks everybody - and if anybody has any other bank suggestions, bring 'em on.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at April 21, 2007 7:08 PM

"Hi, this is Mandy, how can I fuck you up the ass today?"

So kind of you to ask, Mandy! I'll take it hard and deep, thank you.

Posted by: Lena at April 21, 2007 11:44 PM

Mandy will let you pick which color strap-on you'd like to use. And then she'll send you a letter telling you she's breaking your date. The letter will arrive a week after she stands you up. On Wank of America stationery.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at April 22, 2007 12:39 AM

By any chance, is this the same girl (and the same strap-on) that Barry Manilow was thinking about when he sang, "Oh, Mandy, you came and you gave without taking"?

Posted by: Lena at April 22, 2007 1:02 AM

Look, just send her away.

Posted by: Crid at April 22, 2007 2:40 AM

Yup Crid, I'm a damn foreigner, from that socialist country on top of you (Lena, I can top or bottom). I assumed that PC had already infiltrated the US and was spreading its no-fee socialism. Oh well, just trying to help.

Posted by: Chrissy at April 22, 2007 6:44 AM

No-fee there's an oxymoron!

Posted by: Amy Alkon at April 22, 2007 10:15 AM

I use B of A for my checking accounts, for the reasons Amy mentioned - easy access pretty much anywhere I go.

For other financial services (retirement savings, insurance, etc), I cannot give USAA a higher recommendation. If you're eligible, check them out. Their customer service and responsiveness are incredible compared to any other organization I've dealt with. I've simply never encountered a more well-run company.

Posted by: justin case at April 22, 2007 11:49 AM

"- easy access pretty much anywhere I go."

... especially when you have a date with Mandy, I'm sure.

Posted by: Lena at April 22, 2007 1:27 PM

I know people are going to have a cow, but I have had excellent service from Citibank since 1992. I used them for years on the east coast, moved to LA and went with CalFed, who then became Citibank. No, it is not the cheapest bank, I do pay a monthly fee. But I don't pay to use their ATM's, and they have locations all over the place, including other major cities. I cannot speak for Podunkville. I have never had any trouble using my ATM card in Europe. I linked my Citibank credit card to the account, so I can also make weekly payments to my credit card when I deposit paychecks. The overdraft protection has saved my ass during the lean times. I may owe interest, but that check does not bounce.

You do speak to a rep in India when you call the 800, but they are knowledgeable and do their jobs well, as much as I hate outsourced overseas call banks. They are open on Saturdays, and there used to even be a location in the rock-n-roll Ralph's on Sunset that was open on Sundays, though I haven't been there in a few years.

I do also have an account with First Entertainment Credit Union, but the no Saturday hours and few locations is the deal breaker with me switching over completely.

I don't bank online at all, so I can speak for any of that. I got audited a few years ago, and they provided me free of charge a lot of back paperwork and notary services that I know they could have charged me for.

Posted by: Robyn at April 22, 2007 6:37 PM

CAN'T speak about online banking...

Posted by: Robyn at April 22, 2007 6:39 PM

I have not known one friend who has not had trouble with B of A who had an account with them. They claimed one of us owed them money. They couldn't explain why. But entered the persons name into check systems for money they said they were owed but never said why, only that it was owed. They were asked for an explaination of the charge. They said they are going to get back with the info. That was 1999. The funniest part was while they blocked him from opening an account thru check systems, they opened an account for him. There are other stories but I won't bore you. Good luck getting them to be helpful.

Oh and last thing, when he tried to find out why he owed this money to them, he spoke to someone high up in B of A. They said the we value your business too. He told them they did not want to know how he viewed the relationship. She said she wanted to know, so he replied that to him it was an unholy bond forged in the depths of hell. Good luck banking with them

Posted by: many faceted at April 23, 2007 12:26 PM

On a related note: why aren't there more national banking chains? Pick any two major US cities that are more than a time zone apart, and odds are Wank of America will be the only one that has local branches in both places.

Posted by: Gary S. at April 23, 2007 1:47 PM

Posted by: Nbkvqzq at May 23, 2007 6:55 AM

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