Monday, September 07, 2009

Dear Bank of America (and Ken Lewis): Here's my Problem

Mr. Kenneth D. Lewis
CEO & President
Bank of America Corporation
100 North Tryon Street
Charlotte, NC 28202

August 31, 2009


Ref: Making a Checking Deposit

Dear Mr. Lewis,

I wouldn’t say I love the Bank of America brand so much as grossly respect it for all its red, white and blue effrontery. That ‘in your face we’re bigger and better than all of you’ attitude is hard to resist, which is consequently why I continue to use your bank despite a spate of blunders on your behalf. This last incident stole the show and, Kenneth, I know I shouldn’t use the word ‘steal’ with respect to any financial institution (let alone yours), but for the two weeks my cash sat in monetary purgatory I began to believe stealing it back was my only option.

We can both agree that technology is a powerful and seductive mistress. Imagine - if you can - how it might feel to become the victim of a crime so seductive that you hardly know it has occurred. (I bet a lot of American taxpayers feel that way today – am I right, Ken?). How was I to know that, at the moment your auto-mistress sucked my check from my hand (giving me just that little electric tingle of self-satisfaction that I was working on the veritable cusp of technology), that this act would set in motion a series of draconian events no one from your fine corporation could ever hope to explain?

Kenneth, what happens when a check is deposited and clears the payees’ account? Yes, it is made available to the depositor (not a trick question)! I am sorry if this is elemental for you yet, in my recent experience, a perfectly good check deposited via the same cash machine – identical in amount, payee and issuer to 15 previous checks deposited at virtually the same time each month for the past 15 months - was summarily rejected by Bank of America. Now Mr. Kenneth, I’m sure you are thinking (just like I was) ‘how could this happen at Bank of America to one of our long-time customers?’ I’ll get to that last bit in a minute. But I really hope you know the answer because no one else at your bank has a clue.

I guess (and why shouldn’t I? That’s what your staff do when they don’t know the solution), the real answer lies in your use of technology: Bank of America has become a programming experiment and, as a result, the staff is now as clueless as the customer to explain how simple tasks - like depositing a check or transferring money from one account to another - can go inexplicably wrong. And, Kenneth, it’s not the staff’s fault - you have placed them in this intolerable situation; But maybe now I begin to understand your inspired and strategic leadership in closing down the retail operations. I mean, getting rid of staff that’s uninformed and lacking in effective training must be better than leaving them defenseless on the front line of customer service. By the way, have you spent any time in one of your local branches recently, Kenneth? Was it like bobbing rudderless in a sea of ineptitude?

Kenneth, for fifteen days a significant amount of money was neither in my account nor in the account of my employer. It was, however, in your account. Fifteen days, Kenneth! For a check no different than one deposited a month earlier and one deposited a month later (which cleared in the usual day or two). Why, Kenneth? Where’s the explanation? (And Ken, please note that I’m looking for an explanation that actually makes sense).

Which reminds me, Kenneth, that I did want to come back to what I thought was my long-standing relationship with your bank. Since my account has been open for over 20 years, I believe I have banked with Bank of America for over 20 years. Far be it from me to be so tactless to note the value of my deposits over those years but it is your business and it is a lot. Really – a lot, but that seems to be utterly meaningless to your staff: “Not with this bank” one of your staffers was quick to assert, only because I have been one of a multitude of accounts swallowed up by the bank that couldn’t say no (that would be yours). Truth be told, I guess I’m really a Nat West customer and I sometimes look back longingly on those days. Far be it from the government to talk Nat West into a bank merger, Kenneth! (Raising the issue of your deal making might not seem relevant but if acquired customers aren’t ‘real’ customers, then what are they?) And the shareholders, Kenneth, imagine how they feel when they realize you’ve prioritized deal making over their interests. What kind of executive management is it that folds in the face of such government cajoling? I’m sure Merrill Lynch will eventually come good for you, though.

So where does this leave us, Ken? I wish I could say I want to stay with Bank of America because you are the best around. That’s not the case. I’m stuck with you. Just this week, we realized that in ten years you’ve never reduced our overdraft interest rate (in spite of the fact that the prime lending rate has collapsed over that period), but you are still as inefficient as ever in crediting our account with deposits, which, of course, causes us to use the credit line. Slowness pays dividends (and bonuses too, I suppose. Am I right Kenneth?). Just last Sunday, your technology placed a hold on my cash card for some spurious and inconvenient reason. (Well, probably – who really knows?) Kenneth, you are getting worse not better.

I’m leery of your technology and despite your retail close-down I’m now looking for more human contact. In fact, for all my deposits, check cashing and payments I now go to the teller window. Sure, it’s less efficient and costs you more, but one of the nonsensical explanations for my problem(s) was that had I done it at the teller window, I wouldn’t have had a problem. Mr. Ken, I’ve tested this out and it seems to be the case!

So, along those lines, I am enclosing a check for $7.83 which I was hoping you could deposit for me. I’ve included a deposit slip.

I look forward to your apology.

Best regards,

Michael Cairns
A lifetime customer of Nat West.

NOTE AND UPDATE (SEPTEMBER 15th): I received a friendly call from Melanie in Mr. Lewis' office. She called to discuss my issue and to tell me that my letter had been forwarded to Mr. Lewis. She also indicated that my deposit check had been forwarded to the deposit by mail department for deposit.

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