Washington Mutual – “WaMu” – a Seattle based regional bank recently started a war for new depositors that swept me up in its maelstrom. And now I know why people hate banks – all banks. And now I know why banks spend so much money on ineffective efforts to try to convince us that they aren’t thieves, usurers and double-talking sleezeballs. Ninety-seven percent of American adults use a checking account at a bank. I’d guess 96.9 percent are perpetually pissed off about it.
I had both “push” and “pull” motivation for switching banks. My old rotten bank –Bank of America –got into the habit of routinely holding my checks for 10-12 days long enough to bounce all my monthly payments and leave me without any ready cash. When I aggressively and persistently inquired about this practice, I got excuses that ranged from the Patriot Act to Banking Regulation CCC to mindless claptrap from a customer service rep with an impenetrable accent probably in Manila or Mumbai.
Everyone knows that checks clear electronically in seconds in extremely secure IT environments. Banks batch process cash transfers and do all kinds of sophisticated trafficking, reconciliation, reporting and accounting paperwork every evening. The practice of holding a valid check has nothing really to do with collecting the money.
Surely with all the data and technology banks employ they can figure out I’m not funding al Queda and not laundering cash for Columbian drug lords. And while BofA needs to make its monthly nut its hard to imagine that playing the float on my paycheck for 10 days would be a significant contribution. The bottom line is that banks fuck with you because they can.
My new rotten bank --WaMu – got a story in the Wall Street Journal on a day after I enjoyed a lively interactive interaction with a human robot. The promise of free checking with free checks and no ATM fees at competitors’ ATMs caught my attention. The hope of a different act momentarily clouded my judgment
Evidently I was an easy mark. According to the 2006 Market Pulse Survey released by IBT Enterprises and MCA Works 41% of Americans say that “no amount of money or promotion” would get them to switch banks. They must be the “fire and forget” crowd. Another20 percent would switch for a one percent interest deal, 5% would defect for an iPod and one percent would actually bolt for a toaster; obviously my grandmother’s crowd. They got me for a few free checks and 20 dollars worth of fees.
From the moment I crossed the threshold of my branch at West 96th Street and Broadway, I was subject to WaMu’s three sins of omission
1. They Didn’t Grease the Pipeline.
WaMu planned a promotion, created and shipped collateral and signage to the branches, pitched the Journal and got free media. They didn’t cue the greeter to expect new customers to walk thru the door. They didn’t train her on the product. They didn’t staff the branch to handle a blip in volume. They didn’t streamline the enrollment process.
The net result – I wander in full of hope and promise. In nanoseconds I am brought up short by a clueless greeter who either doesn’t speak the language or is focused exclusively on a demonic image on my forehead. After a healthy amount of pantomime and posturing she fobs me off onto an over wrought clerk who can’t find the sign up kits, isn’t sure which forms to use and doesn’t understand that if I don’t take off my coat and don’t sit down it means I’m in a hurry. She is apologetic but slow. It takes 45 minutes to fill out two forms and process my cash deposit.
2. They Didn’t Disclose Critical Information.
As I later learned to my chagrin, WaMu routinely holds the initial deposits of new customers for 11 business days and holds every new deposit during the first month of the new banking relationship. This is supposedly disclosed in the booklet they toss at you, though I can’t find it after searching carefully through the fine print. No live person said anything about it when I was handing over my ID, calling off important numbers or signing in the box.
Bingo! I got from the frying pan into the fire in record time. But the kicker is I don’t find out till a week later when they mail me a postcard announcing that they’ve held a 2900 dollar check and then send me a notice notifying me that they bounced my first new checks to creditors.
3. They Treat Customers as Commodities
When I called the 800 customer service number, the agent stonewalled me. When I asked him why they hold new customers’ money he said they just did. It was standard practice. When I asked where it was disclosed he didn’t know but asserted I was told. When I attacked him and asked how he personally could participate in such a process, he used the Nazi defense and told me that WaMu was no better or no worse than the other banks. When I asked him to make good my checks and forgive the bounce fees he told me to get lost. No empathy. No relief. No hits. No runs. No men left on base.
Evidently if they got your cash, they really don’t care about customer experience or your relationship to the brand. As a marketer, it’s hard to imagine how they can pitch me on a loan, a mortgage or another financial product feeling the way I do. But stay tuned. They don’t know how I feel. They don’t care how I feel. They just play the numbers.