Tuesday, March 1, 2011

BIG BANKS GET PERSONAL

I just got back from depositing some checks at my local bank. I know all the tellers and the managers and have been banking at this place since I moved here in 1999.

It was a Wachovia bank up until recently, and like all banks it had its problems, but I was used to them and usually my transactions go pretty smoothly.

Then Wells Fargo took them over. They sent out notices to all their customers, including me, that nothing would change, I would go right on banking the way I always had, and just the name would be different.

Then they sent out notices listing some "minor" changes that were mostly in fine print and complicated financial and legal language so it was pretty difficult to figure out what they meant, but it seemed to have something to do with the fees charged and interest rates and the usual areas where financial institutions do the dirty work that ends up costing small customers like me more money.

But then there's the actual experience of banking at this newly renamed Wells Fargo bank. It's a disaster. It took the tellers a few weeks to adjust to the new "system" and computer programs, so that for a while just cashing a check might take twenty minutes or a half hour. And it wasn't their fault, which was obvious when you saw all the extra steps Wells Fargo had instituted to replace the more simple and direct system Wachovia had used.

One of those steps is the requirement that you show them your driver's license so they can put it in their system. This morning a woman that the tellers all knew, one of them even knew her kids, went to school with them, a woman who'd been banking there longer than me, but they wouldn't carry out her transaction until she showed them some i.d. because that was one of the new rules. She left without showing it to them, I assume to start banking elsewhere.

Another man was trying to withdraw money from his account. Under Wachovia there were always a pile of deposit and withdrawal slips on the table where you could fill them in, but under Well Fargo there are only deposit slips. Withdrawal slips can only be given out by the tellers, one at a time and must be used in the bank when received so that no one can leave with any or take any home.

When the man got frustrated by this and asked why, the tellers said "for your own protection" and the man got angry and muttered mini-rants as he walked out. The teller I was depositing my checks with looked upset, very upset. I couldn't blame him. He and the other tellers are taking the brunt of their customers anger over a new giant bank that seems to have no feel for the personal touch and seems determined to make every customer feel like they are prisoners of a giant corporation that doesn't care about them but only about its own internal workings and profit making.

Which seems obviously true. Decades ago, when I lived in Southern California and had just moved there, I got an account with a Wells Fargo bank branch in Santa Monica. Wells Fargo was then a regional bank for mostly Western states. But even then, my experience with them was so bad I pulled my money out and took it to another more local bank and kept it there until I moved back East.

I like the convenience of my bank being right around the corner (actually the way I go to it, right through the alley beside the house my apartment's in) and the tellers I've known for years and get along well with. And the only other bank is another giant multinational corporate financial monster. So, I suppose I'll grin and bear it.

But it is the story of contemporary "America"—giant corporations that the Supreme Court says have the same rights as us individual citizens, except when they have even more rights, like getting to bet our money on whatever crazy scheme they come up with and if they lose, they then get to get bailed out by more of our money and take home bonuses for that same year that are more than most of us make in a lifetime.

While the small businesses the right pretends to care about (while doing everything in its political power to make corporations more powerful and wealthy and dominant over the rest of us) get crushed and many of the brightest college students opt for careers in finance over medicine or science or education or public service.

You know Mussollini's definition of fascism? He called "corporatism." Yep.

9 comments:

JIm said...

The partnership of big business and government has proved to be a problem under Mussolini and Hitler. That partnership has been expanded under Obama. Witness GE, GM, the student loan industry, government intrusion into the doctor patient relationship.

PS The ATM machine at Safeway was demanding a $3 fee for a transaction. I passed on it, but I assume that is one result of Obama's "Finreg".

Robert G. Zuckerman said...

C'mon Jim, non bank ATM's have been charging fees for year. Don't go blaming this on President Obama. Give us a break man.

Anonymous said...

Banks/lawyers are hazardous to your wealth

Doctors/lawyers are hazardous to your health

one more check to clear then will move my last $100,00)

which I amassed under that spiked in interest rates (18% +) under Reagan-nomics


moving it all over to NFCU ASAP.

JIm said...

The fee used to be $1.50 and is now $3.00. I believe the only thing different is the new FINREG Bill which leaves banks scrambling to make up for the costs of the new regs.

harryn said...

man, you are so right Michael - and what about phone, cable, and utility companies who change policies and due dates at their own discretion ...

one advantage to de-personalizing everything is that no one can be held personally responsible and management never has to look you in the eyes ...

I'd like to hear your take on the Charlie Sheen extravaganza - I wonder if the older generation of Hollywood hipsters could have survived the present day scrutiny and social network flood of opinions ? ... Thank Goodness guys like John Huston were 'gentleman' - it made their antics a little more ...

Jerome said...

I know there was a move on the parts of at least stores to "re-personalize" their service -- supposedly gets better sales. I'm surprised (though I guess I'm showing my naivete) that banks haven't followed the trend. Whatever happened to the free gift you'd get for doing business? Cheapskate-ism...

harryn said...

Jerome - at Bank of America there's a basket of free lollipops - but i guess wikileaks already knows that ...

Lally said...

Jerome and Harryn et. al., It is bad business to treat your customers the way my bank's doing now under Wells Fargo, but as H. points out, similar bad treatment can be found in so many corporate run businesses and it seems the bigger the worse the treatment, or maybe the more of a monopoly they are the worse they are, as in cable companies (like Comcast which I use) etc.
On the other hand, just for balance, because most things do contain "good" and "bad" together, there are the exceptional people who within the confines of their corporate jobs are able to still reach out and be human and personal and do their best to overcome the limitations their corporate bosses put on them, as is happening with the tellers at my bank who are forced to carry out policies they don't like any better than their customers. Most of them are so accommodating and go out of their way to make you feel appreciated despite the new rules and problems.

Mom said...

Talk about big business. I choose to get my medication from a local drug store who goes out of there way to be sure I have what I need. If I got it through mail, it would be cheaper yes, but this is my choice. Twice now in the last two months the "big corporation" called to ask me if I knew I was paying more for my medication that if I went back to dealing with them. I couldn't get them to understand why I chose the small operation.