Dealing With The Evil Big Banks

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Whenever there is a discussion about a big bank like Bank of America, Washington Mutual, or Citibank, there is always someone with “XXX Bank is evil, they did [something bad] to me, stay away from them!!!” But let’s face it, with thousands of branches it is very hard to get uniform service everywhere. An awful branch in Detoit might be counteracted by a great branch in Atlanta. It’s like getting bad service at a TGIF restaurant.

I have gotten both crappy and great service from banks, but only good service from my local branches of Washington Mutual and Bank of America. This has included the waiving of NSF fees, the manual crediting of missing bank bonuses, and an override of their usual funds availability policy. Two things that I think helped a lot:

1. Don’t yell over the phone to a person 8,000 miles away. Find a good local branch Sit down with a banker and ask about their accounts. Do you feel they want your business? Do the tellers look run down? If you don’t like it, there’s probably another branch down the street.

2. Once you settle on a branch, try to get some “face time”. I always try to go inside to make my deposits, even if it takes one more minute. If opening an account, try to do it in-person if possible. Be nice to the workers (duh). My BofA gives free ‘Medallion Signature Guarantees’, which I use often as well for documents.

This way, it’s less ‘you customer, me employee’ and more personal. Wouldn’t you work harder to help a person you feel a relationship with? It’s the same everywhere, like being a regular at your local coffee shop. So many things are discretionary in the banking world.

Another way to get better service is to keep really high balances and try to reach their Advantage or Premier Banking levels, but I have none of these myself.

Now that I think of it, these things apply equally well to your local bank or credit union. I just wanted to fit “Evil Big Bank” in the title somewhere 😉

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  1. King of Debt says

    I have definitely found that dealing with Bank of America face to face at my local branch is much better than over the phone. I’ve had issues with them via the phone, but in person they have been amazing and taken care of any issue I may have.

  2. BOA is evil!!!!!!!!
    Just felt like saying it also

    Personally the big boys don’t care about your money as much, since they have so much of it and the small boys want to keep you happy so you keep your money there. Look at what BOA is going throught now with clarkhoward

  3. The Clark Howard thing is a bad PR move on BofA’s part and was part of the inspiration for this story. It’s just another example of how familiarizing yourself with the branch employees would have avoided the whole situation. I’m definitely not boybotting BofA over it, though. From what I read it sounds like more of an SFPD issue. BofA reported suspicious activity, which it was.

    (For those interested in the drama, see

  4. As a branch employee of a really really big bank, well said! People don’t understand how much the banks NEED the new accounts and the customer retention and will therefore do pretty much whatever it takes to keep the customer happy. So yeah, go into the branch and talk to somebody. Be polite – they very well may not want to be in the bank either. But making a customer happy makes them happy too.

  5. I know that I had an issue with some NSF fees from Wachovia as I was trying to transfer money and pay down some debt so I could qualify for a mortgage w/ Wachovia. After getting a polite but firm brushoff from the branch manager, I got on the phone w/ a regional VP, actually spoke to the guy, and got most of them waived.
    My method is:
    1. Don’t accuse
    2. Don’t threaten
    3. Always get the name of eveyone you’ve dealt with

    ‘Course, now that they have my mortgage, I’m probably out of leverage.

  6. I must insist that BoA really is evil, and my anecdotes about it involve tens of thousands of dollars and countless hours of wasted time. There really are differences.

  7. I will add that the real way is to keep tight, tight control of finances, so you rarely have to deal with anyone about anything. Most of my “tasks” are internal, working within my own spreadsheet, making sure everything’s just fine. I talk to financial institutions less and less yet deal with them as much as ever. Sometimes calls are necessary and sometimes crises occur. It’s best to know who you’re dealing with beforehand… I also track incidents in green, yellow, and red. See trends? You bet! And steer clear of troubled financial institutions.

  8. I’m still a huge believer in credit unions. There is something about doing business with an organization that is not trying to make a profit. As an example, my bank has just created a new feature:

    7.5% interest on the first $500 in each of my accounts. Then regular interest rates (which are still at least double that of a commercial bank) for the remaining balance.

    The fees and other items seem to be much better at my credit union too.

  9. Independent George says

    I hadn’t heard this BoA story, and was quite surprised when I clicked through the link. As much as I sympathize with Mr. Shinnick’s story, it seems clear to me that BoA is not the party that he should be upset with. They correctly spotted a fraudulent activity, and reported it to the police – exactly as they were obligated to, both legally and ethically. Once the police were involved, it was their job to investigate the situation, and determine who was culpable.

    I don’t want to cast too wide a brush here, but it seems to me like the main reason BoA is being targetted is because it’s easier to blame a faceless Evil Bank interested in only in money than the SFPD or the State’s Attorney, who, after all, are just doing their jobs going after criminals. In this case, though, the Evil Bank was in fact protecting its customers by reporting the fraud, and that the SFPD and the State’s Attorney had the option of dropping the charges once they had investigated and learned the facts of the case. If anyone should pay his legal fees, it’s them.

    I want to reiterate that I completely empathize with Mr. Shinnick – he was indeed victimized. Twice. But not by BoA. I honestly can’t understand why Mr. Shinnick would blame them for his misfortune, and I think that the boycott is downright shameful.

  10. Great point. I reached a premier level with Chase because I had my mortgage thru them. Free account (no requirements) Free checks, free safety deposit box, higher interest rate for my checking account (not that it adds up to much), etc etc.

    While the overall big bank may not really care about you or your money, I think individuals in the bank might. They’re trying to move up in their company by opening more accounts or getting more mooney deposited in those accounts. By treating customers well, they might accomplish that.

  11. mywealthwise says

    You do make a good point about having a relationship with a local branch. However that might not always stop things like “Mathhew Shinnick” episode. It’s easy to opine about something when you are not the victim. I personally have been a victim of fraud and was lucky enough not to face similar fate as Mathhew. I just read the story on The thought that it could have happened to me sends chills down my spine. In these days of Internet anything can happen to anybody. It would have been more prudent on BofA’s employee’s part to tell the customer that it is a fraudulent check and explain it to him first. Let’s hope this MATHHEW SHINNICK incident helps build better customer service in banks.

  12. Independent George says

    It would have been more prudent on BofA?s employee?s part to tell the customer that it is a fraudulent check and explain it to him first.

    I have to disagree with you here. The most common form of check fraud is when a person tries to cash either a fake check or one stolen from another person’s checkbook. The standard procedure in these cases is the same as that of a stolen credit card: inform the police, and delay the customer. In Mr. Shinnick’s case, he was the victim of the fraud, not the perpetrator, but BoA had no way of knowing this. Once the police were involved, it was their responsibility to identify who the guilty party was, not BoA.

    I once had a co-worker who had a check stolen from her checkbook. The check was taken from the back of the book, and the bank noticed that the check # was being cashed out of sequence from previous transactions. In her case, they didn’t notice until after the money was already cashed, so she was contacted her after the fact, and had her view the surveilance tape to see if she could ID the thief. It turned out to be her own son, so it actually worked out for the best that he wasn’t arrested on the spot (Though, as she tells it, she wanted to call the police and press charges right away, but the bank actually talked her out of it, and didn’t charge her for the investigation. I think that qualifies as good customer service).

    Anyway, the point I’m trying to make is that when somebody tries to cash a fake or cancelled check, the person cashing it is almost always the perpetrator. Any bank, large or small, would have followed the exact same procedure, and rightfully so. As I see it, the problem here is that once the police arrived, and investigated, the charges should have been dropped immediately once the facts were known. It never should have reached the judge, but that was hardly BoA’s responsibility.

  13. I never really understood the “become a familiar face at your local branch” idea. Ideally, I would never need to be in my local branch. I only go in when there’s something to be rectified, or I’m depositing the change from the change jar. My paychecks are direct deposited. Standing in line to make a withdrawal is inefficient when there’s an ATM in the lobby. Should I be stopping in just to chat? Bring donuts for the staff? Pick up a free pen on my birthday?

  14. mywealthwise says

    I refer to link and quote
    ” So Shinnick, who resides on Nob Hill, stopped by a BofA branch near Union Square in early January. He said he asked a teller if sufficient funds existed in the BofA business account to cover the check.

    “She said it was a valid account and that there were funds to cover it,” Shinnick recalled. “I said, ‘Great,’ and asked to cash the check.”

    He signed his name on the back.

    What Shinnick didn’t know is that he’d just become party to a crime. The bank account may have been real but the check was phony. ”

    As he is checking the validity of account she should have told him it was a fake check. I don’t blame them for calling the police, but that should have be resolved right there. I don’t know what was the process they followed to prove his innocence. In my case it was traveler checks, I couldn’t find a way for their authenticity. So I walked to my local Wachovia and asked the teller if he can check their authenticity. He looked at them and told me they were authentic and gave me the cash right away. It’s only two weeks later that I get a call from Wachovia asking me to pay back the money. When I called FBI requesting to check on it …all they said was ” OOPS! You got screwed” We can’t do anything abt it. I am atleast glad I didn’t have to face the same fate as Mr.Schnnick.

  15. I have to say that I feel much safer (from the circling sharks) at my credit union than I ever felt at Big Bank (that I also once worked for). It’s been my experience that Big Bank always puts controls in place that will eventually take money out of your account one way or the other (in-activity fees being the last one I experienced). By coincidence, the very same bank I worked for is the one that scares me the most.

    I am very happy with my credit union; they have been truly friendly and nice every time I’ve dealt with them. They gave me an exceptional rate on my mortgage and handed me a check one day after I requested a $22K car loan. Except that Big Bank has lots of branches, my CU is way better.

    Oh, yeah, and its been my experience that dealing with Big Bank over the phone works much better during the week during the day than weekends or nights. You seem to get nicer people with more authority to change fees during normal business hours.

  16. I just learned of the BofA/Shinnick/Howard story from this thread, and was about to post my opinion about it, and then I saw Independent George already has a few posts above: Why blame BofA and not the SFPD?!?!?!?!?

    From the article linked on Howard’s site:

    “SFPD officers came into the bank. They didn’t say a thing. They just kicked my legs apart and handcuffed me behind my back.”

    “Shinnick said he was never read his rights.”

    OMG! Are you kidding me?

    There would be no issue at all with this incident if the police acted in a manner that their position of authority requires. There was four of them; they knew he wasn’t going anywhere. Couldn’t they have explained to him why they needed to hold him? Couldn’t they have heard his side of the story and checked out it’s validity?

    But since the police acted like gestapo, suddenly the bank should pay for reporting the crime?

    And then this Clark Howard joker and all his listeners – I hate to side with a super-huge-financial-corp like this on anything, but WHY THE BOYCOTT? I hear Howard that there should be a way customers can verify a check they’ve been given without being arrested, great point, but why is the bank at fault for using the existing guidelines? Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to push that a standard be put in place for all banks?

  17. Independent George says

    Wealthwise – I agree that Mr. Shinnick was treated like dirt and should be compensated; my only point is that it’s the SFPD and the DAs office that bear responsibility, and not BoA.

    Fake check scams are fairly common – a scammer buys or steals bank account/routing number, prints up a fake check, then tries to cash it to himself. The fact that he asked whether the account had sufficient funds is actually more suspicious, and not less – how often do people ask if there’s sufficient funds in a legitimate transaction? All the clerk knows is that she had a person who (a) tries to cash a fake check from (b) an account that’s been flagged for bogus transactions, and who (c) asks about how much was in the account before cashing the check. That’s more than enough cause to call for the police.

    Once the police are involved, the bank’s involvement stops entirely; it is not the bank’s job to investigate, nor should it be. What happens once he is in police custody is entirely the responsibility of the SFPD, not BoA.

    As far as I can tell, his case boils down to:

    1. The police arrested him without even trying to verify his side of the story.
    2. While the DA dropped the charges within 24 hours, they neither admitted fault nor tried to expunge the record of the arrest. Mr. Shinnick had to spend his own money to clear his name of a charge which never should have been brought in the first place.

    Neither of those things are BoA’s responsibility.

    Think of it this way – suppose I hear a loud crash outside my house. I look out the window, and see my fence smashed in, tire tracks, and a car speeding away down the street. I catch the license plate of the car, and report it to the police. They stop the car I spotted, but it turns out that this car had merely passed by just a few seconds after the real culprit sped away. Should the driver that got stopped be able to sue me for reporting what I saw to the police? How willing do you think the public would be to report crimes (or even cooperate with the police) if that were so?

  18. A large part of the populations doesn’t even have a bank account. Most older folks do everything in person at their bank of chose. And, they almost never switch banks. Most younger folks never go into a bank, unless they really have too, and would prefer never have to do so. With the internet and internet banks like Everbank one really does not need the traditional banks.

    In NYC there?s almost on every other corner a bank, and if there is one then the others are on the other side of the street, or less than one block away. I think every one knows that NYC real-estate is not cheep, how than can all these branches be profitable, that really surprises me. If that is the case, which it is, then we all now know that the banks elsewhere must be making a major killing.

    I personally, in more than 4 years, have not been in any of my 4 banks, two I opened online and on the phone. And, I like it that way. Like with all things in my life I try to keep things simple and efficient. And, banking is one of these things that should not hold me up, especially as it is a service industry.

    I would rather have banks push more change (innovation) and efficiency towards us customers than be so outdated. Let me give two examples: The checks system is so antiquated, most of Europe gave them up about 5 or 6 years ago, and other areas of the world did too, because they were just not used due to advancements. Everyone just wires money from their accounts. In South Africa they do banking with their cell phones. Yes, in South Africa! They can even pay their groceries with their cell phone. So, why are we the consumers in the US with the most richest/biggest banks in the world so far behind on convenience, efficiencies and advancement?

    The banks should start sharing their wealth with consumers. The so called ?personal service? and ?service? is really all there to make us consumers feel special so that we don?t want change. Most big banks are really not there for the consumers. Just to be clear, I?ve worked 6 years at 2 very big banks, including Citigroup, making sure the bank gets richer while keeping the customer ?happy?. It is all a numbers game for them. The more they have the more they can make. Full stop! And, all the little extras that they offer so graciously and consumers get so excited about is nothing compared to what they get out of it. The logic is the more you use the bank the more money they make. Also, very simple.

    True creativity and service is lacking in today?s banking. Therefore I like to reward the smaller and innovative banks with my business, and help them grow. My definition of ?service? is not ?exploitation? and that is what today?s banking is about.

  19. I have to say, I will side with BoA. I think he should be really mad at the police not BoA. How can BoA verify that he in fact is innocent within few minutes. I mean think about it. If you have someone commiting fraud, you would not want to alarm him so that he could run away…. Sheeeshh what has this country come to! All anyone can think about is that if anything goes wrong “Cha Ching!” I mean can’t some one just have bad luck, a bad expierence without any monetary gain?

  20. These are all good points. I work for a Evil Big Bank, so I have to say I like the personal contact when people are nice to me. 🙂

    Also, speaking from the customer side of things, it’s always nice to find excuses to go into the bank. You are right, it does take an extra minute, but typically (at least at my local branch) the tellers tend to be on the cute side. 🙂

  21. I dont know I have account with Citi and BOA 2 largest bank in USA. I used to bank with a USAA up until about 2 years when Citi came out with E-savings accounts. Then I swithed to Citi and left my USAA account open with min deposit. Now with BOA offering even a higher tired MMA that Citi I have switched over to BOA AAA MMA.

    If all these banks are so evil then why do the big banks today pay a higher interest than small banks who have much lower fixed cost.

    Wamu, BOA, Citi, HSBC all offer 5%+ savings account and Wachovia offers 4.5% account. Most small banks just dont offer these high yeild accounts at all. The big bank has lots of ATM, nicer bill pay and if you happen to have $25K-100K they give you lots of extra benfits that small banks just cant give you.

    I personally dont blame BOA for this mess it more the police and DA fault then BOA. BOA just called to reported a fake check.

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