I like reading Seth Godin once in a while. His recent post titled Clueless is a must read. He provides a few examples of the people we run into every day who are more concerned with following procedures than being reasonable human beings.

The story of the $4 bank argument is quite familiar to me...

Then, this morning, I head to the bank. Poor guy is arguing with the "customer service manager". The problem? He had $4 in his checking account as he was waiting to close it. The bank charged him a monthly $5 service fee. The fee bounced. Then they charged him $30 for bouncing the fee on an inactive account.
The manager was trying to explain the policy, but the bottom line is that all the real estate, all the ads, all the marble, all the computers... all wasted... because they were enraging the guy. Over $4.

I once agrued with a credit union about something similar. I had to wait about 7 years, but I eventually won. I got my $5 and a few cents interest, damnit!

And finally, leaving the bank, I saw the most amazing interaction (yes, this is true.) A woman is first in line. She's withdrawing $1,000 from her account. The teller pushes away from the desk and goes and gets her signature card (this is a neighborhood bank) to match it against the woman's signature on the withdrawal slip.

The customer tells me that:
1. the teller has been working there for twenty years.
2. the customer comes in at least once a week.
3. they always check her signature
and, ready for this...
4. she's been a customer at this bank for seventy years. I am not making this up. She is very proud that she's nearly (nearly!) their longest-serving customer. The account is more than seventy years old. And they check her signature.


Who are these people?

Posted by jzawodn at August 18, 2005 09:05 PM

Reader Comments
# Joe Beaulaurier said:

You can't blame the branch staff (in the latter anecdote). They know they're on video and may get fired for not following the procedure to check the sigcard whenever a withdrawal is over $x. That is what banks do - protect your money. And sometimes, it comes at a slight inconvenience to you. I'll bet the fact the teller sticks to protocol everytime is why the teller has been there so long and why the customer has also.

on August 18, 2005 09:33 PM
# DeWitt Clinton said:

Great story. Here's one of my own:

I used to live in a small town called Williamstown in western Massachusetts. The town had only one or two banks, so I opened an account at the larger one. Eventually I moved down to NYC -- and not surprisingly, my bank didn't have branch offices in the city. I called my bank up and asked to close the account, but they said that I needed to do this in person. (This was their 1-800 number -- i.e., outsourced, offshored customer support.)

For a few years I kept banking with them via post. I'd drop deposits in the mail and do what else I could online. (BTW, this made renting my first NYC apartment embarassingly difficult.) Eventually I gave up and opened an account with Citibank and stopped using the old bank as my primary account.

What I didn't notice, however, was that I eventually dropped below my old bank's minimum checking balance. So they started charging me $10 per month in fees. Eventually those $10 charges added up, and I slipped below a zero balance. Whoops! From then on I was being charged $5 a day. Since they had no way of contacting me even if they tried (having moved several times), it added up quickly before I caught it.

So I called the 1-800 number again and tried to resolve the matter. Again they told me I could only close the account in person. When I pleaded, they said that I could also send in a notarized letter. Great! So I asked if they could just stop charging me the fee while they waited for that letter, and -- you guessed it -- they said "nope, it is out of our control." (With the implied "you're screwed, aren't you? Sucks to bank with us, doesn't it? Have a nice day!")

The fastest solution was to wire a few hundred dollars (plus wire fees) into the account to hold it over until I could get a written letter to them. In the end, I traveled back in Williamstown and finally just closed the account in person. The teller told me "oh, if you talked to me I could have just changed you to a no-minimum account and solved that problem for you."

So not only did their outsourced customer support save them a buck or two, but it earned them several hundred dollars in penalties from me. Cost them a customer, but what the hell, there are plenty of idiots out there, right?

The problem here wasn't the bank's policies, or even that they charge certain fees. The problem was that they enforced those policies even when those policies went directly against the interests of their customers.

Also, did you know that Citibank has a asinine daily limit that can be charged to a debit/credit card linked to a checking account? And not just for security's sake either -- Amex will call you, for example, to verify large transactions -- Citibank cards simply can not exceed that limit. So if you want to buy, for example, a nice plasma TV or put a down payment on a car with *your* money -- forget it, you're out of luck and there is nothing they will do to help.

I wrote about that -- and a even more ridiculous incident with Citibank (seriously, this one was pretty bad) -- here:


The question is this -- can anyone recommend a bank that actually gives a crap about the customer? We are loaning the banks *our* money, they should be here to serve us -- they are not doing us a *favor*. Ideally, I'd like to find a bank with first-class online banking, a worldwide ATM network, customer support that is well trained and empowered, and no arbitrary restrictions that limit how you use your funds.

Any ideas?

on August 18, 2005 10:38 PM
# dan isaacs said:

A trivial correction, the back enraged the first fellow no over $4, but over $1. hard to imagine...

I use a neighborhood Credit Union. I'm in there maybe once a month. And I never get asked for an ID.

on August 19, 2005 03:27 AM
# COD said:

In all my years of banking, I can't remember anybody ever taking a close look at my signature. Heck, my wif regularly signs my name when she needs to do stuff and I'm not around to sign the back of a check.

on August 19, 2005 06:12 AM
# Chris said:

Ever think that the 70 year old woman might LIKE the fact that they check her signature card? She might have even made a stink once when they didn't.

on August 19, 2005 07:33 AM
# Glen Campbell said:

I used to work for the Texas Education Agency. I once watched the accounting department spend 8 weeks trying to resolve (and ultimately denying) a reimbursement for a hotel telephone call that cost $0.50.... I think goverment can top business any time.

on August 19, 2005 07:37 AM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

Glen, that's awesome! :-)

on August 19, 2005 07:42 AM
# mulls said:

This is an old one, but a great story for those who have never heard it.


on August 19, 2005 01:07 PM
# Ray Everett-Church said:

As I heard another marketing and personalization expert say once: "I won't fear the privacy implications of ubiquitous personalization until the day that my bank's ATM remembers that I only speak English."

on August 19, 2005 04:00 PM
# Dave land said:

Glen is lying. He didn't work for the Texas Education Agency, he was a lineman for the county.

on August 22, 2005 09:49 AM
# Jim said:

I have a similar thing. I'm young looking, so even though I've been able to drink legally for over seven years, I still get asked for ID when I go to some bars. My regular bar, I've been going there on a near weekly basis for years. The bouncers all recognise me, but they still ask me to prove my age. I've even had "yeah, of course we know you're old enough, but we still need to see your ID".

Okay, so it doesn't really bother me, I'm used to it. But there are plenty of people who'd feel a bit humiliated by this, especially as it typically happens at the front of a long queue of people.

on August 23, 2005 01:55 AM
# Mike Jackson said:

To DeWitt Clinton:

I've had an account with Washington Mutual for about 15 years. I've been incredibly happy with them. They have very limited fees, free checking with no minimum balance, and a decent online banking interface (including free billpay, but I'm not entirely happy with that part of their service). They're based in the northwest, where I live, but I'm pretty sure they're mostly nationwide (a couple years ago I was planning a move to NJ, and they had branches there).

on August 23, 2005 07:51 AM
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