Bank of the [insert raspberry noise]
June 12, 2013 12:51 PM   Subscribe

I need help determining a) how a Bank of the West customer reaches the next rung on the customer service ladder, and b) if my complaint is valid. My home branch manager tells me he can do nothing more for me. I frankly don't believe this to be true. Unfamiliar with banking hierarchies, I have no idea who to call next. After hitting a wall with one branch, what is the next level up? I need to talk to someone who thinks reinstating $130 in surprise fees and repairing their relationship with a longtime customer is more important than seeing me unload my frustrations about BoW on review sites for all the world to see.

We've had this account for 25 years. For several years, we relocated to a state with no BoW branches and left our account with a very tiny balance, so when we returned to the area we could resume our local banking (FWIW, we are now returning to the BoW service area). Over time, the bank altered its practices and a few years ago began charging "inactivity fees" for accounts like ours. At that time, when I saw this on a statement and called, they explained, apologized, reversed the fees and said they would stop.

Apparently that was before they changed their policies *again*. In the last couple of years, my account with $161 quietly diminished to $31 as a result of similar fees. I received no mail, no email, no communication whatsoever about this. Our address on record has remained valid.

Now, I know this is a small amount, but I just cannot let go of the injustice of it all. It baffles me that Bank of the West finds this unimportant in a time when customer service is more important than ever. If they don't make this right, I have no problem telling everyone I know (and all kinds of people I don't know) about it. Mr. Customer Service didn't blink when I told him this. So mefites, who can I call?
posted by AnOrigamiLife to Work & Money (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It baffles me that Bank of the West finds this unimportant

You aren't making Bank of the West any money. It's not to their benefit to keep you as a customer. Don't assume that "the customer is always right."

So mefites, who can I call?

If you really want to pursue this (I'd suggest that your better option is to close your account), then consider the Better Business Bureau.
posted by saeculorum at 12:55 PM on June 12, 2013 [4 favorites]

About ten years ago when I had a problem with fees that a bank wouldn't budge on over the phone, I went into the branch in person with a consumer complaint form for the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. I didn't get as far as needing to bring it up, though I did see the banker glance at it (I had set it down next to me while calmly describing my issue). The banker walked away for awhile, came back, and waved all my fees.
posted by limeswirltart at 1:04 PM on June 12, 2013 [6 favorites]

Bank of the West doesn't care about keeping you as a customer. You aren't a customer that they want.

I would start by writing them a letter. If you don't get results, complain to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.
posted by grouse at 1:08 PM on June 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

Did you receive statements showing these fees and the decreasing balance? You say that they had a valid address for you, so presumably they mailed paper statements, or emailed PDFs or 'your statement is ready for review' notices. If so, they did notify you of the charges.

Normally, your agreement with the bank says that you need to dispute incorrect charges withing a specific time frame (90 days I think) of when you could reasonably be expected to become aware of the problem, which is generally when your monthly statement is made available. If you didn't look at your statements, that's not actually the bank's fault, and they may not be required to refund any charges.
posted by Kpele at 1:12 PM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

FWIW, I used to work for a different bank in the department that handled high-level escalations, including BBB and OCC complaints. An issue such as yours would get a pretty generic "We're sorry for the inconvenience but these are the rules, blah blah blah" letter, since, as Kpele mentions, you're responsible for reviewing your statements and disputing charges in a timely manner (or informing the bank if you have NOT been receiving any statements, if that's the case).

Bank managers usually have some discretion when it comes to reversing fees, but all fees they reverse end up coming out of their branch's pocket, so they save that for customers with serious legitimate issues and/or tons of money. You might find a sympathetic manager (or banker or call center supervisor) who will reverse your fees anyway, but it's a longshot. As a customer who's kept less than $161 in the bank over the past several years, there's not a lot of benefit to the bank in losing money to keep you, and threats to leave fall a little flat. If you've got some leverage--say you were planning on depositing $10K or opening a mortgage or something soon--bring that up.
posted by logic vs love at 1:32 PM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

We received no statements. No mail whatsoever (though I did get mail up to the point of seeing those charges the first time around, a few years back). Today, the CSM confirmed our address over the phone and said records show mail sent to our (valid) address had been returned. We've had that address for 10 years. We are preparing for a move and I was lining things up. I revisited that account for the first time in a long while. It's how I discovered our diminished balance.

I always look at our account statements and reconcile everything monthly in Quicken. I ignored that particular account because it was inactive. In my mind, no activity = no concern. It didn't occur to me that, especially after they told me it wouldn't happen again, there was any reason to think about it.

I believe it's true that Bank of the West doesn't care about keeping me as a customer. Or course I am now returning to their service area as I said I would. I am realizing I've been terribly naive to believe that they'd care about preserving their relationship with a 25+ year customer.

Very good point about mentioning future plans. We were considering a refi and were going to approach our local BoW once we relocated. We will not be giving BoW our business.
posted by AnOrigamiLife at 1:32 PM on June 12, 2013

Who did you talk to when they said they'd stop doing this, and how long ago was the conversation? And when, if ever, are you planning to put more than a token amount of money in the account?

Banks find small inactive accounts a real hassle. Length of account holding doesn't stand up much to that. You can probably get some sympathy from the regional folks who supervise your branch if the promise not to deduct fees was recent and/or you are imminently planning to make this account active and keep it that way.

If the conversation was a while ago and/or if you aren't going to be using this account actively in the foreseeable future, I'd close it up now, and do some comparative shopping when/if you move back to the area.
posted by bearwife at 1:34 PM on June 12, 2013

Whenever I've had a similar situation with a business, I've written a letter - a paper one, sent via certified mail. I calmly detailed my problem and also emphasized my long-term patronage (if that was the case). I sent the letter to a president or vice-president or someone equally high on that company's corporate ladder. Years ago I used the Thomas Register to find out who the corporate officers were, but today you can find that information on the Internet. Before you discount the effectiveness of involving a corporate honcho in a different state in a $130 problem amid his billions of dollars of concerns each day, please note that one time I was short-changed $10 at a self-service gas station. I disputed the change given me with the attendant, who shrugged and insisted I'd given him a$10, not a $20. I sent a certified letter to the CEO of that petroleum company, despite my co-workers' skepticism at the time (it happened at lunch time and I came back to the office filled with vitriol). Less than two weeks later I received a letter of apology regarding my inconvenience (it was worded so that no blame was assigned) along with a check for $20.

Best of luck to you.
posted by Oriole Adams at 1:38 PM on June 12, 2013

Oh, now I see you are moving back. Does the bank manager know that you are returning and have real money to put in the account? If so, I'd go to his regional managers first via letter with that information and your complaint. If no response from them, I might go to the home office folks. If not, I'd close the account, ding them on social media banks read (twitter, yelp, their facebook page) if you are so inclined, and open an account elsewhere.
posted by bearwife at 1:39 PM on June 12, 2013

We were considering a refi and were going to approach our local BoW once we relocated. We will not be giving BoW our business.

Go to the branch, ask them for their quote on a refinance, and while they're working on your paperwork, mention this issue. As several others have noted, they are more likely to see you as valuable if you are, in fact, an active and valuable customer with them.

After you get the quote, decide whether you want to go with them or not for your refi.
posted by arnicae at 1:44 PM on June 12, 2013

If you want to make $260 an hour for a half hours' work: go in with a bank check for the amount of money you're planning to deposit, and the paperwork showing the inactivity fees they've charged you. Let them know you want to open a new account. When you have someone in front of you, tell them how much you're planning to deposit, then say "actually, I have an old account here with almost no money in it, because of inactivity fees. So if you folks can waive those fees, I can just deposit this money into that account and we'll be all set."

Of course, if they balk, you close the account without a fuss, pocket your $61 and walk with your check. Then go get an account at a credit union.

If they go for it, deposit the money and confirm the balance includes the waived fees. Then withdraw it all once the check clears, close the account, and go get an account at a credit union.
posted by davejay at 2:06 PM on June 12, 2013 [14 favorites]

Just chalk it up to another lesson from corporate America and go open an account at your local credit union.

Or consider all-online banking - Capital One bought ING's US business and renamed it 360, but hasn't screwed it up yet.
posted by RedOrGreen at 2:34 PM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I really think the deal here is that even 25 years ago you were likely to find a bank actually loyal to a 25-year customer, but no longer. Especially with interest rates so low, fees are an important way they make money. You either need to look like a money-making proposition to them, or you need to walk, because that ain't gettin' better for a bank. The real question is why you believe you still want to be their customer. As noted, there is little value placed on loyalty today. It's almost certainly not going to get you a better loan.
posted by dhartung at 2:36 PM on June 12, 2013

Forget going through the chain of command and write directly to the guy in charge of retail banking at HQ.
posted by BenPens at 2:47 PM on June 12, 2013

All suggestions and comments appreciated... how do I locate the names and addresses of these individuals?
posted by AnOrigamiLife at 2:54 PM on June 12, 2013

Bank of the West is on Twitter, and from my experience corporate Twitter accounts are typically staffed by live humans with more of an ability to drive decision impact.

BoW is going to see your message of "After 25 years of business, #BoW refuses to refund my inactivity fees, so anyone know a good Credit Union?" and some marketing manager is going to fly down the aisle, maybe even writing a check out of their own pocket, to clear this up. With a promise from you to (of course) publically communicate how awesome BoW was in clearing up this......... "unfortunate miscommunication."
posted by lstanley at 2:57 PM on June 12, 2013

Addresses are here. Here are the leadership names and titles. This is the regional banking guy. You may want to quote politely from their values statement too.

If you want to stay at the branch level, I'd try davejay's approach at a different branch than the one you've been dealing with.
posted by bearwife at 3:05 PM on June 12, 2013

You can try Istanley's twitter solution, but frankly, if banks steal millions from homeowners, do you really think you have much leverage on your itty bitty inactivity fees? I'm sure there's some fine print somewhere that the bank can cite to keep your nickles. Let it go, it's not worth the heartburn.
posted by BlueHorse at 4:01 PM on June 12, 2013

Your state has a Banking Commission of some sort; they should be able to give you definitive answers about what's legal, and might even go to bat for you. Also, Consumerist.

Recently realized my credit union did the same thing on an account, time to go visit the branch manager. They get to use the money while paying negligible interest vs. the cost of a quarterly statement. Fees for everything are the newest way for banks to profit.

Give 'em hell, I say. The more consumer pushback they get, the greater the possibility of change.
posted by theora55 at 4:13 PM on June 12, 2013

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