Banks Behaving Badly: Or Is It Just Me?

You know how it goes.

The phone rings. It doesn’t show a caller ID, just a number. There’s a lag between when I say “hello” and someone comes on the line.

Why don’t I hang up right then? I really don’t know. My motives are opaque to me, but probably diseased.

This time it’s BankAmerica. They tell me there’s nothing wrong, my credit card has not been compromised—but hey, you never know!

Because they care about my security, they’re going to send me a credit report—free! Which I can then examine, and send in any corrections required.

In addition, they will send me—with no obligation! –an identity theft insurance policy, to protect all my cards. And all I have to do, if I foolishly decide not to take them up on this amazing offer, is to phone them within 30 days to say no thanks.

Otherwise, of course, they’ll bill me, in simple monthly installments, renewable automatically on an annual basis.

I assume that BankAmerica (and anyone else pulling this passive-aggressive “gotcha” marketing strategy) must have a high complaint rate, as people notice that it’s an opt-out, rather than an opt-in offer, and find an unexpected bill in their statement. And I assume that they end up reversing a lot of those “misunderstandings.”

Is it just me? Or does anyone else find this tactic not only annoying, but self-defeating?

What does BankAmerica (or any other bank) gain by having its name linked to a “sales” tactic associated with old record clubs and internet porn subscriptions?

Who is the analyst in the back room at BankAmerica (or any other bank) crunching the benefit/cost ratio of insurance fee income to the cost of processing returns?

Does it occur to him to factor in the cost to the brand? The drip-drip of negative reputation? The effect on BankAmerica’s deposit accounts? Its mortgage business?

And if not, why isn’t he being fired for destroying shareholder value? Because the market honestly does know how to distinguish between companies with good customer reputations, and those with bad ones.

Then again, BankAmerica just bought up Countrywide Financial, the nation’s largest subprime mortgage borrower—because, at these prices, it was a “good deal.”

Not for B of A’s mortgage business’s reputation. Countrywide’s own reputation can’t have added to BofA’s reputation among consumers.

Does reputation matter? I’d like to think it ultimately does. Read the comments to the above ABC News link, and see how many people are down on BofA as a lender. They can vote with their feet.
And now here I am complaining about their telemarketing, letting my fingers do the walking.

What about you?

If you decide not to continue reading this wonderful blog, all you have to do is write in and comment, and there’ll be no charge whatsoever.

Otherwise, I’ll simply bill you in painless monthly installments, renewable automatically every year unless you decide to notify me otherwise, whenever you want.

Trust me!

11 replies
  1. Philip J. McGee
    Philip J. McGee says:

    Who’s surprised that a major corporation with sites trained only on growth would stoop so low. My friend Eddie used to say that "bankers is robbers, period".

    My experience is that corporations that deal with millions of customers have no relationship with them and desire none.

    It’s sort of like the busy doctor in the hospital referring to a patient as "the gall bladder in room 305".

  2. Stuart Cross
    Stuart Cross says:

    Charlie, I totally agree with the sentiment of the post. At the same time, knowing nothing of BofA, I can also understand the pressure they face.

    I think that it’s a common dilemma for corporations. They aspire to build a brand to drive long-term growth, but when this doesn’t come through they revert back to trading the business as hard as possible in order to hit the quarterly targets. It takes strong leadership to continue on the brand path when the financials aren’t following.

  3. Pierre Cerulus
    Pierre Cerulus says:

    This blog reminds me, my own customers experiences with banks across the world (US, Asia, Europe).  I can certainly resonate with Charlie’s story.  Is there something about the banks and the consumers ( us…).  I do not know about the others, but if I summarize  my experiences, I never or very rarely have the feeling to be a customer, as every time I have to deal with banks, I do feel guilty of something, and to have to prove them that I am honest, as it feels to me that the default assumption is distrust every customer, except if you can find evidence that the customer is honest.  Tough to build Trust in these conditions…

    Trust me



  4. Charlie (Green)
    Charlie (Green) says:

    I find this interesting.  Four comments in pretty quickly, and all very consistent. 

    Pierre notes the presumption of personal guilt he feels forced upon him when dealing with banks; Shama advises clients to beware of guilt by association with such tactics; Stuart puts it in the context of the discipline required to maintain a brand (trust writ large) facing short-term financial pressure; and Phil says if it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then let’s call it a duck.

    Clearly there’s an issue there.   I think it’s the same issue you hear in TV ads that say, "America, we know you care about blah blah; that’s why we invented mxtplzky!"  Addressing us in the informal plural, faux claims about their own motives, an air of cozy personal-ness–all of it just the thinnest disguise for some obviously self-serving tactic. 

    What do you think?  Is bankers robbers, as Eddie says?  Why does it seem so uncommon (to me anyway) to find trustworthy businesses in the financial sector?

    Thanks for the comments, folks.

  5. Shaula Evans
    Shaula Evans says:

    Charlie, I’m delighted to jump in and be the dissenting voice here, because my experiences with my bank have been exceptional.

    I should start by admitting that I’m outside the strict scope of your original story: I’m talking about the credit union (vs bank) that I still deal with in my home in Western Canada (e.g., not in America) — Valley First Credit Union.  But I am still talking retail banking and financial services.

    I live outside the country, and still use my credit union account for my Canadian banking — which a small, local credit union really isn’t set up to accommodate that.  So we run into some interesting challenges from time to time.

    The staff have been SUPERB at helping work out long distance banking issues.  When I call with an question or problem, while they help me out they let me know what the weather’s like at home (and in winter, the ski conditions) and what’s been going on around town.  They are friendly and personal, in addition to being professional and very helpful.  And rather than treating me like a pain in the neck (which my unusual circumstances render me from time to time), they treat me like my (measly) business is important to them.

    Do I trust them?  Absolutely. 

    Why? Because they go out of their way to take care of me and treat me like a person rather than an account number, and they have a stellar track record of providing me with excellent service and advice.

    So it is absolutely possible to experience great customer service in the financial services industry.

    What makes the difference?   I don’t know, but my guess might be that as a small, local institution, competing against large national banks, the credit union’s competitive edge (and survival imperative) comes from differentiating itself by building relationships in the community.  I’d also say that they make some sharp hiring decisions, because they have some really great people working for them.

    I’ll admit my own bias here, too.  I prefer doing business with small, local organizations.  I prefer it ideologically because I admire the courage of small business owners and I want to help keep money in the community, but I also prefer it pragmatically because my experiences with local business have been consistently great.

    If your bank is really behaving badly, you might want to shop around and consider banking with someone who will treat you better.


  6. Lark
    Lark says:

    Charlie, the short answer to your last question is yes – "bankers IS robbers" – but only if you choose to become their victim. The evidence is overwhelming and irrefutable.

    It’s the reason I closed my three personal and business bank accounts and cut up all my credit cards two years ago.

    It’s also why I’ve practically quit driving altogether. And why I no longer purchase anything anymore that has a label – unless, of course, it’s secondhand or reduced to a fire sale price… and I really have a desperate need for purchasing it.

    Call it…taking stock of all your available resources… and restructuring your personal economy… to suit your highest, most noble purposes, if you will.

    But you see, even with these amazingly thrifty moves, I’m still examining daily all the things I can selfishly do in my life which will afford me the greatest amount of freedom and prosperity – my theory being that with more freedom and truer prosperity comes greater happiness… from the bigger thrill… of just adapting to a new definition of what it means to be well-off, exceedingly hale and hearty, and infinitely more alive.

    Freedom from a kind of tyranny-of-words is at the root of any re-ordered personal economy, wouldn’t you guess?

    Naturally, my hope is… in the process… I will learn to free myself from other authoritarian constructs which actually have only harmed me… for far too long.

    There’s a part of me that wants to champion, then replicate, the experience of Shaula; but the very existence of the greedy, evil men behind the curtains will more-than-likely give me sufficient pause to never want to do business with banks ever again – at least where matters of trust are concerned.

    And I can’t tell you how liberating this has been for me!

    It only goes to show you: If you develop a sensible plan for living your life… playing by the rules you establish for yourself… you can accomplish almost anything.

    Because whoever told anyone they must do and say anything against their will probably has an agenda which doesn’t mesh with their own.

    The same can be said for those who would have you believe you simply can’t get by in this modern world unless you fall into the schema of their proprietary marketing web.

    Yet I can’t honestly say I really hate banks entirely. There are certain aspects about banks and the people in them that I find quite pleasing. I’ve just decided it’s better to play my game rather than theirs.

    The name of this new game, for instance, might justly be called "coercion-free", or maybe, "force-feeding for profit" – and it always begins with retooling the mind so one can begin relearning what it means to think for one’s self again without harming others.

    For what earthly reason would one want to coerce or harm anyone – most especially, you or me; or even the banksters and their confederates merely serving their nefarious or convenient interests?

    Freeing myself from banks and sinister cabal of bankers has done nothing to harm my financial prospects, or made me feel any less of a model citizen. There’s no law which states I even must "own" a bank account. So as long as I have a valid state ID – and I only accept checks I can easily cash locally – I have no problems flirting with the tellers while they carefully count out my money.

    Besides, when you allow yourself to believe you own anything, doesn’t it hold true that whatever you own, it in fact, also owns you?

    On the brighter side of things, my customers still doing business within conventional banking circles eventually come to love the idea as much as me!

    Incidentally, and for whatever its worth, a new and much better economy is looming large on the horizon. It’ll replace the old one… which all of us will one day note in hindsight… was driven by ultra-sophisticated financial machinations… from our central bank controllers.

    It was the one that was built as a collapsible house of playing cards from the get-go…  anyway… so nobody will miss it.

    Paper and electronic assets both – when they represented mere mathematical journal entries backed by nothing of real value… like honest money or its equivalent – was not such a fun game to be playing in the first place.

    This collapse of our monetary system, and the free-fall of our economy, will hasten after the 2008 elections.


  7. Shaula Evans
    Shaula Evans says:

    Lark, have you ever read William Gibson’s novel Apophenia?

    The protagonist is literally allergic to brands, labels, and mascots.  You might get a kick out of it.


  8. Charles H. Green
    Charles H. Green says:

    Lark, you are a delight.  I know I live vicariously through your adventures; you do a helluva job trying to be free. 

    Keep it up, dude. 

  9. Lark
    Lark says:

    Shaula, no I haven’t yet; but I’m sure I’d enjoy it. Thanks for the tip.

    Though I’m not much of a sci-fi fan, a Gibson read sure looks to be a rare treat.

    Excursions into irreality oftentimes produce quite unexpected, but gratifying results – especially when not seeking them from the outset. These occasional trips to the other side do tend to help undo irrational thinking and bad habits.

    The book title alone whets my appetite. And the sci-fi genre certainly has been resurgent in popularity. Besides, its cyberpunk author, for me at least, first earned his stripes by resisting those insane warmongers during the Vietnam era…

    … So his words must carry weight. I would bet Gibson might have some contrarian thoughts about the bankster cartel that rules this country too…

    … Since  such resistance to orthodoxy is worth sharing among friends with common interests.

    Maybe I’ll visit his blog.


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