Thursday, March 09, 2006

A Rant on Banks

Dealing with the Austin banks since Mom's passing has been an ongoing frustration. Bank of America wins the prize for incompetence, obstructionist policies, and just general lack of respect for the customer. Wells Fargo isn't on my good list, either.

Our troubles with BOA started before we were aware of the problem. Mom and I went to the bank after her first minor stroke on Labor Day weekend of 2005. We made sure I was on all the signature cards, explained the Trust to the 'personal banker' assigned to us, and left thinking everything was fine. Then, Mom had the second stroke, and all heck broke loose. They lost the signature cards.

Every time we went in the bank, the 'personal banker' was a different person. Either they can't keep people, or they are moving their personnel around so quickly that a customer can't even get recognized on bank visits two weeks in a row.

After Mom passed, there was the issue of the IRA. They couldn't document who were beneficiaries of the IRA, had my sister and I fill out lots of forms, and were generally not helpful. A few weeks later, both my sister and I received the same form from another BOA location stating that each of us was "the" beneficiary of the IRA. After more paperwork, we did each receive half of the funds.

When I moved back to Austin to remodel Mom's house, I needed cash. Silly me, I assumed that now, as Trustee of the accounts with my name of the checks, there wouldn't be any difficulty cashing a personal check. They absolutely refused.

Just so that you won't think BOA is the only bank in Austin that tries to make things difficult, Wells Fargo pulled some tricks out of the hat, too. Mom had a couple of almost dormant accounts at WF, and when I went to move them, they wouldn't let me, even though I had Power of Attorney. If I had done them BEFORE she passed, it would have been fine, but because she had, they wouldn't do it. The county took three weeks to get a death certificate to me, then we had to go through probate before I could handle that banking chore.

More recently, my friend Terese gave me a check on Wells Fargo. I went to their drive up window to cash it, passed in my driver's license at the same time I put the check in the drawer. She looked up Terese's account, looked at me, looked at the screen again, and asked if I had an account. I said, "No, but Terese does." She said that they wouldn't cash checks at the drive up window if the person didn't have an account. I was completely flabbergasted and said that it appears that Austin banks don't want people to do business. She said that if I had another I.D. that she would it it this one time, but normally, I would have to go to the walk in bank, show two I.D. cards, and give my fingerprint in order to cash a check, simply because I don't have an account there.

A few days later, I took a Wells Fargo check from the estate sale to the walk in bank, did their song and dance, and cashed a check. Then, I asked if they could change the three Bank of England pound notes to U.S. currency for me. They asked if I had an account, and then told me that they wouldn't exchange them for anyone who didn't have an account. This was getting to be a MAJOR problem.

I went back to BOA with the pound notes. They agreed to exchange them, but they had to look them up in a reference book first. After scratching around a while to find the book and searching for matching photos of the notes, they said they would have to call the foreign exchange office of BOA for more information and approval. After standing at the counter for ten minutes, I told the next cashier that I was going to sit in the lobby until they made a decision. From the time I walked in with the notes until we finally left with dollars, forty minutes had elapsed. Frustration mounts!

In last week's Austin Chronicle, a local semi-underground paper, a long article appeared about the comic book store, Dragon Lair, having problems with BOA. Over a two year period, BOA has lost about $30,000 of Dragon Lair's night deposits. Bank of America is NOT being cooperative with the owner of the store and simply denies any responsibility. BOA has lost one of our deposits, too, made during the day. The check never cleared, so I really wonder what happened there.

On the other hand, the small town bank in my town, has been helpful any time I called them with money issues that I needed long distance help with. More on that story later, but I can tell you that I'll be moving the BOA accounts out of that bank as soon as possible.

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