Rogue Ink

April 16, 2008

Well Played, Wells Fargo, or: When Is Buddha Going to Bring the Compassion?

When I was a wee and bonnie lassie who occasionally spoke in a Scottish accent, I had a bank account with Wells Fargo. Actually, my parents did, and when they wanted to teach me about having a bank account, they opened me an account there as well. What I understood about banks initially, since I didn’t have a checking account or an ATM card, was that once the money went in, it never came out again. Unless Mom took me. Which meant no spontaneous toy purchases without her say-so. It was a good deal for Mom.

I got my own checking account when I was eighteen. Here’s how I decided to pick my bank:

Washington Mutual allowed me to withdraw funds, for free, from their ATMs, from my Wells Fargo account.

I thought, how cool. How awesome. A bank that isn’t all about profits. A bank that wants me to get my money when I need it no matter if my particular branch has a handy location. This is a bank that totally gets me, that will take care of me and my need for gum paid by ATM card. Well played, Washington Mutual, thought my eighteen-year-old self, and I signed up on the spot.

It’s six years later and the honeymoon is most definitely over.

First of all, now they do charge you for withdrawing money from their ATMs if you have another bank account. So much for the good Samaritan act there. I am told, every single time I want to contest a charge, that I must go to the branch where I originally opened my account. What is the point of having a national bank if you have to go to a local branch every time you want something other than a deposit? Here was the final straw:

I overdrew my account with a large check. That’s fine. I approve of that. I would rather pay an overdraft fee than bounce a check. But then a few other minor purchases went through. A $4.00 latte. A $11.24 grocery purchase. From weeks ago. Both of those incurred fees too. The fee has gone up every few months from when I initially opened my account. It’s now at a whopping $33 per overdraft. That’s a hundred bucks, folks. For one overdraft (that, incidentally, overdrew by about ten bucks.)

Now, in the past, I’ve been able to talk to banks about situations like these, show them that I remedied my overdraft, and talk them out of the two fees that were for previously-made purchases, with the logic that, had they gone through a day earlier, there would have been no problem. Usually, just asking nicely will get you there.

I remember going to Wells Fargo almost in tears about this when I was about fourteen. The bank manager blinked at me, barely even listened to my explanation, and fixed it all right up. He actually took all the fees off, even the one I legitimately deserved. And patted me on the head and sent me about my way. I think he may actually have offered me a hard candy or something. Maybe I’m romanticizing. But I have never romanticized a single moment with WaMu.

This was, quote for quote, the response I received from the phone representative:

“We no longer provide that courtesy.”

Courtesy was the perfect word. I loved it, even while I thought about strangling her with my shoelace. Not ‘we don’t provide that service.’ It was, ‘we don’t provide that courtesy.’ WaMu has officially embraced its discourteousness. What the chick on the phone was telling me was this:

“We here at Washington Mutual are not interested in being helpful to you. At all. We are, in fact, discourteous jackwads. We intend to put that on our business cards. Where it used to say ‘we’re all about making things better for our customers,’ it will now say, ‘We are all about being discourteous dipweeds.'”

See, I love courtesy. I think people who hold the door for me are tiny saints in human form. I love it when the waiter unfolds my napkin, I get positively giddy when the bartender comps my drink. When the grocery clerk tells me not to worry about the penny on my purchase of $5.01, I nearly swoon. I would be so grateful for the courtesy of reversing two little overdraft fees that I would continue allowing them to overdraft me, and reap the benefits, for bloody years to come. But instead, I’m going back to Wells Fargo. Because Mom knows best.

Well played, Wells Fargo of my youth. I’m coming home.

In a related note, my kung fu studio in New York automatically charged me for the next three months of class, even though I’d told them I wasn’t coming back. She told me I hadn’t signed a form. I was bewildered. It was Christmas Eve. I didn’t have any money. She remembered that I had said I was leaving, that I had asked what I needed to do, and she’d never given me this form. She remembered me leaving, wanting to leave, asking for the right forms, but she just kept saying, “It’s not our policy to refund.”

For fuck’s sake, these are BUDDHISTS we’re talking about. Aren’t Buddhists supposed to be compassionate? Where’s my goddamned compassion?

The final note: customers who believe in your inherent goodness will never leave you, even if they have been occasionally shafted by you. If you apologize, and fix it, you will have a loyal customer forever. Knock off ten bucks from the tab, give ’em a free fifteen minutes of your time. You can charge whatever you want. Nobody wants to deal with Bureaucracy Nazi. No one.



  1. I don’t have a long and insightful comment to add to your awesome post, only that I’ve learned that Karma really does exist. If you screw somebody in the name of money, eventually it will come back to bite you. It doesn’t matter if you are one person, or a big bank.

    Comment by Brett Legree — April 16, 2008 @ 10:27 pm | Reply

  2. We had an overdraft last month because we forgot to transfer money from my account to my wife’s. That is, “she” forgot.. but “we” got the Overdraft Notice.

    Of course we wanted to take care of that immediately so I trotted right down to the bank and with blank check in hand said that I wanted to pay back that overdraft and could I please have the right amount?

    Clickety-click and in a flash the teller said “Seven hundred thrirty two dollars and eighteen cents” or whatever it was and I wrote the check, walked next door to get a coffee to bring home for the wife and that should have been that.

    And then the following month we got a note saying we owed $2.12 on the Overdraft.

    “I thought you paid that off?”, my wife asked quizzically.

    “I did”, I said, as I dialed the phone number of the idiot supposedly in charge of our branch. Idiot Supposedly In Charge answered and I explained my problem.

    “That’s the interest.” she said, as though I were a financial innocent.

    “I KNOW that’s the interest”, I said, momentarily pretending that I did not want to throttle her forthwith. “But when I came to your bank last month I said I wanted to PAY IT ALL OFF. I don’t CARE about the two dollars and twelve cents; what I CARE about is driving down there and writing another stupid check!”

    The Idiot Supposedly In Charge was unsympathetic. “It’s the interest”, she explained again.

    Yes. It’s the interest. The interest the stupid computer system that the teller accessed should have told her about so that I wouldn’t have had to drive down there YET AGAIN.

    Though my wife did appreciate the donut I brought her with the coffee this time.

    Comment by Tony Lawrence — April 16, 2008 @ 10:44 pm | Reply

  3. Ugh. Banks. Stupid people. PLEH.

    Though apparently there’s some local bank here that everyone loves silly, so perhaps I should go check that out . . .

    Comment by Tei — April 16, 2008 @ 11:11 pm | Reply

  4. Fucking Buddhists.

    (I can say that cause I’m, like, Buddhist. I don’t have the whole “right speech” down yet, but I am eating less meat. That should count for something.)

    Comment by Naomi Dunford — April 17, 2008 @ 12:42 am | Reply

  5. Two words: Credit union.

    I’ve never had the problems I have with banks when I used a credit union. In fact, I think I’ll go switch tomorrow.

    Comment by Matt Tuley — April 17, 2008 @ 12:55 am | Reply

  6. Wait, what’s the difference? Come back! Educate the populace!

    Comment by Tei — April 17, 2008 @ 1:08 am | Reply

  7. 🙂

    This site sums it up pretty well:

    To join a credit union, one needs to be a member of a defined eligible population. For example, I was a member of a credit union available to employees (and their relatives) of the school district I taught in. This is a pretty low bar to clear, though, as just about everyone will meet this requirement for some credit union in the area.

    You’ll find lots more info here:

    Comment by Matt Tuley — April 17, 2008 @ 1:58 am | Reply

  8. Yes, yes! Credit Union! I’ve been with Elevations CU (previously called something else but I forget) since 1984, and even when I returned to California for 4 years (4 was enough!), I kept the account open. They are fantastic! So there, Tel, that takes care of the bank idiots. Now if we just had as simple a solution for all those other idiots . . .

    Comment by Verna Wilder — April 17, 2008 @ 3:15 am | Reply

  9. Matt: Thank you, most informative. Well done, taking care of the populace.

    Verna: After Matt suggested it, I just went and investigated Colorado credit unions, and that was the topmost rated one among all others. AND a friend of mine just proposed it, and then you just topped it all off. I shall make the switch forthwith.

    Thanks all for suggestions and anecdotes!

    Comment by Tei — April 17, 2008 @ 3:39 am | Reply

  10. I can’t remember the last time I had anything good to say about a bank. One of the banks here just started an ad campaign called “happy banking”. I don’t believe them. Not one bit. It should be decreed illegal to use oxymorons in advertising.

    Comment by s g — April 17, 2008 @ 8:23 am | Reply

  11. Always glad to take care of populaces!

    Comment by laptopforhire — April 17, 2008 @ 3:31 pm | Reply

  12. This is pretty good, too:

    It’s not a rickroll. I promise. It’s a credit union and bank parody of the Mac and PC ads. Cute.

    Comment by Matt Tuley — April 17, 2008 @ 6:33 pm | Reply

  13. s.g. “Happy banking.” Oh, dear.

    Matt: This was awesome. I may have to post it.

    Comment by Tei — April 17, 2008 @ 8:18 pm | Reply

  14. Are you reading my mind? We JUST had an overdraft thanks to a miscommunication about who’s paying the bills. It has honestly never occurred to me to try to get out of the $30 fee for every transaction posted after my overdraft, even though (like yours), they always happen before the overdraft…Next time, I’m calling the bank!

    Comment by Sandie — April 17, 2008 @ 8:54 pm | Reply

  15. Sandie: Yeah, in the past they’ve been good about this. The other thing I love is overdraft protection, which only some banks offer (Wells Fargo, you’re so good) and most credit unions do. If you overdraw your checking account, it’ll pull funds from your savings to cover it, and there’s no penalty. Something Elevations Credit Union is saying is that you can have a credit card with them to cover any overdrafts, which sounds, frankly, like wonder on a stick, for me. I’ll have to see if that is too good to be true and get back to you guys.

    There may be a whole long blog post here on credit unions v. banks in a few days. Matt has opened my eyes.

    Comment by Tei — April 17, 2008 @ 9:11 pm | Reply

  16. Banks suck. They are operating on an old profit model that the internet and instantaneous communication are obliterating. They make money (in interest) by holding your money. They depended on long transfer times with paper checks to make heaps of money in interest. Now those transfer times should be essentially zero. As should processing fees. They are all automated.

    I had a problem last year with something called “unavailable funds” fees, and the shady practice of posting the largest debits to your account first. They can maximize their overdraft fees that way. See this for more.

    And disregard that dip-s**t comment from askmrlee, some of us do not have credit cards. Some of us made bad decisions when we were younger that will apparently haunt us forever.

    BTW, I had fun with Wachovia’s Wikipedia page every day until my grievance was addressed to my satisfaction. Some poor schlub must have been pulling his hair out.

    Comment by @Stephen | Productivity in Context — April 29, 2008 @ 4:10 am | Reply

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