“But everywhere, sooner or later, he was stopped by men in white shirts with strict, smug expressions on their faces. And one couldn’t fight them.”
–A Man Called Ove
Ove was stubborn and taciturn. Ove would fight with just about anyone over anything, whether it was a plumber and a high fee, a waiter and a “miscalculated” bill, or the local city council and their plans for a new development. He wrote letters, made calls, filed complaints, and stayed with a fight for months. But there was another side to Ove. The despairing side. Because no matter what he did, or how hard he fought, he could never defeat the “white coats.” In the end though, after a lifetime of fighting the white coats, he fought one more time for the people he loved. I’ll let you read the book to find out how it turned out. Sometimes it’s important not just that you know how to fight the white coats, but when and why you should fight them.
My girlfriend Tracy and I had our own battle with a bureaucratic customer-service-nightmare recently. There is nothing like big banking to provide poor customer service and a feeling of despair. So many industries, from restaurants to airlines, compensate customers for inconvenience and poor service to retain our business and branding. Big banks seems to believe they are the exception. The villain in our case is our current (but likely not for long) bank, Chase. This is a post about how to switch banks, because sometimes, it’s not worth the battle. But first, here’s our story for why we find ourselves in need of a new bank.
Tracy switched jobs recently, and as part of the paperwork/HR/financial reshuffle, she ended up with a check from her old job that she needed to deposit. It was a pretty nice check. Not a lets-go-buy-a-car-with-this-baby type check, but definitely a we-probably-shouldn’t-lose-this type of check. So she took it to the bank and deposited it at the Chase ATM. All well and good.
Then, to her consternation, a week letter, she received a letter that the check had been rejected. She called the customer service number the next day and discussed this issue. They took a look, and 30 minutes and two representatives later said the rejection had been a mistake, and they would mail it to her immediately so she could bring it back to the branch. Well, about two weeks went by and the check still hadn’t arrived, so she called them again. This time, the kindly and informative customer service gentleman questioned, “did you check your mailbox”, and when she told him that she was not in fact an airhead and did check the mail more than once a fortnight, said he could not verify on the UPS tracking system the checks whereabouts, and recommended that she go to the branch in person and request it be reprinted.
At this point, our heroine was feeling low. A full month had passed since she had deposited the check, and no money had been added to her bank account–no interest accrued. So she brought in reinforcements for her visit to the branch. To be fair, my job was mostly to lend her moral support and look pretty in my suit, but that was OK. So we marched in to our local Chase Bank branch after work Friday afternoon. We waited over half-an-hour to be seen by a representative. And when we were finally seen, the smiling and helpful man (he actually was nice, to be fair), said he was sorry that Tracy had been misguided, and that at the branch they don’t have any power to re-print a check, which appeared to be what Tracy needed, so he got on the phone and called the customer service line for us.
Now all three of us were on the phone for about 45 minutes. The branch customer representative would explain the situation and then they would transfer us. Then Tracy would get on and explain the situation and she would get transferred. Then she would explain again and get transferred again. Tracy is an amazing advocate, for herself and others. We can all take lessons in speaking to customer service representatives from her. She is polite, firm, doesn’t get angry with the customer service representative, and always explains that she is not upset at that person, she just is upset with the situation. During this conversation, she asked, first the branch assistant, and then the drones on the phone, what type of customer recovery service Chase offered. Both the branch assistant and the phone drone looked and sounded bemused when this question was put to them.
“What do you mean?” they asked perplexed.
“Well, it’s been a month that you’ve had my check. It should have been in my bank account, available to me by now. I’ve now been on the phone for 2 hours in total and now in this branch trying to rectify the situation for over an hour. Will you do anything to compensate me for my time and trouble?”
“No,” they all answered sadly, “we don’t do that.”
Finally, after an hour-and-a-half, Chase said they would re-print the check and mail it. First, they said 7-10 business days. After lots more wrangling on Tracy’s part, they promised it would be there by next Friday. (8 days. Nice guys.)
Tracy was upset by this whole encounter because she has a lot of other stressful things going on in life at the moment, the last of which should be arguing with a company who already admitted it was at fault. So I decided to see what I could get out of Chase. On Monday, which I happened to have off, I called up the Chase customer service line myself. I explained the situation: I am a Chase bank customer, my girlfriend is as well, We had this terrible experience, what will you do to make this right? The woman on the other line was confused. She put me on hold for about ten minutes and then came back with the number to file a claim for a lost check. I explained politely that we had already done that (twice actually). That was not why I was calling.
“So what is it that you want?” she said.
I explained it more clearly. I am a Chase customer. You guys messed up big time. I asked her to either tell me, if she knew, what Chase would be willing to do to keep me as a customer, or transfer me to someone who could. She transferred me to her supervisor. Her supervisor came on and I repeated the question. The answer came quickly. Nothing. I was free to leave and go to another bank. She actually suggested this to me. She was polite about it. While giving me the middle finger. The last ironic nail in the coffin came later that day. A letter from Chase offering me a big bonus if I opened a savings account with them.
All this is a long way to get to my point this week, which is: if your bank sucks, leave! It’s actually not as hard as you’d think, and can actually be quite rewarding.
First, how it can be rewarding. You can probably find a bank that offers you a bonus to open a checking/savings account with them. There are really three types of banks you can look for. A big bank, which will likely offer the largest bonus, but you might eventually run into more customer service nightmares though, so buyer beware. You can also look for a local bank or credit union. Third, you can try to go wireless. There are now online banks like Schwab, among others, that offer checking accounts and will reimburse you ATM fees, so the world is your oyster. All three of these types of banks may offer sign-up bonuses, but not all banks do. You may find a bank that your really like that doesn’t. Don’t sweat it, peace of mind may be worth more than one or two-hundred dollars, that’s up to you! Schwab is actually an example of one bank my friends love that does not give a sign up bonus. My friends love it because they can use it to get cash at ATMs abroad without paying lots of fees. It’s up to you! Whatever you choose though, make sure it is FDIC insured!
If you are into the bonus reward-life, HustlerMoneyBlog has a great list of banks offering bonuses. They do a list for every state too so you can find the one you are living in!
Second, how you can do it without screwing up your life. The important thing when changing banks is to check all your boxes. You will likely need to change a bunch of paperwork, but if you have your list ahead of time, it won’t take you that long. Here’s a list to help you get started (make sure to review your own finances because you may have things I don’t list here!):
- Stop activity on your old bank. You want to make sure nothing new is going in or out so that no complications arise when you close the account.
- Set up your paycheck to the new account. For me this is direct deposit. When opening a new bank, this is the first thing I change. Only once my first work paycheck goes in without a hitch do I switch everything else over.
- Switch all your credit card payments. Make sure add this new bank (and delete the old one) on all your credit card accounts.
- Update your student loan information. This one is a big one for me. If you don’t have any, more power to you, but make sure you link your new bank ASAP. And then check to see it works. For my direct debit, I had to re-sign up for everything. Here’s a link to how I dealt with it.
- Car payments. I don’t have any but Tracy does. Make sure you switch your bank account payments so they don’t take your car!
- Any other automatic payments you have that are direct debit.
- Water Bill
- Electricity Bill
- Phone Bill
- Venmo. Make sure all that money for those dinners out with friends comes and goes from the right place!
There are some things in life that are not worth the fight. If you’ve already had a good long talk with your bank, like we did, and they aren’t doing anything for you, it’s probably time to switch! That way, you can have time in your life to fight for what is worth fighting for.