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Friday, December 21, 2007

My International Internet Banking Nightmare

I haven't been able to get much blogging (or anything else) done this past few weeks because of a shameful secret -- my bank cancelled me.

Not on purpose, you understand. It was a "clerical error." Ooops. But a clerical error in a banking system 10,000 miles from me, connected only by telephone, internet and FedEx is the genesis of a major problem.

It started like this. When we made aliyah, we researched banks that would be useful to us Stateside but also work with international wire transfers to our Israeli bank. We didn't want to use the firms that invest your money, because at the time their fees for international wire transfers were high, very limited in number and our deposits wouldn't be insured.

Instead, we opened an account with a small bank in the South which was recommended by Nefesh B'Nefesh on their website.

The bank was perfect: inexpensive wire transfers, 24/7 banking service, good interest rates. They never caused us a problem the entire 17 months we used them.

Then along came the sub-prime mortgage meltdown...and we opened our account page one day to find our Nice Little Bank was suddenly being handed over by the FDIC to Big International Conglomerate Bank. BICB promised us all the same services and that everything would be hunky-dory with them, and why don't we fill out an on-line application and officially become their customers?

Okay, sounds good, but I can't find the internet link on the site for the international wire transfer, because I need to move some money to Israel since I'm in the middle of working with various contractors and materialmen on our new apartment, and they'd like to get paid.

So I call the 24/7 customer service number. Long distance. Then I get a recording telling me that they are no longer providing customer service 24/7 and that I should call back between 8 am and 11 pm EST.

Rats. Trying to coordinate my calls with daylight hours in the US in problematic, but, well, in this case it has to be done. So I call them back (long distance international because their "toll free" number doesn't take calls from Israel)during the requisite hours and get Ms. Snippy, who proceeds to inform me that Big International Conglomerate Bank doesn't have the link to international wire transfers any more because--they don't do international wire transfers.

"How can this be?" I asked. "You're a big international bank!"

"It's not cost-effective for us, " she replied, snippily.

"Well, what about your overseas customers? My husband and I have our deposits made directly in these accounts and we're living in Israel and need to transfer some of that money to our bank here."

"I can't help you with that. You need to look into other options," she tells us in a distracted and less than helpful voice. "By the way, you need to provide us with a US address to maintain your account with us."

We have such a US address. It appears on our account information pages of Nice Little Bank's web-page but nonetheless, I recite it for her and assume she is putting this into her records.

I dutifully fill out the internet form on the web-page that says what we need to do to transfer our account from Nice Little Bank to Big International Conglomerate Bank. I do this despite the warning that it may take 30 to 60 days to process the application.

I also direct them to close the CD account, and put the funds into the Money Market Account.

I start shopping around for another bank that will do international wire transfers, and ultimately, we decide to go back to our Credit Union, which while not 24/7, will conduct conversations with us by email, give us real, live, helpful personal service, and whose employees actually answer the phone and give their customers the employees' direct extensions. It's a bit more cumbersome, because the wire transfers cost more, and I have to fill out a form, fax it, then call Erika the next morning (our night) to make sure the form arrived and that the wire transfer will go out that day.....but its better than BICB which isn't being helpful at all.

Then I get an email from BICB: "You need to provide us with an updated U.S. address."

I just did that. Okay, I'll do it again. I email BACK to them the US address we maintain in California.

We have "bill-pay" on the Nice Little Bank account. This is handy for being able to pay any US credit card bills that may arise, or kids' loan payments, etc. I generally sit down towards the end of each month, plug in the dollar amount into the bill-pay column for any credit card that has an amount owing, and plug in the "payment date." The first of the month, like magic, all the bills are paid!

As the end of the month approaches, I get another email from BICB....."You need to provide us with an updated US address."

I WRITE BACK the US address (again) with a note stating that we provided this last month and PLEASE MAKE A NOTE OF IT!

I get a cheery email back telling me that the address information has been updated on two of our three accounts -- money market and checking. This is a bit puzzling because no mention is made of the CD account, but then I remember that I asked them to close that account and put the money into the money market account....so I figure that's why there's no note about the CD account.

I'm busy with guests coming, Chanukkah coming, medical stuff for the kid, so I figure that on the first of the month, I'll simply sit down, plug in the payment amounts and "send" and get everything taken care of.....I'm not worried that Nice Little Bank's accounts are going to be closed on December 7, because our own application for BICB is in process and we should have a new (transitioned) account with them momentarily--certainly in time for the bill-pay to be activated on the new account January 1st.

I blithely open up our accounts page on the last day of November, prepared to set up the bill-pay options for the next day -- and discover that all the money in our checking and money market accounts has been reversed out of the accounts and the two accounts are CLOSED!

I call BICB, forgetting that they are no longer doing customer service 24/7--now I have to call only during certain hours. After wasting money on that phone call, I call again during the requisite hours and get a customer service representative, to whom I pose the questions: why our accounts are closed, the bill-pay shut down, and what happened to our money?

"I'll have to send this upstairs to be researched," she says. She assures me that this will NOT take weeks but only 24-48 hours and "someone" will be in touch with me.


In the absence of anyone getting back in touch with me,I call back the next evening and get a somewhat more harried customer service representative, who looks at her computer and tells me that yes, Nice Little Bank's services were to remain operation until December 7th BUT that some accounts are being shut down early because they don't have valid US addresses, and we never provided them with a valid US address.

"But we did. More than once," I told her. "I provided it on the telephone and twice in writing. And I'm holding a confirming email from your bank stating that you received the information and updated our accounts."

"Well, we're really busy here and its really difficult to make this transition work, and it looks like the information you sent us just didn't get to Operations in a timely manner." I.e., a clerical mistake.

Fine, okay, mistakes happen. I just want it fixed.

Put our pensions (which we later find were sent back to our pension authorities) and the money reversed out BACK into our accounts and let's get back in business.

"We can't do that," she says, starting to sound really annoyed. "The pensions have been refused, which means the money is already sent back to your pension originators. You have to contact them about getting those funds back into the account. The moneys reversed out of your two accounts have been sent back to the address on file." You, know, the address they are saying they DON'T have....

I explain, a little tersely, that I would like to have some customer service here that involves, if not reactivating this 'accidental' closure of accounts, at least opening the new BICB immediately, so I can wire money into it and use the bill-pay feature to pay our bills.

"I don't see an application on file for you and your husband," she said when I asked about this option.

We filled out the application back in September, I tell her. "Well, I don't have a record of it," she said icily, as if I'm making this all up. "You can reapply, of course," was added in tones of don't-hold-your-breath.

How long, if I reapply tonight, will it take to open the new account--especially in view of the fact that it was YOUR error that closed our accounts in the first place?

30 to 60 days, she tells me.


This didn't happen all in one night, of course.....so while I'm pursuing Option Number One with BICB, I'm also contacting our credit union, FedExing forms to them in order to add a joint checking account to our shares account, and set up bill pay and get an ATM card, etc.....

While BICB is giving us neither apology nor customer service, our forms and photocopies of IDs which were FedEx'd to the credit union arrive at said credit union. We know this because FedEx makes everyone sign when they receive a packet. Thank goodness....because once they arrived at the credit union, they disappeared. No one knows where-oh-where the FedEx'd originals went to, or where the faxed copies went to...both sets of documents vanished.

Ultimately, this worked to our favor. The credit union, which does believe in real customer service to their members, rushed around making everything square with us without the requisite documents in hand, and we got the joint checking and the bill-pay set up. Finally. Then I wired money from our Israel bank to the credit union, then paid the bills.

I took our copies of the faxed documents, scanned them into the computer and then emailed the documents to our account rep at the credit union so he'd have at least some paperwork to back up his risk in opening a joint checking with no paperwork in hand.

We then arranged with our pension departments to direct deposit our pensions into the credit union account starting January 1st....the pensions that were returned to us (at our US address) were ultimately FedEx'd to us (at our expense) as checks, which we now get to FedEx back to the credit union for deposit....

I'm not looking forward to seeing either the phone bill or the credit card bill at the end of this month....

But....BICB still has our CD account -- THAT they never closed but they haven't yet sent us checks for the amounts which were in the closed accounts. And of course, I can't reach them by 'bank mail' because I don't yet formally have an account with them, so this is yet another long-distance international phone call to their so-called "customer service."

Is there a moral to this story? Yes: the smaller the bank, the better the service. We can't do without a US bank because our pension originators refuse to deposit into overseas banks; we have to use wire transfers and bill pay. But just because a big international bank has a huge advertising budget, don't think their customer service is going to be helpful. Just the opposite--they have so many customers, the little pensioners who run into problems appear to be not worth helping.

Now, if I can just figure out how to make them disgorge the CD account and return the money that was in the accounts.....


Blogger Jill said...

What a hassle! True enough that when you have a larger bank you become just another number because they have other account holders to compensate. Fact of the matter...every account should be valued, customer significant, and interaction courteous & efficient. Am I dreaming or are these items things of the past? So, sorry that you are having to jump through hoops just to bring things back to square one again. Love to all!

Friday, December 21, 2007 at 7:23:00 PM GMT+2  
Blogger Baila said...

and they say this stuff is bad in Israel!

Sunday, December 23, 2007 at 6:53:00 AM GMT+2  
Blogger aliyah06 said...

jilly--you're dreaming. That's why we're going back to the Credit Union, which like Nice Little Bank, is small, friendly and customer oriented.

baila--I have seen nothing in Israel so far that is worse than what I've had dished out in the States...every time some family member complains about the hassle of banking, or parking, or getting medical, I point out to those folks that we had the same problems back in California (you think you can PARK in San Francisco??) and they cost more to fix.....

Sunday, December 23, 2007 at 3:23:00 PM GMT+2  

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