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I recently spent the better part of an hour being tortured by bankers.
Given the contentiousness of the conversation, it is entirely possible that they saw themselves as being tortured by me. However, considering that they had my money and were the ones getting paid to be there, I see it the other way around.
I am not going to name names, of either personnel or the bank, because I do not believe the purpose of this kind of platform is to vent my personal beefs. Also, the point I really want to make is that what went on with my bank could go on with hundreds of other banks. Therefore, the purpose is not to call out one bank, but to caution people about what to watch out for with banks in general.
Life’s too short
A couple years ago, a bank that had kept me very happy for 25 years sold off its branches in my area. I did not like what the bank that took over my branch was offering, so I went bank shopping. I found one nearby which offered free checking and a 1 percent interest rate on a money market savings account. I took the bait.
A few months into the relationship, they slipped a monthly fee into the account. I was able to straighten that out with a phone call. Later though, I noticed that the interest rate on the money market account had declined. I knew bank rates were falling generally, so I did not think too much of this; but a few statements later, I noticed that the money market rate had fallen all the way to 0.03 percent.
These changes so soon after signing up were especially irksome. As important as it is to shop for good bank rates and cheap checking accounts, it is equally important to find consistency and trustworthiness. You should keep an eye on your accounts, but life is too short to constantly police what the bank is trying to do to you.
Counting on inertia
When I went into the bank to discuss this, it came out in the course of a conversation that ultimately involved an assistant manager and a manager that their money market rates are designed to steadily ratchet down over time. This goes beyond just offering a temporary promotional rate. Even after that expires, the rate you get will slowly decay, like so much radioactive material, until it approaches zero.
This means the bank is counting on customer inertia. They will offer an attractive rate to get your business, but they figure if they slowly diminish that rate down to nothing, you either won’t notice or won’t bother to change banks. This is an insultingly complacent attitude toward existing customers, but the bank only gets away with it because customers let them.
Not so full disclosure
I was not too happy about this, but I also did not want to change banks again if I could avoid it, so I wanted to see if I could find a viable solution in-house. I asked about CD rates, and it turned out they had a decent rate on a 4-year CD. I am concerned that interest rates will rise in the next four years, so I asked about the penalty for early withdrawal. “Ninety days,” said the branch manager.
That sounded pretty good, so I agreed to transfer most of my money market fund into a 4-year CD. I was immediately asked to sign a statement saying I had received a copy of the bank’s policies and disclosures. I said I had received no such thing. After repeatedly assuring me that those documents were “no big deal, just the type of thing you’ve seen over and over,” the assistant manager rather huffily provided me with two booklets, plus a certificate for the new CD I was going to open.
The certificate stated the interest rate, but not the penalty for early withdrawal. I asked where that was in writing. The manager started frantically flipping through the two booklets. Eventually, he found the relevant section. “There!” he said triumphantly. “The penalty for early withdrawal shall be 90 days’ worth of interest.” I peered at the surrounding print. “This applies to CDs of one year or less. I’m getting a four-year CD.” I looked down to the next box. The penalty for CDs of more than a year was 180 days.
I called the manager on this. He said, “Ooooohhh, my bad. You can still do the calculation and see if it’s still in your best interest.”
“No,” I replied. “I mean, I could, but I won’t. Don’t you get that asking someone to sign off on something they haven’t been shown is wrong? And that telling a customer completely inaccurate information is even worse? I’m out of here.”
And so I was. And a few days later, my money followed. So much for inertia.
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