Citizens Bank idiocy round-up

By | June 24, 2010

Citizens Bank has been particularly idiotic recently. Here’s the round-up of all the disappointments we’ve suffered at their hands…

Bye-bye, SUM Network

Citizens has withdrawn from the SUM ATM Network, effective January 1, 2010.  According to the scuttlebutt on-line, the only reason they joined SUM in the first place was because they were required to do so as condition of acquiring another bank.  Apparently that requirement was time-limited and has expired.  They’ve decided that the smaller banks were benefiting from access to Citizens ATMs a lot more than Citizens was benefiting from access to theirs, so customer convenience be damned, SUM had to go.  Not to mention that now Citizens can make money charging ATM fees to customers of those other banks.

Which brings us to our next item…

Inadequate notification of the SUM Network change

In the good old days of paper, when a bank had something important to notify their customers about, they either enclosed the notice on a separate piece of paper with monthly statements or sent a completely separate mailing.

So, what’s the equivalent in the age of paperless statements and as few postal mailings as possible to save money and protect the environment?  Well, they could:

  • send customers an email message notifying them about the change (they already have the email address of everyone subscribed to paperless statements, and they already use these email addresses for marketing and important customer communication); or
  • put the notification at the front of customers’ paperless statements, so when they open the PDF it’s the first thing they see (in fact, they did exactly this in this month’s statements with a fluff notice about “great eco-friendly prizes” that paperless statement users are eligible to win).

Citizens didn’t use either of these to notify people about their withdrawal from the SUM Network.  Instead, they buried the notice in the fine print at the end of people’s last 2009 statements, after all of the transaction data (i.e., where people stop reading once they have balanced their checkbook for the month), at the end of a long bullet point which started out, “This is a reminder of how you can use your debit card or ATM card,” amidst the marketing drivel which normally appears in this section of the statement which is why nobody ever reads it.

Which brings us to…

Pissing off a profitable customer over a $2 fee

A few weeks ago, I got nailed with a $2 ATM fee at a SUM ATM.  I had no idea that Citizens had withdrawn from SUM (see above), so I assumed that the fee notice was an error and figured I’d straighten it out later with Citizens since I didn’t have time to find another ATM to use.

When I got home, I looked into the matter and discovered that Citizens was no longer in SUM.  I sent Citizens a message through their online banking Web site complaining that their notification of the change was inadequate and asking them to therefore refund the $2 fee.

They sent me back a form letter notifying me that Citizens was no longer a member of the SUM Network.  Well yeah, duh, I knew that already.

I sent them back an impatient response, reiterating my complaint over inadequate notification, demanding again that they reimburse me, and ending with, “Your bank makes thousands of dollars from the interest I pay on my home equity line.  It would be foolish for you to further antagonize me over a $2 fee.”

They sent back a response again refusing to refund the fee, since it was charged by the other bank and the ATM had warned me about it.  Well, yeah, duh, I had already told them that the fee was charged by the other bank and the ATM had warned me about it.

I responded, “Your reply is callous, stupid, inadequate, and unacceptable.  Please give me the fax number of your executive complaints office so that I may let them know just how I feel about the way you have handled my complaint.”

They responded:

Thank you for your recent inquiry regarding the charge to your account. Citizens Bank is aware that situations may occur that are beyond your control. In such cases, we are able to issue a one time credit to your account. I have initiated a $2.00 rebate to your account.

They did not provide me with the contact information I requested for their complaints office.  I wrote back to them, thanked them for the credit, and again asked how I could contact their complaints office.

I got a voicemail message a few days later from a supervisor at Citizens.  I haven’t spoken to him yet.  I’m planning on getting his fax number or email address and sending him a copy of this blog posting.

Here’s a clue, Citizens Bank: it’s stupid to nickel-and-dime a customer from whom you’re making thousands of dollars per year.  When such a customer fields aggrieved over a measly $2 fee, and his complaint is even just a little bit legitimate, you refund the fee.  It shows that you care.  Conversely, arguing with the customer shows that you don’t care.

Web site silently enforces message length limits and erases customer messages

While I was going back and forth with Citizens on their Web site about the issue described above, I ran into an incredibly stupid functionality issue on their Web site combined with an incredibly annoying data-loss bug.

The “message center” on the Citizens Web site has a message length limit.  The limit is completely undocumented, i.e., when you’re composing a message, the site doesn’t tell you how long it’s allowed to be, which is the minimum acceptable behavior if you’re going to impose such a limit (the limit is also unreasonably low, but that’s a different story).  Far superior to that would be what so many other Web sites have figured out how to do: a character counter which goes down as you type and prevents you from putting more text than you’re allowed to into your message.

When you exceed the limit and try to submit your message, you get an error message saying that your message is too long and you should hit the Back button and try again.

When you hit the Back button, your message is gone.  You’ve just spent a significant amount of time composing a message (obviously, since it’s long enough to run afoul of the length limit), and the Web site just throws it away, and you’ve got to write the whole thing over again, all the while trying to guess what the limit is that you’re not allowed to exceed, because the site doesn’t tell you (even the error message doesn’t actually say what the length is; it just says that you’ve exceeded it).

Customer service staff has no clue about how to deal with Web site feedback

I sent a message to Citizens through their message center outlining the problems above.  In return, I expected an acknowledgment that the issues I described were real and an indication that my feedback had been passed on to the people who maintain the Web site.  Instead, I got back a form letter: “Please keep in mind, the length of emails is limited.”  Well, yeah, duh, isn’t that what I was complaining about?

I wrote back and told them, again, to please give me the contact information of someone to whom I could complain about their poor customer service.  This was all going on at the same time as the other issue outlined above, so I think the supervisor who called me was calling about both issues.

The great thing about paper statements is that they don’t experience technical difficulties

I’m all for the idea of saving money and protecting the environment by reducing paper mailings.  If I weren’t, I wouldn’t have invested many hours of my time in eliminating junk mail from my mailbox.  So when Citizens finally offered me the chance to switch to paperless statements for my home equity line, I took them up on it.

But here’s the thing, Citizens… When you ask your customers to switch from mailings to paperless statements, you are making a commitment to them: the statements will be available on-line when they are needed.

I’m a busy man.  I handle my financial affairs, things like reconciling my monthly bank statements, in dribs and drabs whenever I can find a few minutes to spare.  When I find those minutes, the “paper”work needs to be at my fingertips.

But it’s not.  For several days now, my home equity line statements have been inaccessible through the Web site.  This is not the first time this has happened.  I called Citizens today to ask what was going on and was told that the issue is impacting everyone; they are working on resolving it; and they could not give me an ETA for when it will be resolved.

Note: the minimum monthly payment on a Citizens home equity line is the amount of interest accrued in the past month.  Interest accrual doesn’t show up explicitly in the transaction history on the Web site (yet another stupid bug with the site).  This means that when on-line statements are unavailable, many customers have no way of knowing how much they’re required to pay that month.  Awesome!

I’ve managed high-availability OLTP Web sites.  It is not hard for such a site to serve up a bunch of PDFs; in fact, it should be trivial, since they are static documents, not database-backed queries or transactions.  It is mind-boggling that this keeps happening, mind-boggling that it takes days to resolve each time it does, and mind-boggling that whatever the problem is, Citizens didn’t just fix it properly the first time rather than letting it happen over and over.

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