October 21, 2010 letter to Citizens Bank

October 21, 2010

[name elided]
Citizens Bank
One Citizens Drive
Riverside, RI 02915

Dear Ms. [elided],

Thank you for your October 15 letter, which I received today today. While I am grateful for your response, I’m afraid that it is not only inadequate, but factually incorrect.

You appear to have misunderstood the fact that I have two complaints, because I was given two different pieces of incorrect information. You have conflated these two complaints into one, and as a result, you have failed to properly understand either one.

A Citizens Bank telephone customer service representative told me that the fee charged by Citizens Bank for overseas ATM withdrawals is 2%. In fact, the fee is 3%. The information given to me was simply wrong.

The same representative told me it would be less expensive to purchase Israeli currency at a branch than to withdraw it via ATM, because the exchange fee would be waived. This, too, was wrong. Although it is true that the “exchange fee” was waived, the exchange rate is marked up by 10% for such exchanges, a fact which the representative did not disclose.

You wrote, “It is my understanding that you are unhappy that you were assessed exchange fees after you withdrew funds from ATM’s overseas.” That is incorrect. I never expected to be able to do foreign ATM withdrawals for free. I did expect to be able to do them at the rate I was quoted by your representative.

You also wrote, “Our employees would not have knowledge of what method of conversion would be the least expensive for our customers since exchange rates vary daily and other financial institutions may have additional fees that you would be subject to.”

Your employees certainly can and should be aware of the fee charged for foreign ATM transactions. It is a fixed percentage that does not vary, and it is charged by Citizens Bank, not some other institution.

Your employees certainly can and should be aware that there is a 10% mark-up added to the money-market rate for foreign currency exchanges at bank branches. This mark-up is set by Citizens Bank.

The answer to the question I asked your representative, “Will it be cheaper for me to purchase foreign currency from a Citizens Bank branch or withdraw it overseas from an ATM?”, does not vary over time and is not dependent on institutions other than Citizens Bank. It is always cheaper to withdraw cash overseas, because 3% is always less than 10%.

As I noted in my previous letter, I have a credit card which gives me 1% cash back and also charges a 3% fee for foreign currency transactions. If I had been given correct information, I would have used that card for nearly all transactions, at a net cost of 2% of all the money I spent in Israel.

Therefore, as I noted in my previous letter (enclosed), I expect Citizens Bank to refund to me the difference between 2% and 10% for all the currency exchanges I did in Boston, and the difference between 2% and 3% for all of the ATM withdrawals I did in Israel. From the total of $306.03, you have already refunded $149.99, so you owe me an additional $156.04.

Although I exchanged $3,200 worth of dollars into Israeli currency in person at a branch, and I mentioned to several employees who helped me that I was making these exchanges so that I would have cash to spend in Israel, not one of them ever asked me why I was exchanging dollars in the United States or suggested that it would be cheaper for me to use ATM’s in Israel. It is reasonable to expect bank employees to be aware of the costs and fees associated with transactions. It is also reasonable to expect bank employees to inform a customer when there is a significantly less expensive way to execute the same transaction. Although the failure of your branch employees to disclose this information did not directly damage me financially (the damage was already done by the incorrect information from your telephone representative), it does support my claim of unfair and deceptive trade practices under M.G.L. Chapter 93a. Furthermore, if your branch employees had been properly trained to provide the missing information up-front, all of this messiness could have been avoided.

You have two choices at this point:

  1. You can refund the additional $156.04 which I am owed within 30 days of the date of this letter.
  2. I can file suit against Citizens Bank in small claims court for triple damages for unfair and deceptive trade practices, i.e., $306.03 X 3 = $918.09, plus the $50 filing fee, plus the $6.48 cost of mailing this and my previous letter to you, for a grand total of $974.57.

I hope you will not think I am bluffing. I have filed and won numerous Chapter 93a claims in the past. I absolutely guarantee that if this ends up in court, I will win at a minimum the $306.03 I’ve asked for plus the $50 filing fee. While it’s by no means a sure thing, it’s extremely likely that my triple damages claim will be upheld. It would be simpler for all concerned if you would save us both the trouble of a trial by refunding to me the remaining $156.04 you owe me.


Jonathan Kamens

encl: September 14, 2010 letter to Citizens Bank

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