Monday, January 5, 2009

Finding a New Bank

When I set up my business checking account back in '04, I decided to go with a local bank - Mid-State Bank & Trust - on the theory that they'd be more likely to provide decent customer service. I'd had bad experiences in the past with both Bank of America and Wells Fargo, and I'd vowed that Wells Fargo in particular would never get another dime of my business. (The reasons are numerous - look up their class action lawsuits and take your pick.)

Some months ago Mid-State was acquired by Rabobank, and I'd hoped that being part of a big multinational bank might improve some of their online services; the website had always been terribly clunky and difficult to use. Alas, it's gotten far worse since then. I can no longer make payments on my line of credit, the system won't work with Firefox, and doing the most trivial of tasks is frustrating.

Worse, their service has really gone downhill. I'm currently missing a wire transfer and despite promises to track it down, I've heard nothing. It's a common pattern - call them up with a problem, they promise to look into it, and then nothing. I'm also missing mailings from them, important stuff like a routing number change that ended in me having to destroy 500 unused checks. And every time I send a wire transfer, the confirmation email comes from (and the return receipt goes to) a domain held by a squatter. Rabobank won't acknowledge the problem - like maybe they don't think that could be a massive invitation for phishing.

So today I decided to contact a few big banks with the same simple set of questions - can I make international wire transfers through your online banking system, can they be in foreign currencies, and what's the transfer fee? How the banks respond to the message (sent through their online contact form) will be as important as the actual answer - I'm tired of dealing with a bank that won't get anything done unless you park yourself physically in a branch.

I'll update this as it progresses, but here are the results so far. All questions were submitted at around 10:00 AM on Monday, January 5.

Union Bank of California
Immediate auto-confirmation by email promising response in 1 business day.

Received an email at 2:30 PM stating that online wire transfers are possible and to call a representative.

Called 800 number at 4:10 PM, got a recording (in English and Japanese) telling me to leave a message for a call-back within one day. Left a message.

Got a call back at 10:00 AM the next day seeking more information to direct my call. Was promised another return call within 30 minutes. Nothing yet, two days later.

Got a response at 5:54 PM on Wednesday. Looks like a form letter pieced together from several canned paragraphs, not all of them quite relevant to what I asked. Wire transfers must be made from a bank; no response to the fee inquiry.

Email response came in on Wednesday at 7:09 PM.

Called toll-free number (it has a 'Z' in it!) and spoke to a very friendly rep after navigating a reasonably short voice menu. Found out that they offer $15 wires (incoming and outgoing) and several currencies, and that they have an option for 5 free transfers a month. Also found out that I can't open an account because there's no branch close enough and they have to make a site visit. I was very pleased with the customer service, but it unfortunately it does me absolutely no good!

Wells Fargo
Got an email response at 11:53 AM on Tuesday. Wire transfers are available through their Commercial Electronic Office. Got a URL (no fees listed that I can find, mostly fluff and a lot of clicking to get a few nuggets of information) and a phone number.

Called the number provided and got a human after a short recorded announcement. I thought this was a good sign at first, but then it turned out the number I'd reached was only for password resets and token reassignments. The poor guy was confused and didn't seem to know why that number would have been given to me, but after a couple of minutes of awkward silence while he conferred with his team lead by IM he got me another number to call.

This turned out to be the main catch-all customer service number, which dropped me into a voice menu system. It kept insisting on an account number to speak to a banker, but after a few tries it gave up and transferred me anyway.

The next person I spoke to (after a hold of a couple of minutes) couldn't talk to me if I wasn't a customer, and put me on hold for a couple minutes longer while I was transferred to someone who could.

At this point I finally got some questions answered. Wire transfers can be done online for $15 in numerous currencies, and incoming wires are $7.50, but there's a 6-month waiting period before you can enroll. Until then I'd be stuck doing $30 transfers from a branch.

The fees are acceptable and they seem to offer a broad selection of services, but the 6-month delay would be hard to swallow, and what I went through trying to find this out tells me that Wells Fargo is still the same bureaucratic hell that I remember.

Bank of America
1:30 PM - Got a form letter response advising me to call the wire transfer department. Called, got a voice response system. Got to a live operator, was informed there's no online wire transfer option. Outgoing wires are $45, she didn't know incoming rates or currency exchange fees.


Of the 5 banks I contacted, HSBC is the only one that seems to offer any real improvement over Rabobank in terms of fees and customer service. And it's the only one that won't take me on as a customer. Union Bank of California could still redeem themselves by calling back with the information I requested, but I'm not holding out much hope at this point.

I'd be happy to pay travel expenses for an HSBC rep to come up here and make the required site inspection, but alas, I don't think that's going to happen.

Looks like I'm stuck with Rabobank for now, unless another option presents itself.


Things are getting even worse with Rabobank. I submitted a payment yesterday on my business line of credit - used to be you could manage it directly and it worked pretty well. Now, to make a payment, you go to 'Messaging' and select the 'Line of Credit Payment' form letter. Apparently they print that out and enter it manually. Only this time they took the money from the line of credit and put it in checking.

So this morning I started Round 2 of the bank search, and started checking with local banks instead of the big ones:

Santa Lucia Bank
Santa Barbara Bank & Trust
Community Bank of Santa Maria
Heritage Oaks Bank
Mission Community Bank
Los Padres Bank

Only those last two don't have so much as an email address on their website, so I'm going to have to call or visit in person, and I don't think there's much hope of them having online wire transfers if they don't even have email. Community Bank of Santa Maria sent back an out-of-office response, so at least there's one person there with email. When she's in.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Hi there:

I found an image of a VAX 6000 on your blog, which we used to use at our college about fifteen years ago. Can I have permission to use it in our department newsletter? We are doing informational pieces on our hardware and its history.

Phil Bidwell
SUNY College at Oneonta