Every small business person wants to do business with friendly, convenient and reliable service providers in the course of day-to-day operations. Associating with businesses where "everybody knows your name" is also an advantage.
After years of impersonal service from a major banking institution having some of my accounts, and dealing with a small bank that was not convenient for business purposes, I was thrilled when Washington Mutual opted to open a new branch at the corner of Lombard and Burrage near my home studio. I'd heard nothing but good feedback from others banking at WaMu. As I traveled I found branches near a convention center in San Diego, within walking distance of a resort in Rancho Santa Fe, CA, and a couple blocks from my hotel in San Francisco. The many locations were a selling point. A good friend, who worked for WaMu at the time, even took me in to meet the branch manager at the new location. It seemed a great fit for the banking needs of my little one-person business. I liked the "small town" feel of the branch and the fact I was recognized every time I went in to do my banking. If there was any particular issue, which was rare, I could call, email or visit the manager to get it resolved quickly and personally. As I don't keep what one might call "banking hours," I appreciated having the ATM nearby to do my banking if necessary. In fact, there were times when went to the bank, made a deposit and by the time I got back home the transaction was already noted in online account information.
I guess the honeymoon is over. Has WaMu become yet another oversized, uncaring, impersonal financial institution when it comes to dealing with individual and small business customers?
This past fall I made a couple sizeable deposits (sizeable for my business anyway) of local (Portland) checks via the ATM and thought nothing more about them. As I do most of my bill payments online, I just took it for granted that the deposits had been credited to my account and my bills were being paid electronically as scheduled. Imagine my surprise when going online a couple days later to find that neither deposit had been fully credited to my account. Both had "holds" on them according to the online account summary.
Contacting the less-than-helpful "customer service" department resulted in a response telling me that a two-day hold had been placed on the checks - which was actually a three-day hold in the case of one deposit. No explanation. The representative also apologized "for any inconvenience caused." That was it.
I immediately contacted the always helpful branch manager and let her know about the situation. She very quickly responded with: "Whenever you make a deposit into the ATM there will be a hold on the checks. (Note: Which had never been the case previously) Our ATM's have different hold regulations due to the checks being processed through an outside department and not within the branch. If you need to make a deposit when we're not open, try to use the Night Drop - these deposits are processed each morning when we open and are looked at by branch employees instead of an outside department." She then overrode the "hold," making all funds available, and all was right with the world.
Since that day I have always stood in line in the branch to deal directly with a teller, or used the night deposit box in the lobby, to make deposits. None of this, two (or three) day "hold" nonsense for me as punishment for making use of ATM convenience.
Then in January I returned to from a trip out of town during a snow storm. After a visit to my PO Box I had checks that I knew needed to be desposited. I went to the branch on that snowy day to make a deposit. The branch was closed due to the storm. All ATM deposit envelopes, deposit slips and night deposit envelopes in the lobby were gone - and I was unable to make a deposit in any way due to that situation. The next morning I returned - luckily bringing a deposit envelope/slip from home - because the branch was still closed due to the bad weather and all deposit material supplies in the ATM lobby were still exhausted. As snow doesn't stop Internet scheduled payments to other accounts, a scheduled payment was made and I incurred an overdraft charge due to the fact I was unable to make a deposit. "Customer service" basically blew me off and never addressed the situation. Let me get this straight; the bank can close due to snow, I am unable to make a deposit because the branch in closed and there are no deposit supplies in the secure lobby, and I'm simply out of luck? It's my problem - not WaMu's? Yep, that's a bank providing "customer service" to their valuable clientele.
That brings us to this last week when, as advised by the previous manager, I made an early morning deposit on Friday via the night deposit drop. Supposedly that would mean the deposit would be handled efficiently by a real person and credited to my account that same day. Silly me, I had no reason to check my balance online until yesterday - six days later. The deposit had never been credited to my account and I was incurring overdraft charges left and right.
In the "olden days," of true customer service, a financial institution would have called a customer with a bit of curiosity about the state of the customer's account and the problem would have been dealt with much sooner. Well, obviously that's not how things are done these days.
It turns out that bank did get my deposit in the night deposit box last Friday morning - but the individual processing the deposit couldn't read one of the handwritten account numbers on my deposit slip. With my name on both the check and the deposit slip they couldn't look up my account in any manner? Someone in the small neighborhood branch couldn't ask "Does anyone know this Jeff Fisher guy?" to tellers who have sometimes seen me several times a week and know me by name? I guess it would take too much effort to contact the individual who wrote me the check in question to determine my contact information if all else failed.
A branch employee actually let me know that the first numeral of of my account number looked like a "J" rather than a zero and "We had kept your check and deposit slip hoping you would call us." So, basically they must have been waiting for me to start receiving overdraft notices in the mail (which I have yet to receive) as a sign to me that something was very wrong with my account.
Last night the deposit, which was actually made nearly a week ago, was finally credited to my account. Funny, none of the overdraft charges (including yet another today) has been credited back to my account - although I have requested that action from the branch and WaMu "customer service." "Customer service" ignored my requests for the name of someone higher up in the company who might be able to help me (I understand that this is a common complaint of supposedly valuable WaMu customers experiencing account problems). I did get a copy of an email from the branch manager in which he requested that his assistant manager take care of the situation. Nothing has happened.
My rant is over. I guess the days of a bank that treats small businesses like a small town neighbor are also over. Maybe WaMu has gotten a little too big for it's britches. I suppose I expected more from the company because that is what the bank offered. Early on I would often recommend WaMu to a small business owner looking for an appropriate bank. That would not be the case today. Perhaps I should have kept my banking with the smaller, three-branch, truly customer service-oriented - but less convenient - community bank with which I had done business for years.
Update 03.12.07: This is the response received from "customer service" today in a form letter response (I know it is a pre-fabbed response due to submitting two individual complaints and getting exactly the same response to each submission.):
I understand these fees can be costly and regret that they cannot be refunded. As a courtesy, WaMu has paid the items that overdrew your account to the merchant, which prevents you from incurring additional charges for them.
Washington Mutual takes responsibility for bank errors and will work with customers to resolve issues arising from those errors. Your concern has been researched, and as no bank error was found, the fee cannot be refunded.
Update 03.23.07: Still no action from Wamu in crediting the overdrafts as a result of their mishandling of my night drop deposit. I do know that the situation has cost the bank a few potential business customers - which may prevent others from going through similar situations.
The manager of another WaMu branch told me that the Lombard & Burrage manager should have made the situation right. A customer service person for U.S. Bank told me that their personnel would have made more of an effort to contact me initially upon not being able to read the account number, to avoid such a situation getting out of control - and then they would have refunded the unnecessary overdraft charges. The U.S. bank individual said they would treat a customer better when dealing with justified overdraft charges - first offering the customer the bank's overdraft protection product and then, as a courtesy, refunding the most recent overdrafts.
Update: 03.27.07: Yesterday I learned from another WaMu manager that I should have received at least a couple "courtesy overdraft refunds" in this matter. I had no idea there was such a thing
Today I received notification from the assistant manager of my branch that the overdraft charges incurred due to this situation were being refunded. In addition, she emailed me the following:
"I do apologize for the inconvenience and the confusion on this account. I do take full ownership of this situation and agree that it should not have happened. We do value your business and the relationship we have established. I assure you that this type of situation will not happen again. My staff is now fully trained on how to handle these particular situations. If you would like to discuss anything further I would love to hear from you. We do strive to give great customer service and hope we can redeem ourselves in the future if you are willing to give us that opportunity. Thank you for bring this to our attention and again I do apologize for this situation and the time it took out of your day."
Thank you WaMu.
Update: 04.07.07: Just a little more "WAMU weirdness." So this week I notice an unusual deposit to my account on 04.02.07 and I can't figure out what the hell is going on. Turns out a deposit I made to my account - via the infamous Lombard & Burrage night deposit box - back during the last week January (that's over two months ago!), drawn on a local Portland bank, was just deposited to my account. Huh? Was the check just laying around the branch somewhere? No wonder my account was screwy this past month - I guess I need to keep an even closer eye on the happenings at my WAMU branch.
Update: 05.12.07: Another cute little "WAMU trick." There was a line at my WaMu branch this Saturday morning - so I deposited a check via the ATM. Just noticed online that the deposit is already posted to my account - with a posting date of 5/14/07 rather than today. No notification online that the check is being held or anything. I guess WaMu can do things like that when they just don't give a hoot about providing quality customer service to their customers.
Update: 05.13.07:It's a Sunday evening and I just got a "canned" response from WaMu "customer service about the above issue. It said:
Thank you for your email. I understand your concern and apologize for any inconvenience caused.
Dates listed on your statements and through the Online Banking Service reflect the posting date for transactions. Transactions can only reflect posting dates that correspond with business days. Saturdays, Sundays, and federal holidays are not business days.
Any transaction that takes place on a non-business day reflects a posting date that corresponds with the next business day. For instance, transactions processed on a Saturday will reflect on your statement with Monday's date. If Monday is a holiday, then the transaction will reflect Tuesday's date.
Hmmm... that's funny; if Saturday is not a business day then why is the branch open? When a deposit is made at an open branch are they not open for business, with business being conducted? And why am I getting an email from "customer service" on a Sunday evening? I thought Sunday was not a business day. Looks like WaMu makes up the rules to whatever beneifts them the most...
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