Archive for the ‘Banking’ Category

Service of Junk Fees Galore: Did You Want Wheels with That Car?

Monday, June 24th, 2024

This post about junk fees and transparent pricing is a cousin of the one I wrote recently, “Service of the More You Pay, the Less You Get—in Sneaky Ways,” and of another one I wrote in February, 2022, “Service of Irritating Add-On Charges.” In the former I wrote about expensive stationery and socks with cheap envelopes without glue and holes after a few months, respectively. In February I mention airline and digital news subscription surcharges as well as exorbitant charges for popcorn and drinks at movie houses.

Marisa Lagos wrote on npr.org: “In July, a new state law in California will require businesses to disclose all costs up front — a ban on so-called ‘junk fees’ on everything from hotel rooms, to concert tickets, to restaurant food.” California has always been ahead of the pack.

Here are my observations.

Isn’t the Interest from My Money Enough?

I have a savings account at a retail bank but no other account there. I was charged $10 for the clerk to cut me a check.

Include it With the Prayers, Please

I am having a mass said for a friend’s mother who is recovering from a terrible accident. I’ve ordered these from Catholic churches all over the place, mostly after someone has died, but for the first time, I had to pay extra for a mass [card to send my friend].

Charge Less for Seconds and Use a Bigger Glass

This example would have been a better fit for the February post. At a pricey Manhattan restaurant, at lunch, I was charged full price for each of four iced teas served in tiny glasses. The same week, also at lunch, at a Hoboken, N.J. restaurant, we were offered free second glasses of soda. The first glass was a nice size. Good for them!

Pass the Bread

Some restaurants no longer serve bread unless you ask for it and often, there’s a charge for what came with the meal in the past.

Two Tickets, Please, Drop or Reduce the Fee

When I take up an organization’s invitation to attend an event, and I sign up online, I resent being charged a juicy surprise fee when I’ve done all the work—chosen the seat, printed the e-ticket.

Fees and Taxes Sneak Up on You

Somehow a $1.49 bottle of water bought at a drugstore on a boiling hot day cost well over $2.00 due to the bottle fee and tax.

Have you been hit with charges that, like wheels on a car, should come with what you’ve bought?

Service of Habit or Is it Misplaced Loyalty?

Thursday, July 13th, 2023

I have banked at the same two places for an eternity. I was getting six cents a month interest from “savings” even though banks have prospered from the blossoming interest they charge for credit card and college loans as well as mortgages. I waited for change in my “savings” account. Nothing has.

I found out about a third bank’s favorable savings option, so I gave it a whirl. The branches are not convenient—it considers itself an online bank–but I don’t plan on visiting often. Signing up for online access was a cinch. While sparse on branches, they seem to have ATM machines all over the place.

There is nothing wrong with my other banks. On occasion an employee asks, “do you have an appointment?” when the place is empty. Nobody is rude. I often must wait to get anyone’s attention at “customer service.” There’s rarely anyone ahead of me.

What bowled me over was my reception at the “new” bank and how well informed the young clerks are. I didn’t need to speak with an officer, and, in fact, I didn’t see one. As I walked out of the new bank, a security guard I’d not noticed, [I’d entered by a different door], smiled and wished me a good day. There was palpable cheerfulness about the place. While the purpose of the coffee shop at this branch is to attract young customers, it was filled with a diverse demographic and a friend who recommended the coffee there is months away from her 90th birthday.

I didn’t know what to expect. The new bank has been in the retail business only 18 years vs.  the 19th century for the other two. I am terminally stodgy about change regarding where to park money or stuck in a habit or maybe I suffer from misplaced loyalty. Does this ever happen to you with any service?

Ceramic kitty bank.

Service of Inquiring Minds

Thursday, August 4th, 2022

I suspect the wood planks are heavy and could easily make someone lose balance as they reach for each.

I’ve previously isolated questions in posts even though I end each with at least one.

These people take my breath away.

I started with two in 2016–“Service of Questions” and “Service of Why.” A smattering: Why do mothers give their toddlers in strollers tablets to stare at when there’s so much to see on a walk and why do telemarketers hire people who mumble? 

In 2019 in “Service of Questions—Does Google Have All the Answers?” I asked a few more such as how commuters in cars in the New York metro area fill their time in traffic for as long as 90 minutes? How do pet owners of moderate means afford vet bills when they have more than one?

Here are more that I’ve thought of recently:

  • How come the rise in interest rates seem to impact borrowers immediately but not those with garden variety bank savings accounts? I asked a random customer service person at a bank branch. He said CDs will reflect the interest rate change first and that it will take a few months for anything to kick in for savings accounts. Hmmmm.
  • I marvel at people who work in precarious situations and have snapped shots of some. Is being fearless like this something you can acclimate yourself to?
  • Why is the weather forecast on my iPhone so consistently wrong lately especially when it comes to predicting rain?
  • Why do people glorify a deceased spouse when for years they confided the person had made their life miserable?
  • Why don’t I recall hearing, years ago, about such breathtakingly horrific forest fires as now in the West and in Europe?

What random questions do you have? Any answers to mine?

Climbing on an off this ladder is the definition of precarious

Service of Billions in Limbo–Not in Recipient’s Pockets

Thursday, February 4th, 2021

Are you accessing all the money due you? Banks and businesses have pots of money left behind.

We’ve heard of gift cards with unused balances that reside in wallets, bureau and desk drawers. “At any given time, 10% to 19% of gift card balances remain unredeemed — and around 6% of gift cards are never even used,” wrote Zachary Crockett in thehustle.com. In 2019, Americans bought some $171 billion worth.

And what about the cards themselves? Crockett reported that 70 percent of gift cards are redeemed within six months but after a year, almost 80 percent aren’t. That’s a tidy sum for the issuers in addition to the fees many charge while they also make money on the interest.

It’s not just gift card balances that are unclaimed. Without proper documentation or an estate bank account, checks made out to an estate cannot be deposited in a widow, widower or other beneficiary’s retail bank account even if they are named executor in the will. For some, the cost to pay a lawyer to acquire documentation may represent more than the lost money. A friend said that each of several checks for interest on an investment made to her husband’s estate were for less than $100. The issuer of the checks kept the money because two banks in her town refused to cash or deposit them.  Long after the checks had expired someone said she could have helped her retrieve the money.

Another friend got a check from a bank made out to his wife’s estate for well over $3,000. It had a life of 180 days. The issuer said that no other check could be cut after that and it could not write a check to his name. Predicament was solved because a proactive customer service person figured out a solution. Otherwise, if the lawyer hadn’t open an estate account in time this money would have remained in bank coffers unclaimed.

This must happen to the bereaved countless times a year.

Do you use gift cards immediately? If you’ve not spent the entire amount, do you remember to use the remainder? Do you prefer gift cards from a business or ones  like American Express? Have you forfeited money because you weren’t able to cash a check in time for any reason?

Service of Pandemic-Caused Rigmarole That’s Hard on City Seniors & the Time-Pressed

Monday, December 14th, 2020

Block long line to be tested for Covid-19, 8:30 a.m.

The pandemic is hard on everyone. Here are a few things I noticed about getting things done in the city that impact seniors, those with disabilities and the time-pressed.

It’s ironic because a city like New York allows seniors to be independent with its myriad transportation options, nearby watering holes and entertainment opportunities.

Standing for Service

Photo: iphoneroot.com

I needed a battery for my iPhone. The Apple staff at the store at Grand Central Terminal couldn’t have been nicer. But there was a lot of standing around waiting: to go upstairs after being checked in; on a line upstairs properly socially distanced–and then hanging out in the station for an hour while the phone was fixed. My appointment was in early evening so the few stores that remain in business at the station were shut. There were neither seats nor distractions.

Standing for Testing

We’re encouraged to be tested for Covid-19. The procedure at urgent care locations in Manhattan is daunting I’m told. You must have an appointment and can only sign up for one the same day. At certain hours I pass long lines outdoors, some with people better socially distanced than others, on cold, rainy and mild fall days [photo above].

I wonder, as I head for the gutter to keep more than a 6-foot distance, why are these people in line? Have they been exposed to Covid-19? Are they feeling ill?

One friend found a place that had no line. She made an appointment and they called her when they had a free time-frame which gave her 30 minutes to get back. Best that you live very near this place and choose a day with no appointments because you don’t know when you’ll get the call.

Goodness only knows what the rollout to get a vaccine will be like.

A benefit of the suburbs is that you can wait for a test in your car.

Pin the Tail on a Bank: Three’s a Charm

I needed to have a document notarized and was told by my bank that every branch had notaries. No longer accurate. I asked a customer service staffer at the first branch to call another one to confirm that they had a notary. Nobody picked up so I walked there. That customer service man disappeared in a back office.

After I waited the length of time in which three people could have had their signatures notarized he returned and told me I needed an appointment for the next day. At least this customer service person knew of a branch that had a few notaries so off I raced.

I appreciated the mileage I’d covered–recorded on my iPhone–but not the stress and I couldn’t help wonder what if I was unable to hotfoot it around town?

Just Sayin’

I love Trader Joe’s but notice that many shelves are empty during early senior hours no doubt because there hasn’t been time, at 8 a.m., to restock them.

Have you noticed other topsy-turvy situations during the pandemic that have impacted the way/how quickly you do business and/or conduct your life? Do you observe situations that especially impact seniors and the time-pressed?

Service of Cashless Restaurants

Monday, December 3rd, 2018

A recent Facebook conversation I followed was about coins. The writer said coins drove him nuts and suggested they should be canned. Most of the respondents disagreed for reasons ranging from saved coins helped pay for vacations to fondness for them. I pay for less and less with cash but am nevertheless on the side of saving coins if only for nostalgic reasons.

As I use my credit card a lot I’m fine with paying for food or anything else with mine. But plenty of folks are paid in cash or don’t have one for whatever reason. They also might not own a smartphone to access digital payment via Apple Pay for example.

Ritchie J. Torres, a New York City Council Member, says “the [cashless] business model is classist and racist,” according to Chris Fuhrmeister on eater.com. Torres said he sees the trend “as a way to gentrify the marketplace.”

Some 22 million Americans don’t have a bank account Furhmeister reported. An early adopter whose restaurant is now closed told him that if customers didn’t even have a debit card they most likely didn’t have a bank account and shouldn’t expect to eat in his [now defunct] restaurant.

Celebrity restaurateur Danny Meyer gave up the model in his Shake Shack burger chain because of customer complaints according to Fuhrmeister. His pricey Union Square Hospitality Group restaurants such as Union Square Café and Gramercy Tavern remain cash-free.

The impact goes beyond the poor. Furhmeister wrote: “Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter and critic, and former Eater NY editor, Melissa McCart made a salient point in her report on the topic earlier this year: ‘[I]n an era when an increasing number of restaurants no longer accept legal tender, it’s useful to think about who this system benefits most: the businesses and banks, at the expense of consumers.’ Do businesses and banks really need more power? It’s a question more local governments may want to consider.”

There are other issues to consider, good and bad. A cashless retail business won’t be robbed. Also, many people pay the restaurant bill by credit card and leave tips in cash so that the right person gets the money. Would this continue or would the restaurant owner continue to control the tips? [Meyer, mentioned above, runs tipless restaurants as well.] The government must love the concept as there’s no revenue to hide from the tax man.

Do you pay for things mostly in cash, credit card or digitally? Do you like coins? Would you miss cash if it no longer existed? Do you agree with McCart that big time beneficiaries of the credit card/debit card only model are businesses and banks–Uncle Sam too–with consumers the losers? Will the cashless trend spread to other retail industries if it’s not stopped? Should the cashless retail model be outlawed?

Service of Cart Before the Horse: Corporations Collaborate When Foolproof Locks on Internet Security Don’t Exist

Thursday, August 16th, 2018

Thank goodness all giant corporations aren’t leaping into bed together to share respective expertise and information although some are inching in that direction and others are raring to go. It won’t be long.

But first a digression: In arriving at the topic for this post I counted seven fuzzy attributions in one newspaper article. Isn’t that a lot? Laced throughout a recent front page article in The Wall Street Journal I read: “According to people familiar with the conversations; the people said; a person familiar with the discussions said; some of the people said; said people familiar with the matter; some of the people said and people familiar with the matter said.”

Nevertheless I believe the topic is valid and am troubled by its implications. The title and subtitle: “Facebook to Banks: Give Us Your Data, We’ll Give You Our Users. Facebook has asked large U.S. banks to share detailed financial information about customers as it seeks to boost user engagement data.”

Reporters Emily Glazer, Deepa Seetharaman and AnnaMaria Andriotis wrote that Facebook had spoken with people at JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and U.S. Bancorp “to discuss potential offerings it could host for bank customers on Facebook Messenger.” Facebook Messenger is a messaging app and platform.

What did “people say” about the conversations? “Facebook has talked about a feature that would show its users their checking-account balances, the people said. It has also pitched fraud alerts.” In addition, “Facebook asked banks for information about where their users are shopping with their debit and credit cards outside of purchases they make using Facebook Messenger.” Messenger has 1.3 billion active monthly users according to the reporters.

Timing could be better for this outreach. The reporters reminded readers about current investigations in which Cambridge Analytica accessed data on some 87 million Facebook users without user OK. “‘We don’t use purchase data from banks or credit-card companies for ads,’ [Facebook] spokeswoman Elisabeth Diana said. ‘We also don’t have special relationships, partnerships or contracts with banks or credit-card companies to use their customers’ purchase data for ads.’”

Banks are tempted by the digital reach and doing business with online platforms with healthy and growing businesses. Even though Facebook has introduced what it says are safety features, “Bank executives are worried about the breadth of information being sought, even if it means their bank might not being available on certain platforms their customers use.”

While PayPal and Square have beaten banks to the punch in the world of mobile commerce many customers continue to be comfortable with traditional ways of paying such as credit and debit cards, cash and checks.

Some deals between big players are already struck though I question their purpose: American Express members can reach a rep through Facebook. [Why would you need to do that?] Paypal users can send money through Facebook Messenger and Mastercard’s Masterpass digital wallet lets customers place online orders with some merchants.

Before all these mergers of communications, customers and data happen, shouldn’t there first be a firm grasp on digital customer privacy? Why are we becoming so lazy: Is it so onerous to check a balance on your bank’s website that you need Facebook do it for you? Can you believe that AmEx members can’t reach out to a company rep but instead need Facebook to do it for them? These “benefits” appear to potentially favor everyone but the consumer—do you agree?  Do you pay for things via mobile wallet, credit or debit cards, cash or checks? And last, does an article with more than a few generic attributions disturb you?

Service of Pushing the Envelope: What Does it Take for a Bank to Get the Message?

Monday, December 4th, 2017

Parents expect their kids to test them daily but is it natural for a bank, caught red-handed in one scandal, to again test a federal regulator with another cheat just a year later? I’m referring to Wells Fargo, once a stalwart bank with stellar reputation and the third largest in the US.

Last year staff, to gain bonuses, created as many as 3.5 million accounts, some fictitious, others without customer approval. In addition to the chink in its standing, this cost the bank a $35 million penalty, restitution to some customers and a freeze on executive golden parachutes. Plus the chairman was forced to resign.

What now? “A federal regulator has advised Wells Fargo & Co.’s board of directors that it is weighing a formal enforcement action against the bank over improprieties in its auto-insurance and mortgage operations,” according to Gretchen Morgenson and Emily Glazer in their Wall Street Journal article, “Wells Fargo Gets New Warning.” The regulator is the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency [OCC].

The reporters wrote: “This summer, the bank conceded in a news release that for years it had forced nearly 600,000 customers who financed their car purchases with Wells Fargo to pay for collision coverage they didn’t need. The bank said about 20,000 customers had their cars wrongly repossessed. Those customers failed to pay the improper insurance charges.”

In addition they reported: “The bank has also said it charged some customers improper fees to extend the interest-rate commitments they received from Wells Fargo on their mortgage applications. In October the bank said it is reaching out to around 110,000 customers who paid a total of $98 million in such fees, and expects refunds to be lower than that total because, the bank said, it ‘believes a substantial number of those fees were appropriately charged under its policy.’”

The OCC “gave the bank credit for identifying the irregularities in its insurance operations but characterized Wells Fargo’s management of compliance risk as ‘weak.’ The report also said the bank had underestimated the amount of restitution it owed to wronged customers.”

Does today’s business atmosphere, inspired by Washington, give signals to businesses to push the envelope and hope for the best? Recent indicators include loosening of climate regulations, and the appointment by the president of Mick Mulvaney as acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau when Mulvaney doesn’t believe in restrictions. Do the small fries in this country feel sufficiently threatened yet? Why would a bank allow its reputation to take such a beating?

 

Service of Keeping a Lid on Grievances: Cripple the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Consumer Complaint Database

Monday, July 31st, 2017

You may want to take a quick look at the Consumer Complaint Database maintained by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau [CFPB] before it joins rolled-back EPA regulations and watchdogs that once protected American consumers that are severely relaxed or gone. The goals are the same: Make it easier and cheaper to conduct [big] business, in this case, for banks.

You’d read on the website: “Each week we send thousands of consumers’ complaints about financial products and services to companies for response. Those complaints are published here after the company responds or after 15 days, whichever comes first. By adding their voice, consumers help improve the financial marketplace.”

Copy on the home page continues: “By submitting a complaint, consumers can be heard by financial companies, get help with their own issues, and help others avoid similar ones. Every complaint provides insight into problems that people are experiencing, helping us identify inappropriate practices and allowing us to stop them before they become major issues. The result: better outcomes for consumers, and a better financial marketplace for everyone.”

Yuka Hayashi addressed the issue in her Wall Street Journal article, “Battle Is On Over Government’s Version of Yelp for Banks -White House says government complaint database is unfair to banks, but consumers say it can spur action.”

She wrote, “Responding to calls from industry groups, the Treasury Department in June recommended restricting access to the data to federal and state regulators.” She reported that since it was founded in 2011, consumers have filed 800,000 complaints the public can see, 1.2 million in all.

“The dispute highlights areas of friction as the Trump administration and other Republicans consider rolling back rules put in place after the financial crisis,” she wrote. “Those pushing for loosened rules say removing onerous and costly requirements would encourage more lending and economic growth. Opponents say such changes would bring back reckless behavior that caused the financial crisis.”

A St. Paul social worker asked his student loan company to lower his monthly payments and after four to five tries, the temporary solution increased his monthly bill Hayashi reported. Two days after he posted a complaint on the CFPB complaint database, they sent him “several repayment options.” The social worker credits the CFPB.

Hayashi wrote that the Treasury Department felt the site “subjects companies to unwarranted reputational risk.” However, she continued, “Consumer advocates and some financial-services experts… say that the portal’s public nature is what gives it teeth.

What do banks think? “The bureau has failed to address the significant problems in the accuracy, integrity and usefulness of the information reported in the database,” Virginia O’Neill, senior vice president at the Center for Regulatory Compliance at the American Bankers Association told Hayashi.

Did you know you could post complaints about dealings gone south with a financial institution? Have you had a nasty banking issue? Do you believe that the complaints on the Consumer Complaint Database should be hidden from the public or allowed to be seen, as they have been for six years?

Addendum: In The Wall Street Journal’s August 7th issue, Andrew Ackerman wrote “A Republican-backed effort to overturn a rule making it easier for consumers to sue banks has hit a snag: the Senate.

“At issue is a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau rule approved in July barring fine-print requirements that consumers use arbitration to resolve disputes over financial services. The rule makes it easier for consumers to join class-action lawsuits against banks and credit-card companies. Though fiercely fought by the financial industry, it is set to go into effect in March.”

In addition: ” However, support in the Senate is uncertain. No Democrats are likely to back the effort, and Republicans, with their slim majority, can’t afford to lose more than two GOP votes. Several Republican senators have expressed reservations about voting to overturn the regulation, worried they may be portrayed as siding with banks and against consumers.”

This is something so easily lost among all the distractions for consumers to keep an eye out for.

Service of Unexpected Outcomes: Shout-out to Chase Bank & Morton Williams & a Dud

Thursday, June 2nd, 2016

There’s a surprise associated with an unexpected outcome, mostly happy, but not always.

Juicy

I am grateful when a grocery store cashier gives me the discount when I buy only one in a promotion offering a fantastic price if I buy two. It happened when I bought a giant Tropicana OJ at Morton Williams this week. I didn’t want, nor could I use, two. Her decision put me in a good mood and the store on my “I’ll be back” list.

Check it out

I put a stop-payment on a check when I learned that a hefty May payment never arrived. The USPS let me down. I went nuts. When I arrived at Chase Bank in Pleasant Valley, N.Y. the Friday before Memorial Day weekend, I was rattled. I saw my stellar credit rating going up in smoke.

Stacia Zimmerman, bank manager, greeted me pleasantly and was sympathetic. She made a copy of the new check and late notice for my records and gave me an extra copy of the stop-payment confirmation to include with the check. She even gave me an envelope so I could go immediately to the nearby post office to zip the replacement check by Priority Mail! To my astonishment, she waived the $30 stop payment fee as well.

I also noticed that Ms. Zimmerman called almost every person who entered the bank by name. She merged a charming, small town feeling with the benefits of a very big bank.

Dining Disaster

Then there was the dinner that we’d happily anticipated at a restaurant we’d visited for brunch and lunch, marveling at the food and cheery service. When we arrived the place looked fairly full but not jammed, however there were only two waitresses in view. We were seated  promptly by a pleasant server—the older of the two–and then ignored. We waited and waited. Eventually, after perhaps half an hour, the other waitress took our order. Then we waited again.

An hour after we had arrived, having asked three times for two glasses of white wine, only one arrived half full in a diminutive Champagne glass and the second, 10 minutes later. Meanwhile, staff was handing out beer and wine to those waiting for a table.

Did I mention that the AC wasn’t on and it was 80+ degrees outside? People tend to eat–and order more–when not roasting.

Our main course and one of two appetizers arrived together half an hour after the wine. They tasted fine, but still. We never saw the bread; no spoon came to capture the sauce in one dish. We’d given up by then.

The course we didn’t get remained on the check. My husband had to send it back a second time so the tax reflected the reduced total. He’s a generous man, but he was irritated.

At the next table when food arrived for a graduate and five celebrants, there was nothing for one in that party. She slapped her head in exasperation. Once they’d eaten the grandmother said, “The food was good but the management severely lacking.”

What had happened? The restaurant didn’t realize that it was graduation weekend for a local college, [a waitress admitted], and wasn’t prepared. By not turning away the unexpected  customers to handle only the number they could manage, they ruined the evening for everyone.

Can you share unexpected outcomes, both good and bad? What else might the restaurant have done to salvage its disaster?

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