Saturday, November 02, 2013

Good Bank

They may not be making any profit, but one thing you can say about Amazon: they give good service. If you have a problem, the process and response is almost always painless. Contrast that with the financial arena. Be it a bank or investment company (and they are more or less inseparable these days), trying to resolve a problem with a loan payment or mortgage can mean entering the seventh circle of Hell. But we put up with it because, as Willie Sutton is credited with saying, that's where the money is. (He actually never said that; a reporter made up the quote.) So when I was balancing my checkbook recently and saw a missing deposit, I gritted my teeth for what was to come.

Quick setup: for some accounts, we use Fidelity Investments. Via their online portal, I pay bills and move cash around as needed. Recently, they opened a physical location near us, and I have gotten several calls and emails from John, the guy there who was tasked to be our "prime" contact. But having occasionally gone in to that location and others to deposit checks, and had merely OK experiences, I have been just as happy to transact via mail and web.

So when I discovered the missing deposit, I clicked online and sent a note. It was a relatively small check, one of a weekly series generated by my business. Some weeks I don't even bother depositing them; I accumulate several, and send in a batch. Recently, I started saving the stamp, and used the new "take a photo of your check and the funds magically appear in your account" app. Ain't technology amazing?

My note was bucked to John and his associates, and they sent me an email. Seems the check was marked as a duplicate and was being returned. I assumed human error was in play: it was duplicate amount, not a duplicate check, and someone in their back office just got confused. It happens. Not a big deal, I would just resubmit it. Have a nice day.

When I got it back and tried again using the electronic photo feature, the system rejected it. A little more steamed this time, I sent another note. John responded that the system must be having issues. If I just stopped by or sent it to him, he would resolve it himself. I did so, and a few days later got yet another missive: it was still showing as a duplicate, and they would return it again.  

At that point I had enough. I had the original deposit slip clearly showing two checks with identical amounts, not duplicates. I fired off a terse email, stating that if they couldn't do their job, I would do it for them. I demanded copies of all checks in that amount for the last 90 days. I would show them the one-for-one match, and why it was their screw-up. They wrote back, saying I would have the images shortly. And because they were sorry for the trouble I was having, they put $100 into my account as a goodwill gesture.

Now, I have NEVER had a bank give me anything beyond a refrigerator magnet. It cooled me down a bit as I waited for the copies to arrive. When they did, I went to work, anxious to show them the error of their ways. Of course, you know the punch line: the error was mine. I had deposited the check once via the phone app, not marked it as such, and then sent it in physically as well, the very description of a duplicate deposit. I wrote John and his people a chastened note, apologizing for being yet another stupid client, and asked them to reverse their goodwill deposit. They graciously refused, telling me to keep it as a token of the value they place on my business.

So while there may be official "bad" banks as an accounting gimmick, on the basis on this experience, I have to place at least one in the "good" category. John and his gang at Fidelity earned my trust and their stripes. True, Amazon will let me download music, while Fidelity won't let me do the same for cash. But certainly on the service front, they are closing in on the gold standard. And odds are that the download money thing may not be far behind.


Marc Wollin of Bedford pays his bills online on Sunday mornings in his bathrobe. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

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