"Premium Customer" Hell
Wells Fargo tries harder and blows it.
January 2005 - San Carlos
I've been a customer of Wells Fargo now for a few years. When I left HP I was all-in with their credit union. Unfortunately, they don't have ATMs anywhere I might go these days. I could always get cash at the local super market, but for deposits (yes, some people still pay by check - and no, I do not know why either but they do) I had to schlep myself to far away places. Or bank by stamps, which is just a pain too. So I became a Wells Fargo customer.
I was nothing special, just a normal customer. I have a little bit of my paycheck direct deposited so that I can take it out. I put enough money into a savings account so that I didn't have to pay any monthly fees. Everything was hunky dory. I was very, very satisfied.
Then, about a year ago, a friend paid off a debt I was owed and I decided to dump it into my Wells Fargo account until I could figure out what to do with it. It is not a large sum, as sums go, but it is a "tidy sum" of money.
After a few months on the Jim Schrempp Inertial Guidance System of Do Nothing, I thought I should at least buy a few CDs.
"Oh" the branch manager explained, "you qualify for our Premium Account." It would cost me nothing and give me a unified monthly statement. This was my start down the road to Premium Customer Hell.
Allow me to jump back a few months...
November 2004 - The Journey Begins
You've no doubt read my rants on Quicken and how buggy the software is now - and how dangerous. I stopped using it months ago and am happy with the free web bill pay from Addison Avenue Credit Union. It works. I do my financial projections and planning with Financial Engines. It costs me $300 a year, but it works (at least they have promised me it will work soon - that will be another story).
My only complaint these days is that I do like the end of year summary reports that come out of Quicken. I decided I would just download transactions from all of my accounts periodically and be done with it. Well, it all works until I decide to download transactions from my Wells Fargo accounts. Back and forth, click, click, click and Quicken tells me it's ready to go, as soon as Wells Fargo mails me a pin number for Quicken online access, in 8 to 10 days. Days! Wow. Wells Fargo is stuck in the 1990's. Ok, I must wait.
In 8 to 10 days I get a letter from Wells Fargo. The letter looks very crude. Non-proportional font. Blocky paragraphs. Looks like it was created with an old IBM line printer driver. Signed by a VP, but looking very sad. It was accompanied by some other literature that was better formatted and easier to read. Sure, a lot easier to see that I had signed up, without being told, for a $3.00 a month charge just to connect to Wells Fargo online and download transactions! No bill paying, that costs more. No nothing except that I would be able to have Quicken get the transaction records of my payroll deposits, ATM withdrawals, and those neat dividends from the CDs. Sheesh.
December 2004 - Never Mind, Everything is Free
On the phone to Wells Fargo support I'm greeted, after a phone tree, by a perky woman who says, "that's right. Unfortunately we have to pay $3.00 a month to the company that connects us to Quicken so we have to pass that on to you."
"Nothing told me about this charge until I read the fine print in your mailing to me," I indignated.
"Yes sir. Had you signed up via our web site you would have been told about the charge [and it is clearly spelled out on their web site] but I think when you do it in Quicken you don't know it will cost you."
"Well stop it for me. I don't want this service."
"Yes sir. Oh! Your a Premium Account Customer. Do you know about all the services you get?"
"Does it include free download of my transactions into Quicken?"
"Uh, no sir."
"Well that's what I want."
"I understand sir. Give me a minute to call the Premium Account Customer group and I'll see what I can do."
Three minutes go by...
"Sir, I'm sorry, but that group is very hard to get hold of. I'm going to cancel this charge for you now. I can do that, but I have to warn you that it might not stick. It might come back in the future if they ever reset the system. If I can get through to the Premium Account Customer group they can set it up permanently for you, but this is all I can do right now."
"However, we have another very nice feature for you that gives you reward points for every dollar you spend with your ATM card. blah blah blah." She tells me a bit. I agree it sounds good, so she transfers me to someone at the Premium Account Customer group who can sign me up. I guess this a different group than the people who could make the free online access permanent.
Another very nice woman explains the programs and signs me up. She also notices that I qualify for a savings account with a tad higher interest rate. Ok, sign me up for that. However now I'm a bit miffed. I explain that I was a very satisfied customer until I signed up for online access. Then I find out that Wells Fargo hid a fee from me, didn't have me in the reward points program, and that they haven't been paying me the extra interest rate that I qualify for. I am a bit of an unhappy Premium Account Customer.
She sympathizes with me, but promises that all will be better now. So I take this opportunity to complain about another problem - my unified statement. As a non-premium customer I was used to getting a one page statement for each account. Simple and to the point. When I became a Premium Account Customer my "unified" statement became about 8 double sided pages. There's an intro page, there's a close page. There's several pages for each account. And there is a page or two with pie charts of my investments on them! Cripes, the pie charts show me that I have half my money in cash and half in CDs. Wow. It should have shown me that I have too much money in my non-interest bearing account.
"Well," she says. There is a "summary" unified statement just for people like me who don't want all that extra fluff. GREAT. Why didn't someone tell me about that before? I think the folks who designed the Premium Account Customer program must believe that a person would actually put all their money into a regular bank? That they would buy annuities? Whole Life policies? That the pie chart would show some value to these folks? I'm sorry, I think the savvy wealthy person who puts money into Wells Fargo just wants a safe place to park some play dough. They're not going to make Wells Fargo the home for the really significant investments. Maybe I'm wrong. I certainly know that being a Premium Account Customer has decreased my satisfaction with Wells Fargo dramatically.
January 2005 - It Just Gets Worse
Back in the present. Last night I went to the local Wells Fargo ATM. This is really the sole reason I have a Wells Fargo account; easy access to my money. The card goes in, the pin is punched, and the ATM money rolls out - NOT. Nope, "bad pin" it tells me. Huh? I try it a few more times. I don't do it enough to be considered insane, but I do it a few more times than any sane person would.
Right, there's a number on the back of the card and I call it. The phone tree has me punch in my ATM number, I do. It then asks me for my account number. Well, I do not happen to have that with me - duh. I wait. It asks me again. I wait. It asks me again. I wait. Now it admonishes me for not having my account number and a human picks up the phone.
I explain all this and tell her I want some cash but I can't get it. She looks up my account and tells me "Sir, you're a Premium Account Customer!" Uh oh.
"Great," says I, "then I'm sure you'll be able to help me."
"Umm, unfortunately sir, since you're a Premium Account Customer the system won't let me do anything with your account."
Come again? Since my account indicates the need for extra special customer care she can't help me?
"I know it's kind of crazy, but that's how it is. I can transfer you to the Premium Account Customer support group."
So I suffer an earful of a poor quality music recording and then she does a personal handoff. Nice touch.
"Yes sir, can you provide me with your card number?" Again? Ok. "Is that your new card?"
"What new card? I didn't ask for a new card."
"Your platinum card, sir. What color is your card?"
"Gold. Did someone at Wells Fargo decide to send me a new card and deactivate my old one?" She hesitated a bit. Enough to make me think that there could be some truth to this.
"They did not deactivate your old card."
"Hmmm. Could they have changed my pin when I signed up for that damn free online access to my account via Quicken?"
"I think the two pins are completely different. I can check on that to be sure if you want."
I then waited on hold, with the poor quality recording of some tune, for five minutes. I know because I was looking at my watch. I got cold, standing there waiting for my Premium Account Customer service representative - she was probably trying to contact that same shadowy secret group that could have made my free online transaction download permanent. I remained on hold another three minutes while I walked over to a local restaurant. I then hung up the phone. Luckily I have my credit card from another institution that does not consider me a Premium Account Customer. That card worked and I had a nice dinner.
Day Four - Fini
So this morning I walked in to the local Wells Fargo branch. A very nice woman listened to my tale. I wasn't dressed too well but she was still very polite. When she looked up my account and saw the Premium Account Customer designation she became even more solicitous. Good.
She reactivated my gold card. She walked me to the ATM to see that my pin still did not work. She then let me change my pin back to what it was before and I was able to get some cash out. At last. So the big question will be: is my online pin the same one they sent me in the mail two weeks ago, or has it now been changed too? We shall see. I guess I have a platinum card in the mail. Should I use it and risk continuing this journey into Premium Account Customer hell?
I asked my local woman who I could complain to at Wells Fargo about this. Who's the big gun for the Premium Account Customer program? She didn't know. She suggested I write to her branch manager and she'd "forward it on." No way. I want to get directly to the center of the matter. She conferred with several other employees and no one knew how to submit a complaint or give feedback except to the local branch manager. I'll look on the web for a contact. [There is a place to send them notes. I'll send the URL to this page.]
At least I once again have easy access to my money. But I have to ask, for how long?
I was a happy Wells Fargo Customer. I became a Premium Account Customer (PAC) and became unhappy. I don't think it is supposed to work like that. Each person I dealt with was great. Very helpful, very sympathetic. But, as is so often the case in big companies, the system prevented them from helping me.
Here are several things Wells Fargo could do to improve the situation:
Jim Schrempp is a sometimes freelance writer (only Vanity Press will publish his work) living in Saratoga, California. His writings have appeared on numerous pages on his own web site. The opinions expressed in this piece are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent those of anyone else (although Jim wishes more people shared his opinions)