In the last few days a story has emerged concerning the Bank of America terminating all dealings with their existing corporate customer because the company — horrors! — manufactures firearms.
Naturally gun owners are incensed, as am I. But I’ve had a longstanding dislike for B of A. We had quite a row years ago — they “done me wrong.”
Bad idea, B of A. As a result, I very publicly kicked Bank of America’s butt from San Diego to San Francisco. Payback’s a bitch, as B of A found out. Here’s the story:
My Very Satisfying Battle with Bank of America
by Richard Rider
Back in the early 1990’s, I had an extremely annoying run-in with Bank of America. With their usual disdain for the small individual customer, they treated me poorly. But I got even – big-time. Perhaps others might find this story and strategy useful in dealing with unresponsive businesses or governments.
For over a decade, my wife and I had a large safe deposit box at Security Pacific Bank. As is often the case, a bigger bank bought out Security Pacific. In this case, the buyer was Bank of America.
For several years, we also had a checking account at Security Pacific, but finally switched the account to another financial institution for competitive reasons. Yet we kept the large safe deposit box after SP was taken over by B of A. We visited our safe deposit box at most once a year, so the $40 annual rental for the large box was a nice profit item for the bank.
One day I went into my B of A branch to get my signature guaranteed on some stocks. This process can be done only at NYSE brokerage firms or commercial banks – not at S&L’s or credit unions. It is very similar to getting something notarized, with the same verification process.
The bank officer and I worked our way through the forms, properly signing and stamping everything in about 20 minutes. Then the officer went to the bank manager to get final authorization.
I was surprised when the bank manager curtly told me that she would not allow the process to be finalized. The problem was that I was not a bank customer.
Two problems with that assertion:
1. I WAS a bank customer.
2. They should have come to that conclusion before we stamped and signed my stock powers.
I patiently explained that I had a safe deposit box with the bank, and had a relationship with the branch dating back over a decade. The bank manager said that B of A policy mandated a checking or savings account for providing such a service, ostensibly for verification of identity (which, of course, was ludicrous, given that I had a safe deposit box which required ID before every entry).
Given that the stocks were already stamped by B of A, it seemed they had me over a barrel. So I offered to open a checking account. They would do so, but the manager informed me that I would have to wait SIX MONTHS before I could come back in to get the stocks’ signatures guaranteed.
By now I was really ticked off. I asked the manager if they had unused large safe deposit boxes. Yes, they had a number of such boxes available.
I informed her that they now had one more empty box – that I was closing mine on the spot. She was unperturbed. B of A does not sweat the small retail customer.
I took my certificates and all the safe deposit contents (making an awkward sight, I’m sure) across the parking lot to Wells Fargo Bank branch. I explained that I needed my signatures guaranteed on certificates already messed up by B of A, and that I needed a safe deposit box.
WF told me I didn’t need to rent a box or open an account to get the signatures guaranteed for free, but they would welcome my business. I was so delighted that I opened a box and a checking account. Since then I used WF to provide the mortgage on our new home, and I’ve had other successful dealings with them.
But I still felt I had to properly discipline B of A. I used a simple yet effective weapon, enhanced by the technology of the time.
I wrote a letter to the editor. The theme was that big banks can be good – or bad. I reiterated the saga in abbreviated format, naming B of A and WF.
Then I distributed the letter using a computer fax broadcast system I had set up at the time for political matters. I sent the letter to almost 500 California media outlets – print, radio and TV. It took most of the night for my computer to complete the fax broadcasting of my letter.
The letter was published – everywhere. It ran in the SF Chronicle, LA Times, SD Union-Tribune – plus many other places. In addition, a couple of radio and TV stations covered the matter.
The day the letters started running, I started getting calls from higher-ups at B of A in the San Francisco headquarters. They profusely apologized for the “error in judgment” by their bank manager. But the bank manager “was just following orders” – as laid out in the bank’s procedure manual. I think five different bank officers called.
I can’t remember who the highest corporate officer was who called me, but I think it was the person just below the CEO. I had “frank discussions” with the B of A callers, but gave them no satisfaction.
THAT was fun! I managed to give B of A hundreds of thousands of dollars of extremely negative publicity – and it cost me maybe $25 in long distance calls. I’m sure the bank manager will forever remember me.
But then there was an unexpected consequence. About two weeks later, I went to my WF branch that had provided the needed services, and boy, were they nice to me!
The bank manager hustled over to greet me and see just what they could do to make my life pleasant. Indeed, I found my published letter to the editor blown up and prominently posted in a picture frame out front for all customers to see.
Thereafter the folks at WF were extremely good to me for two reasons:
1. I had done them a great service by hammering B of A while praising WF.
2. They were scared to cross me. Apparently bad things happened to banks that crossed me.
Bottom line: Sometimes the “helpless” consumer not only can take his or her business elsewhere, but generate negative consequences for the unresponsive institution. All without the use of government force. And it’s more true today than ever, thanks to the Internet.