imageHave you seen those WaMu commercials where people daydream of utopia whenever the CSR drop the words “free checking” in their lap? They paint themselves to be this wonderful customer-service-centric and almost populist “we’re the Zappos of banks” style company.

I’m here to tell you that they’re not. Oh, don’t get me wrong.  When I walk into a WaMu (nay, all I need to do is talk to a representative on the phone), I still get daydreams.

Describing these daydreams in print and attaching my name to them could result in legal problems for me, so I’ll just let your imagination run wild on that one.

So, Take a Breath and Tell Me What Happened
imageDue to a series of unfortunate events this month involving hospital stays and new jobs at the beginning of this month, I was a little short on cash whenever it came time to pay rent this month.

Fortunately, I had a good amount of money coming in later in the month, as you can see, so we decided to try not to go into overdraft and just pay the late fees when they came in.

For reasons beyond the scope of this rant, my wife has a bank account at Chase, and I have one at WaMu.  Whenever my wife’s check direct deposits, it splits a little bit off and throws it into my account.

What we didn’t notice, at least until this month, is that WaMu has been charging us $10 to wire that little chunk of money from the Chase account to the WaMu account.  We noticed it this month because it sent the account into overdraft.

As a result of the account going into overdraft, I was told by a couple of CSRs a few days later, all deposits into the account were going to be held for five business days. This meant that our rent payment would have to be turned in late, when the money would be cleared into the account.  Fortunately, I had the sponsorship money payment for a few small jobs all hitting the account within a few days of one another. More than one of the checks were direct checks from banks (not from a personal or business account), so I figured those would cash directly rather than be subject to the wait period, and the overdraft would take care of the difference.

The Lesson: WaMu Doesn’t Trust Anyone
image As I later found out, WaMu apparently uses that line about “past account performance” as a dodge, and as a rule will hold any non-cash deposit for five days. I found out, today, because my check was returned to the apartments this afternoon after having been denied on the 16th “due to insufficient funds.”

As you can likely surmise by my screenshot of my ledger above, I had nearly $2,000 in the account at the time, so you might be as surprised as I was today to learn that only about $400 of that was considered “available balance.”

So, just to recap, the bank that is in so much trouble they had to have special government assistance and sell out to another bank, doesn’t trust checks written by other banking institutions (i.e. one of my client checks), and has to hold them for five days so that my rent check bounces.

It Goes Beyond Bad Banking Policy
Granted, everyone has bad banking stories.  It really ought to be a crime how badly constructed most bank policies are.  They’re completely tilted against those who imagemaintain low balances either out of recklessness or necessity.  One misstep, and you can go into a death spiral of late fees and overdrafts.

Aside from the generalized structure of modern banking, which we all know has faults systemic from, well, the general malaise of the economy right now, WaMu has a far more specific malady.

Whether it be by virtue of the fact that they’re paralyzed by the inability to relate to the customer due to a company-wide culture of embarrassment at being one of those failing banks or the fact that they have been instructed never to deviate from the script, what I got from them was a complete unwillingness to acquiesce a single point the whole time I spoke with them.

I was coming at the conversation, first as a resolute, firm but cordial customer – one who didn’t understand exactly why my check bounced. As it became clearer and clearer that the CSRs I spoke to were just reading words from a screen containing bank policy, I gradually became more and more irate.

I laid down the gauntlet to the company. I said “Look, I know my piddly account with only a couple thousand in it is a drop in the bucked at compared to some of your clients, but your asinine bank policies have cost me $500 in late fees. I’ve had better service and willingness to at least try to make me a happy customer out of Bank of America in the past, and I believe you and I both know how legendarily consumer unfriendly that bank is.  Is there any explanation or offers of help you can perform to help keep me as a customer?”

Instead of responding to the question, both the CSRs I spoke with on the phone as well as their supervisors insisted on reciting bank policy as if it were federal law, and as if I didn’t understand how bank to bank transfers worked.

What Could WaMu Have Done to Keep My Account
My wife and I have ultimately made the decision to cancel our bank account with WaMu.  This was due to a number of factors.  Factors like the idiocy of charging us $10 to move money from one side of the building to the other is one thing and lying to us about the reasons for the five day holds.

I purposely gave all the representatives at WaMu a way to save it. In a perfect world, I would have loved for them to volunteer to cover the fees they’ve cost me with my landlord.  It would be a legendary move, but not altogether unheard of.  A
local small-town bank might have done as much.

Realistically, I would have expected them to reverse some of the overdraft fees that occurred as a result of their $10 fees and a pledge to remove the recurring $10 deposit fee, and perhaps an admission at some point during my conversation that this was a comedy of errors of their policy’s own creation.

At every turn, though, it was as if they were on a script specifically designed to infuriate me. I doubt that was the intent, but it always puzzles me what large corporations like them imagine acting in such a way is going to do for their perception.  Keep in mind that this is the same bank that years ago boasted such exceptional customer service that they were working on transporter technology so that they could better server their patrons “wherever.”

Bottom Line: WaMu Sucks
I had originally planned this post to be a chronicle of all the incredibly witty things I said during the phone call (and believe me, I was in fine form today once they finally broke my cool), but instead it’s become quite introspective. 

In general, my experiences with banks over the course of my lifetime is generally bad.  This is because, I imagine, on the balance my financial situation has been more on the poor than the rich side, and banks are better friends to the rich man. 

Still, WaMu stands head and shoulders above any other bad experience I’ve had at a bank before, not because of their stupid corporate policies (because so many large banks have stupid corporate policies), but their complete unwillingness to let their personnel even achieve the slightest hint of humanity.