There is a mountain of paperwork that perpetually rests on the desk in our office/dining room. This mountain never gets any smaller – it is merely divided, sorted, and reassembled over time. I got tired of looking at it this Monday. Monday’s are days when people resolve to do things – like start that new diet or squat regiment. I resolved to clean up the mountain.
Our papyrus pyramid primarily consists of unopened envelopes of weekly or monthly repeat mail: credit card offers from Chase, Allstate invitations and bank statements. I rarely open any of them, but after staring at the pile for almost a year, I decided enough was enough and began to open envelope after yellowing envelope to determine and discard its contents if needed.
I started with Nadjah’s Suntrust savings account statements. After opening six months’ worth of statements, I decided that it was time to go paperless. The details of her account never change: It draws $10 a month from our checking and puts it into a small yield savings account. I smiled as I remembered the day I took Nadjah into the bank at age 5 to open her new account. She was given a blue plastic piggy bank and a lollipop. I estimated she should have a few hundred dollars in there, minus the money we took out to pay for camp one year.
So imagine my surprise when I opened up envelopes and started noticing fees that I had never seen before. Consequently, I began to see red. These people were now taking $5 to maintain $10! How long had they been doing this? I could only assume from the very beginning and that they had bilked my daughter of $300 over the course of 5 years. I went on a twitter rant, gathered my youngest children and my purse and went into the bank to close the account.
I was too pissed to try to conjure up a work around. I know how banks work. To my surprise, Suntrust’s social media team responded to my tweet. I informed them that I had just pulled up to the bank to close the account. They responded with a canned answer, saying were sorry to lose my business.
I met with a pretty, hipster account rep named Denise and told her I wanted to either have the fees removed or close the account. She obliged, and noted that the account was set up wrongly from the very beginning.
“This should have been a minor account,” she said. “They have you listed as the primary, when it’s your daughter who should be the primary account holder.”
I was surprised that she was so forthcoming about the error. Before I could speak, she said she could correct the error right there.
“I’ll ask my manager about getting those fees refunded too,” she said kindly. “I’ll have to confirm with him if we actually can, however.”
She scribbled my number and said she would contact me later in the day. I left with Stone and Liya in tow, oddly relieved that I would not have to go through the process of re-opening another account at another bank.
And then I got a call from Denise.
“Hi…I spoke with my manager, and he said that we can only refund two months’ worth of fees to this account.”
“You mean ten dollars?”
As I grunted in disgust, Denise stuttered through an explanation.
“I guess the logic is that at least they were able to give you something back off the loss…”
$10 back off of a $300 theft hardly constitutes as something!
I guffawed at her response and told her to have a good day. Initially, I was outraged, and then I was indignant. I called Denise back, demanding a meeting with the branch manager.
“I want him to explain his policy to my daughter, and tell her why he can’t refund money that was taken from her account due to an error that his bank made!”
“Oh…it’s not HIS policy,” Denise said pointedly.
“Whoever’s it is, she’s the customer, and she deserves an explanation.”
We scheduled a face to face meeting for Friday. For some unearthly reason, I called Suntrust’s customer service department to find out what kind of account Nadjah was holding. When had these fees actually started? The woman was of no help first, because she barely spoke English and second, because her ineptitude made it difficult for her explain that the terms of the account had changed some time before.
“You have to put $25 into the account to avoid the fee,” she said after I eventually wrung the information from her.
“You should have received a communication telling you this, either over email or in letter form.”
“Do you have my email? Because I’m looking at a years’ worth of statements and I don’t see a letter here.”
“No, we don’t have your email,” she said after a brief pause. “You have a letter. You must have lost it.”
I hung up on her. I couldn’t WAIT for Friday.
After doing my own investigation, I discovered that the fees had begun in July of 2012. The bank had taken $55, not the exorbitant $300 as I had previously (and incorrectly) presumed. I explained the details of the fiasco to Nadjah, who was clearly upset by this revelation. (The only thing the girl loves more than life is money.)
“We’re going to meet with the branch manager on Friday,” I said, as though it was fight night. I didn’t want to taint her response with my own biases, so I didn’t tell her what the bank was PROBABLY going to say: That it was her mother’s fault for not opening her mail and – despite it being their error from the beginning – they were not going to be able to refund her money past the $10. I then made a mental note of all the other banks we could visit to deposit her meager savings.
“Can I come too!” said Aya.
“Yeah, sure,” I replied. It would be good for both of them to learn how money and customer service work (or don’t work) together.
Finally, Friday arrived. The girls and I went to Chic-Fil-A for nourishment before the epic showdown. I had piles of statements in my purse and a no-nonsense countenance at the ready. We were twelve minutes early. Denise met us when we walked in and directed us to the waiting area.
“Michael will be with you ladies in just a moment. He’s on a conference call,” she said flatly.
I looked towards the back of the bank and saw an enormous man with red hair and a white shirt pacing his office with a phone plugged to his ear, waving his arms wildly. And so it begins…
At 3:01, Michael walked out to meet us. He extended his hand and greeted the girls and I warmly.
“Come this way to my office please,” he said.
Humph. This was customer service 101. You defuse a volatile situation by offering kindness before you address concerns. It was like offering a rabid dog a piece of aspirin laced meat, and it was working. The girls and I virtually skipped into his office.
“I only have 2 chairs, so I’m going to bring another one in for you ladies if you’ll give me just a moment,” he explained before ducking into the neighboring office and retrieving a chair.
He was the quintessential Southern Gentleman. He had a drawl – yes – but not the type that incites terror in Black folk. You have to have lived here to know exactly what I’m talking about.
He took his seat and launched into a recap of events, including tweets, dollar amounts and mistakes.
“I’ve only been in this branch for a year,” he revealed. Then he pointed to his HTC phone and made a startling admisssion. “I don’t twitter, I don’t facebook, I don’t do any of that stuff. So when the Suntrust (social media) department emailed me all this stuff, I was at a loss!”
Nadjah and Aya both laughed. The idea of a grown up not tweeting or Facebooking probably seemed absurd. Michael continued.
“Called Denise in here to figure out this $300 thing, and we discovered that the fees actually began in July of 2012.”
“That’s correct,” I interjected. Michael was not done talking, and neither were the girls, apparently. They asked him about his kids in the picture, about Disney world, and informed him that they had 200 Disney Dollars between the two of them for doing chores.
“What kind of chores do you have to do?”
“Do the dishes, fold the laundry and clean our room,” Aya said excitedly.
“Sometimes I have to clean the room twice,” Nadjah said, shooting me a dirty look. “Can we get back on topic, please?”
Michael raised a quizzical brow and smiled slightly. He explained to Nadjah how her account had been set up incorrectly, and that she was a minor. Then he said something about paying taxes on her investments, which then got her all out of sorts. Her eyes began to water.
“I don’t want to pay taxes!”
“Well, as your momma will tell you, there’s only two things certain in life: We’re all gonna die, and we all have to pay taxes,” he said, laughing.
Nadjah did not appreciate his joke.
I thanked Michael for taking the time to meet with us. I explained that since I had brought Nadjah in to open the account initially, I wanted to make sure she was involved in every part of the process if there were any changes. Michael looked at Nadjah seriously.
“Well, I have to tell you, we appreciate your business,” he boomed. “And we want you to keep banking with Suntrust when you get older and get a job.”
“And start paying taxes?” Nadjah said sullenly.
Michael and I chuckled.
Michael turned back to her.
“Okay Ms. Nadjah, I’m going to make this commitment to you,” he said earnestly. “I’m going to contact my regional manager, Courtney Thompson, and ask her if we can get that $45 refunded to you. I don’t know what she’ll say, because it’s going to require an override, but I’m definitely going to ask.”
This was the moment I was waiting for. Nadjah was going to put her foot down and tell him he betta git ALL her money, or she was taking her business elsewhere!
“Does that sound fair to you, Na?” I asked with baited breath.
She nodded and looked at Michael.
“Yes, it’s fair. Even if you can’t get all the money back, at least you tried and did your best.”
Michael sat back in his chair and clasped his hands.
“You know what? Just because of that, I’m going to strongly recommend that we refund you all of your money!”
He stood and ushered us towards the door.
“Can we have a lollipop?” the girls asked in unison.
Michael strode over to the bowl and offered them any flavor they wanted. Then he looked at me.
“Hey, why don’t you bring them back one day so that can take a tour of the bank? We might have some future financial officers on our hands,” he said. He wasn’t joking.
We shook hands once more and left. The girls were elated, and I was satisfied. It wasn’t the train of events I expected…it was far better. And as they often do, my kids taught me a lesson I’d recently forgotten: you catch more flies with honey than vinegar. Oftentimes, you get better results when you’re sweet.