DASM: Dumb-Ass Stupid Management at Citizens Bank

Citizens Bank is owned by Royal Bank of Scotland, which very nearly disappeared in the financial crisis. I’ve been a customer for almost 30 years, when they acquired Old Stone Bank in East Greenwich, RI. Their local branch always had (and still has) courteous, helpful people, and their major competitor, Bank of America (which had taken over the local Fleet Bank), has had very erratic service.

Citizens is a classic case of the back room not caring about customers and the executives implementing a deliberate strategy to hide from customers. You simply cannot reach a local Citizens executive. No one in the bank knows (or will give you) their phone or email contacts, and letters are returned weeks later by minor functionaries.

I have seven figures in the bank’s investment area, which has performed well for me and has an eminently reachable senior person on that side of the house. I have mid-six figures sitting around in various accounts to be used during the year, personally and professionally. I’m called a “trust customer.” I’m not treated like a “trust customer,” but I’m called one.

Aside from the vastly annoying two dollar and ten dollar charges the bank finagles whenever it can on my various accounts, and the lousy rates it gives me on every exchange transaction, it often commits breathtaking departures from intelligent customer service.

I recently received a $13,500 check from a client drawn on the Royal Bank of Toronto. It was printed “US Funds” on the check stock, drawn on a US funds account in that bank. I have deposited such checks before without problem, albeit at lower amounts.

Knowing the perversity of Citizens’ approach to its customers (“please remove your hat and sunglasses” is one friendly sign that hits you as you walk in), I specifically asked the teller if there would be any delay or problem in crediting the check. “Not at all,” she said, and I deposited it and took off for London. On arriving home a week later, guess what? Citizens deposited it, then deducted it, and told me it was sent for collection which would take about three weeks. This was a form letter, with no signature.

When I went to the branch, the assistant manager called a senior teller and both told me they had never seen this happen “in 20 years.” I asked for the contact information for Citizens’ Rhode Island president. No one could provide it. “I’ll take the officer in charge of retail banking,” I said, figuring they all reported to him or her. But, no such information was available.

I made a total of six calls and sent six emails over three weeks. I was told by a woman who handles my retirement investment deposits to call a help line, which resulted in a woman telling me she couldn’t help me, and when I asked for a supervisor so that I could get an officer’s contact number, I was placed on hold and left there (I consider ten minutes to be abandonment). When I was given a special number for a “high priority, rapid response” executive, I got his voice mail, and a call back the next day from his administrative assistant, who couldn’t help me. He actually delegated the call, and when I told her I wanted to speak to him, he never called at all! That’s Citizens Bank’s high priority, rapid response, to a trust customer! He never bothered to call me back.

When you send a wire transfer from Citizens (I pay overseas meeting sites this way) you have to sit in a manager’s office for 15 minutes while he fills out a laborious computer form, and then—I am NOT making this up—sit for another ten minutes while he calls a number in their back room somewhere and reads the exact same information to some shadowy figure on the other end of the line! They at least ought to serve you breakfast. They duplicate the transaction while the customer waits.

This kind of arrant stupidity, with executives systematically dodging their own customers and creating serpentine filters to prevent contact, is something out of the 50s, when banks thought you were lucky to be allowed in the door of the institution. For those of you in consulting, never be intimidated by a title or position. People who run banks and manage our money have shown dramatically over the past few years that Las Vegas is often better run and a more prudent risk by comparison.

I have tried long and hard to make my case with Citizens powers-that-be. Since they have gone to great lengths to ensure they do not interact with the rabble who are customers, I’m making my case here. We see this all too often: good, competent, front-line people completely unsupported by a rigid, sclerotic hierarchy.

If I told them the bank was on fire, they’d take 30 days to process the information. If someone knows the chair of the Royal Bank of Scotland, would you direct him to this article? I’ll leave it up for 30 days.

© Alan Weiss 2012. All rights reserved.

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13 Responses to DASM: Dumb-Ass Stupid Management at Citizens Bank

  1. Davison says:

    You are disappointed with the retail operations side of their house, but happy with their investment side. Given the horrible retail service, it seems that one is holding you hostage to the other.

    In light of the lack of response, it may be worthwhile to ask the investment contacts to reach out as a special case. Feedback, no matter which channel it comes from, should be taken seriously. If you still don’t see any improvements with your retail experience, you may want to consider moving your significant investment assets from the bank completely.

    After all, if one side of the house is clearly in disarray, it may only be a matter of time before a serious character judgement is made in another part of the organization.

    • Alan Weiss says:

      It seems like a corporate policy, executive-non-responsiveness issue to me, but your point is well taken, thank you.

  2. Dear Mr. Weiss:
    I am a small business owner in Birmingham, AL and can relate to your recent bank experience. My business suffered a water damage loss in December 2011. In February, I received a $13,0000. + check from my insurer, the long established and well known entity, Hartford Insurance Company. Upon presenting it to my bank, Regions Bank, I was told there would be a hold on it. Now mind you, I have banked with Regions Bank the entire time I have been in business, which is 16 years now, and this was a branch I banked at regularly, so they knew me as well. This was not acceptable to me, so I left and went to Iberia Bank where I had just recently opened an account after having been solicited by former bank executives that have left Regions and gone with Iberia. At Iberia, funds were not held AND a cashiers check was issued off the funds immediately.

    This is not the only gripe I have with the banking system, but you don’t want to get me started! Am considering being a lobbyist against banks when I retire.

    BTW, I am a former resident of Rhode Island and had banked with Old Stone Bank. LOVED their Flintstones commercials!!!!

    Maybe Iberia Bank will expand farther North and you can bank with someone who actually cares about their customers!

    • Alan Weiss says:

      Thanks, Linda. Do you know that in an age of electronic funds transfer, Citizens sends the check physically—in the mail—for collection? Fred Flintstone was way ahead of Citizens and more accessible.

  3. Tim Wilson says:

    Alan,

    Read this several times each time I shake my head at the level of incompetence displayed by the back room operation. It’s amazing how they fail to understand how hard they are making it for the frontline.

    When frontline employees have to continuously suffer customers being upset with them for backroom incompetence, they start delivering service proportional to the lack of support they are getting and customer service takes a downward spiral.
    You wrote an article some time back that clearly outlines how a problem like this can be fixed. In it you proffer a very simple model (DPCP) if followed by the Royal Bank of Scotland would lead to a possible resolution:
    1. Define the desired outcomes to be achieved.
    2. Define the performance necessary to achieve the outcome
    3. Define the competencies needed to achieve the level of performance
    4. Provide the development activities to achieve the competencies.

    What was so interesting about the article is the four concepts you laid out are fundamental to the success of most everything management related. It seems that the senior management of the Royal Bank of Scotland had no idea of what outcomes they wanted for customer service when they purchased Citizens Bank because if they did, you wouldn’t be entering them into the DASM Hall of Fame.

  4. Alan Weiss says:

    Thanks, Tim. I also doubt that ANYONE at Bank of Scotland EVER shops their own operations. I have seldom seen such incompetence in a major organization, and I’ve consulted with over 500 during the past 30 years.

  5. Steve Weber says:

    Alan,
    As a fellow Rhode Islander (Exeter), I can relate. Any transaction at Citizen’s other than a deposit or withdrawal is a ridiculously laborious, time consuming process. I constantly preach to clients to “WOW” the customer. Citizen’s is not “WOWING” anyone and no doubt is doomed to eventual failure unless they begin to take care of the customer.

    PS. Thank you for all you do and I look forward to meeting you at one of your seminars.

  6. Alan Weiss says:

    Thanks, Steve. The total uncaring, apathetic, indifferent attitude of Citizens’ top officers in Rhode Island is a stellar example of horrible leadership. Banks, like newspapers, have tended to draw the absolute worst. Did you notice the typo on a page 1 sub head in the ProJo today? Amateurs.

  7. Geez….maybe you should’ve threatened that you won’t “like” them on FaceBook!

    It is some small comfort to know that the indignities regularly visited on smaller depositors can happen at the higher levels. I ran over a million dollars of grant funding through an account at my local Citizens branch and thought maybe they’d call me up and buy me a coffee. When I went to talk to the branch manager about a line of credit, they never got back to me.

    It would be more palatable if one had an alternative, but my regular bank TD Banknorth (another Canadian bank…what’s with the Canadians?) (twenty years, three mortgages, multiple savings and checking accounts), pulled all of their ATMs in our area. When I went into the “main” downtown branch to actually “deposit” a “check”, and inquire about a replacement bank card, the teller tried to get me call an 800 number. I had a meltdown at the teller line; and had to have floor customer service rep, (close to retirement, who has seen me through at least five mergers of this bank, from local, to national to regional to international) calm me down.

  8. K S M says:

    The Citizens Bank that you refer to is owned by The Royal Bank of Scotland but the Citizens Bank that I work for is a small community bank in a rural area. We have a few branches, a 2 person Trust Dept and I see our CEO and President on a daily basis. I can go upstairs to his office and knock and talk with him any time as can any of our customers if they wish. You paint with a broad brush when you lump all bankers together.

    There are hundreds of small banks nationwide with the ability to handle your international transaction and your trust customer status. Most community banks value their customers, know their customers and strive to provide the best customer service that regulations will allow.

    Often the reason a customer gets upset is the direct result of some new law or regulation that began with good intentions but ultimately has unintended consequences for the customer. How I wish all of those who criticize could walk a mile in a small community bankers shoes.

    Bankers are tasked with following the myriad of laws and regulations already in place prior to the recent financial crisis as well as reading, interpreting and putting in place processes to follow the 100s of new regulations that have recently been put into law with 100s more coming soon as a result of the CFPB. Small banks don’t have lawyers on staff or whole departments to read, interpret and put into place. For example one Regulation dealing with consumer lending is 2,600 pages and that is only one of 100s.

    There have been so many changes in the past 3 -4 years it is mind boggling and customers only see the surface and know that things have changed not why they have changed. The media constantly bashes bankers without ever really addressing the root cause for the changes in customer service.

    Yes, there are bad banks and bad bankers but not all banks and bankers are bad.
    Regulators and lawmakers have made some good changes but in some areas they have killed a fly with a hand grenade, effective but unnecessary and probably just done for show. There were already plenty of Regs in place, the Regulators just weren’t enforcing them. Now we have so many more and it costs money and takes time to follow them. Employees that used to provide good customer service may be in the back completing new forms and filing newly required reports in order to processing wires or make loans, etc. It is very frustrating to hear all bankers lumped together and criticized when there is nothing that I would like more than to provide good customer service.

    • Alan Weiss says:

      I’m never comfortable when people comment and don’t use their names, which is never valid debate. But you really doth protest too much. I was talking about my bank. If yours is great, fine. But banking in this country is oriented toward making money, getting government help, and squeezing the customer. Oh, and they tend to blame everyone but themselves.

  9. Peter McLean says:

    Whoa, KSM, are you a wee bit defensive? Alan wasn’t saying all banks are evil, but is rightly frustrated with the incompetence of his local bank. His comments re: other banks are clearly directed at the big players who helped bring on the GFC (yet continue to pay their senior execs big bonuses for ruining the global economy).

    The gripe here is incompetence, incompetent management and the fact that after weeks of trying to get a response, they still hadn’t cleared a straightforward check! I used to work for big banks years ago – long before the days of internet transactions and electronic funds transfer. You can’t tell me that this incompetence is due to changes in regulation. It’s a simple case of ridiculously poor service.

    I live in Australia, where my local branch is part of a vast network of supposedly well supported financiers, with all kinds of head offices and technology. Yet, if I finally retrieve the local branch phone number (which is not officially listed anywhere), I ALWAYS get through to an answering machine where I dutifully leave a message for the branch manager which is equally dutifully never returned – not once, in many years!

    Earlier this year, my business visa card was being reissued. Instead of being sent to me directly, it was sent to my branch. The expiry date was fast approaching and I made numerous calls to the help line, who said that the branch should be calling me to arrange for card pickup. I called the branch and got no response. Then I went in, took a ticket and a seat, waited for a teller while Mr. Bean played on the TV, saw the teller who went to the back and came back saying there was nothing there, then said they were sure it would show up some time. Only a few days to go before it expired. I then called back a couple of days later. No answer. Finally, I got out the direct phone number of the mortgage lender there who had given me her number before and told me if I ever needed anything to give her a call. She’s a real gem. I called her the day before my card was due to expire and she personally went and found everything (the new card had actually been there for well over a month), returned to the phone and told me she had the card and had arranged for the tellers to hold onto to it for me to pick it up.

    I went in, everything was there. She’s the most competent person in the whole branch and she’s not the manager, she’s not retail, she’s not telling, etc. Without her, I may never have received the replacement card. I dropped off a nice block of chocolate on her desk as thanks for actually doind something. In my day, we would have bent over backward to find the card for the client and if it wasn’t there, our department would have ordered what we called a “hand embossed” rush card at our expense and would have couriered it to them if necessary.

    As with most Australian banks, mine sailed through the GFC due in part to good government regulation. My bank makes a mountainside of money. Yet most of our big banks seem to forget that they’re making that money because I and thousands of other customers are making it available for them to trade with.

    You may well be overburdened with pointless regulations. My suggestion: If you’re stressed out by the regulations, then get out of banking. Or, see a really good consultant :)

    Regulation is not the problem, the lack of will to serve the customer is.

  10. Alan Weiss says:

    It’s not my fault. “They” make me do it.

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