Thursday, February 10, 2011

Bureaucratic Idiocy Isn't Limited To The Public Sector

While there is no match for the government when it comes to inefficiency and operational chaos, private industry is not free from this. Once upon a time we had a certificate of deposit at Countrywide Bank. Then Countrywide Bank went down the drain and was acquired by Bank of America. If one drew a bell curve showing the interest rates paid by financial institutions, Bank of America and Countrywide would be at the opposite ends of the spectrum. So naturally, when our former Countrywide, now Bank of America CD matured, we opted to close the account in the seven day grace period. Except that Bank of America told Mrs. Chandavkl they were not authorized to close it. They told her she had to go back to New Hampshire where she opened the account. Of course this didn't make any sense as we had opened the account in Pasadena, not New Hampshire.

So even though I was in San Francisco, it was my turn to get them to pay off. Unlike the purely retail branch Mrs. Chandavkl went to, I went to a banking center on New Montgomery St., where I was directed to the Personal Banking department, with a row of stately desks manned by equally stately personal bankers. I explained the situation to Miss Shi, and she started punching in my information. Nothing came up on her computer. She explained that the Countrywide system would not be integrated with the Bank of America system until 2012, so she had no access to my account and that she couldn't help me. That kind of explained the New Hampshire comment, as the former Countrywide accounts had been relegated somewhere back east for administrative purposes. However, that didn't make me any more understanding. "You mean I can't withdraw my own money from Bank of America? So this is like Hotel California?" "What do you mean?" Miss Shi asked. "Don't you know the song 'Hotel California"? "Yes," she replied. "Well, you can check out any time but you can never leave. So you can deposit money in this bank, but you can't take it out." This embarrased her so she consulted with one of the other personal bankers, who told her to call the customer service center. They directed her how to execute the transaction, but I was probably there nearly an hour before I got everything taken care of.

Of course I'm familiar with issues of post-merger integration and I know that it takes banks a good amount of time to mesh their systems. But it's been three years since Bank of America acquired Countrywide, so they should have integrated by now. Also it's not like an out of state acquistion where you can just walk into your old bank branch that now has a different name. Obviously the sooner we totally disassociate ourselves with Bank of America, the better.

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