Does Big have to mean Dumb?

There are lots of reasons why I’m an entrepreneur.  One of the biggest reasons is that I don’t like how dumb some big companies can be.  Getting large just seems to encourage stupidity that undermines the company and I have no patience for it.

I was reminded of this today while dealing with my bank.  We’ll call them the ReallyBigBank of America (just to keep it anonymous).  I’ve spent most of the last 10 years in Phoenix banking with a Wild West bank — they even have a nifty stagecoach for a logo.  It’s a bank, so my expectations are low, but I’ve been happy with the service I’ve had there.  Sadly, they don’t operate in North Carolina.  Probably due to the lack of desert and cacti.  So I had to switch and foolishly chose to go with RBB of A.

It would seem to me that any bank has a few competitors.  Retaining customers must fall more at the "important" end of their list of things to do.  Especially customers that use lots of services, have multiple accounts, good credit and decent cash flow.

But RBB of A is a bank that DEFINES in-the-box thinking and big company stupidity.  Here are some examples taken from real interactions with actual RBB of A employees:

#1:
Them: "Would you like a credit card with that account?"
Me: "Sure.  I assume there’s no problem with me just having moved here and being a new account?"
Them: "No.  You have great credit and we’re glad you signed up with us."
Aww.  Insert warm glow here.
Two weeks later:
Them: "We regret to inform you that we are unable to process your request"
Reason given:  Not enough time at current address.  Not enough time with bank.

#2:
Them:  "Oh.  You’re buying a house.  We have a great deal on mortgages.  You should apply."
Me:  "I’m self employed without verifiable income.  Can you do a no-doc loan package?"
Them:  "Of course.  We pride ourselves on our flexibility"
Uhuh.
Some time later…
Them: "We regret to inform you that we cannot process your loan."
Reason given:  Not enough time at current address.  Not enough time with bank.  No verifiable income.

Sigh.

Anyway.  What really burns me is their random check hold policy.  As an entrepreneur, I don’t have a paycheck.  But every so often I have a check to deposit, usually from out of town.  Almost every time, RBB of A put a ridiculous hold on the check.  Not just 5-7 business days.  More like 10-14 or more.  Every time this happens, I ask the cashier what the hold policy is.  Every time the cashier assures me that they don’t have a standard policy, it’s just the "system" that makes the decision.  I ask if there is *any* way to override it, or just make some of the funds available.  Every time I get the same answer "No.  It’s the way the system works.  We can’t do anything about it."  This is usually the point where I explain that one-time the check just went through without a hold.  Apparently that was a "mistake" by "the system".

Now with Crazy Wild West bank, they had a simple policy.  Provided your account was in good standing, there were no holds on checks for less than $5000.  If there was a hold, it was never more than 7 business days.  Usually it was less.

Today was the proverbial back-breaking last straw.   I went to make a deposit and the hold was ridiculous.  This time I pushed, even asking for a manager.  "There is nothing we can do".

It’s weird.  I had this crazy notion that banks were all wired together.  I even thought there was some kind of method for transferring and verifying funds using "computers" or some other kind of Area 51 inspired technology.  I’ve even heard rumors of some kind of crazy check-scanning machine that makes funds available instantly for business accounts without even going to a branch.

Obviously all nonsense.

So like any pushy "get things done" kind of biz guy, I drove across the street to a bank I will name: Wachovia.  I got in line, waited a couple of minutes and then a guy popped out of one of those offices that bank people like to hide in (the ones where you can see them, they can see you waiting and they try  hard to look too busy to help).  I explained that if they could just expedite a partial clearing of funds from this check, I’d be happy to switch my accounts to their bank.  After a couple of seconds of thought, Chris (real name) picked up the PHONE and called the bank that the check was from.  Sadly, that bank were unhelpful and refused to verify anything about the account or the available funds.  Chris asked if I could reach the person who wrote the check.  I told him I could.  Not five minutes and a phone call later, everything was taken care of.  Just like that.

Icing on the cake: as I was getting ready to leave, Chris mentioned other services the bank could offer.  Turns out he was not actually a new accounts guy, he just saw the line getting backed up and came out to help.

This early on, I have no idea if Chris is indicative of the folks at Wachovia.  It may well be that they will prove to be big and stupid too over time.  But for now I find it amazing that a bank I have zero history with would willingly go so much further to earn my business than the bank I was with. 

Maybe big doesn’t always have to mean dumb after all…

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