Bank of America: Up your nose with a rubber hose!

How may we disappoint you today? How may we disappoint you today?
I really used to love my credit card company. That's sort of an odd thing - like loving your cable provider or your electricity company. But every time I interacted with MBNA, I came away pleased. Maybe it's because one always expects poor customer service these days, and a good customer service experience ends up being infinitely more satisfying than you could ever imagine. MBNA and I had a wonderful relationship since 1998. I didn't screw them over (I was the very model of a modern credit-having individual) and they didn't screw me over. They sent me cool perks. They gave me great rates. Their Web site was awesome. It was a dream come true. I was faithful to them and not only did I get myself a second card, I recommended my parents to them and got a business account for my business. In 2006 I was informed that MBNA was merging with Bank of America. Now, I'd not heard much about BOA. MBNA was such a huge presence here in Cleveland that I just assumed MBNA would be swallowing up BOA and millions of new customers would enjoy the same wonderful customer service as me and that'd be the end of it. I was sorely mistaken. Bank of America swallowed up MBNA and within a few short months proceeded to spew its glistening guts all over my pristine view of the credit card industry. This is a really fucking long rant about Bank of America and how it sucks. If you are into this sort of thing... First and foremost, Bank of America is a bank. MBNA was more or less a credit card company. Credit card companies are very good at having solid credit card services for credit card holders. Banks, it seems, are very much into charging fees as well as having antiquated services as a holdover from their beginnings in 1902. Bank of America bills this as "being able to serve you better by offering you more options," while someone like me sees this as "great, more ways to try to confuse me into buying services." Since the above really just makes me sound like an old coot who likes to rant about stuff just because changes have occurred, I'll give some specific examples of their suckitude. Then you can decide more easily on how much sympathy I should have. 1. The merger seems to have come as a surprise to the BOA staff. Especially their Online Services staff. I suspect some stuffed shirts at the very top of the chain said "yes, we can do this merger quickly and efficiently with very little planning and have it all running smoothly within a month" while no one bothered to ask the IT guys doing the actual work if it could be possible. Turns out, it wasn't very possible. Just before the merger I had gotten into using Quicken as my "money management software." Quicken has been around a long time. Most good financial institutions are modern enough to let you download your monthly statements in the Quicken format and with the push of a button import all of your data to the software. Companies who are even more savvy let you download the information directly through Quicken without having to visit a Web site. MBNA had this going. BOA, on the other hand, did not have this going. At least not for their newly-acquired MBNA accounts. First, it took a few months for my statements to even show up online. Once they were there, I wanted to get them into Quicken. But there was no Quicken option - even though the site's skeleton help system gave instructions on what non-existent buttons to push to get your statements in this format. Eventually I found a notice saying to please call this number for Quicken support. I called said number. The unusually rude operator at the other end was not really sure what Quicken was (seriously! At the special BOA Quicken number!)...but once she figured it out, she was able to tell me that there was no Quicken support for MBNA customers just yet. Try again soon. Five months later now, still no Quicken support. I have the option of getting my statements in PDF or Text format - both pretty useless for importing into software as specific as Quicken. 2. The Web site is very slow, confusing and buggy. I understand that many Web sites can be slow from time to time, but BOA is slow more often than not. Due to the tremendous amount of information they are trying to pack in there about the 400 other services I could be enrolled in, it's extremely hard to find what you want and everything takes several clicks. As I mentioned above, their help system is atrocious. Clicking "help" brings up a new, poorly-designed framed window with very little information on the subject you are looking for. It has plenty of info on making a new account with their various financial services but that's about it. No search, and it's hard to read. Nowhere on the site can you see your monthly finance charge. You have to download the PDF of the statement to get that info. This info is crucial, of course, for people like me who need to balance their accounts by typing all charges into Quicken (as opposed to downloading them). 3. Their phone system is the epitome of "CAN'T I JUST TALK TO A HUMAN NOW?!" First, it seems that in the merger, all of their phone numbers had changed (once again, no one told the Web guys). So you call a number often to hear a voice saying that you must actually call another number. Once you get the right number, the menus start. The computer's voice is friendly enough but the options and menus are endless. Because they want to know which of these seventeen banking services you are calling about. Credit cards are lumped with loan accounts so you have to listen carefully. Yesterday I called to ask some questions about my business account. First I got the "wrong number" message after calling the number prominently placed on the Web site. Then I went through several menus trying to figure out what kind of account I had (they weren't interested in separating my business status from a regular personal account). Of course they asked for the last 4 digits of my Social Security Number, which my business doesn't have. Finally we (me and the computer voice) established that I needed help with my online account (which I did - more on that later) and I was told I was being connected thusly. Then it hung up on me. 4. The MBNA Business accounts didn't switch over to BOA until March 1 (several months after the initial consumer products were switched). This month I got to experience BOA's Business services for the first time. When I logged on, I was met with a barrage of options and restrictions for Business cardholders (I had also gotten all of this stuff in the mail, which included a heck of a lot of rule changes). I was also gleefully extended the offer of being able to "upgrade" my account to be able to download my statements into QuickBooks (Quicken's business-minded older brother), pay bills online and have some sort of "direct deposit" service for my company. Each service cost an extra $10 per month PLUS a base fee of $10 just for the privilege of being able to pay them $10 more per month. I was actually sort of intrigued by the idea of being able to do direct deposit for my employees (except not at $20/mo. They can drag their asses to the bank themselves.) But there was no info on what this entailed. Was it true direct deposit? The link for "more information" went to a dead page. What I really wanted to do was pay my bill online. Just like I had done with MBNA. Just like I do now with my personal accounts. For free, from my bank account, biggity-bam. Well, BOA was insistent that if I wanted to do this, I needed to open a BOA checking account. That sounded absurd...but the message at the top of the page said I could call this number to get it set up. I figured I could at least get ahold of someone who could tell me what I really needed to do to be able to pay my bill online. The number that they showed was the disconnected one (see above) and the one that ultimately hung up on me. I checked out "Transfer Funds" instead. I mean, I just wanted to transfer funds from my bank to their bank. Well, once again I was prompted to open some other sort of account. Not gonna happen. Finally I went to their Customer Service page in the hopes that I might find another number - that actually was in service - where someone could please tell me how I could pay my bill online. And right there, buried 2/3 of the way down the Customer Service page, was a link to "Pay from another financial institution." I cautiously clicked the link, anticipating another application form, when there it was - A WAY TO PAY MY BILL ONLINE FOR FREE. Put in the amount, routing number and bank account number and you're all set. That was easy. Easy to carry out - not easy to find. Not obvious or convenient. Of course, there's no sort of fancy "save this information" option so I can easily carry this payment scheme out again in the future. But it's there. Also "hidden" on the site is the ability to download statements in QuickBooks or Quicken format (remember, you can't do this for MBNA-to-BOA personal card accounts yet). The very feature that Bank of America ASSURED me would not be available unless I paid them $10/mo for the "upgrade." ----- So my experience with Bank of America has not been pleasant at all. The customer service has been less than stellar, the Web services are blah and the business service has been nothing but a headache. Plans are definitely in the works for kicking BOA to the curb, as far as my business goes. My personal accounts are sort of set there for a while, as my oldest credit card account is through them and it is a very good practice to keep your oldest accounts open in order to establish good credit. But, with no annual fees, there's no reason to keep using them. My choice so far, the card company that LEAST offends me, is CitiBank. I recently got a personal card through them and while I am not nearly as satisfied with Citi as I was with MBNA, they have so far offended me less than BOA. Citi's sites seem to be confusing too, and their rates don't touch what I had with MBNA, but they have some nice perks and a pleasant-enough customer service staff. And I get $25 a pop for everyone I refer to Citi who ends up getting an account - so everyone I referred to MBNA is going to be getting referred to Citi now. If anyone has any suggestions as to what company I should switch to, that'd be helpful (both business and personal). Or, share your credit card horror stories. Or better yet - give me your email address so I can refer you to Citi! ;)

  1. I feel your pain. When my two MBNA accounts switched to BOA, only one of them appeared on the BOA website. I called customer service, and after a lot of hold time, I told someone my problem. The rep said that if I had two accounts they should both be there. I said that I knew that but they weren’t both there. Her response was that they should be. At my insistence, she put me on hold and talked to someone who told her how to fix the problem. Now I have both of my accounts when I log in on the BOA website, but when I click to see the details of one account, sometimes I see the other, which really confused me the first time that happened.

    As for downloading to Quicken on a personal account, I have little teeny tiny blue link that says “Download” just above the balance on the Account Activity tab under the Account Details section. But I fully understand that my saying it should be there doesn’t make it so.

    March 9th, 2007 at 10:53 am
  2. Props to Fran for pointing out the most un-obvious button for getting your Quicken files! Fran is better than the damn BOA Help :-/

    And regarding the mixing up of accounts – that happened to me too, with my 2 accounts. I’m always surprised when my balance dips or jumps suddenly when I click a link, based on what card they decide to show me.

    March 9th, 2007 at 11:15 am
  3. This sort of this is so common when large companies merge that it’s not even funny. I can give you a perspective as to why: first off, the people at the top making the decisions about the deadlines and which groups will take on responsibilities after the merger are often out of touch with the people who actually make things work. MBNA might have had a better web dev team by every conceivable measure, but that will have little impact on the new org chart.

    Second, a surprising number of companies that do millions or billions of dollars of business online have no interest in usability or user experience design. Big companies prefer top-down planning methods like the waterfall model, where requirements, architecture, design, and coding is all done before they get any kind of input from actual customers and users. That is, if they bother to do any user testing at all.

    Would you require patrons to jump a 4-foot chasm to enter any of your bank branches? Of course not. But how many bank sites use very small fonts, try to disable the back button, etc? Would you open a branch in the U.S. and only hire people who speak Chinese? Then why would you have online banking but not speak the lingua franca of Quicken and Microsoft Money?

    March 10th, 2007 at 3:09 pm
  4. I’ve had my share of pain with Bank of America as well. I had a personal credit card with MBNA (branded as an ESPN X-GAMES card) that I was very happy with (for the same reasons: decent customer service, ability to pay online, etc).

    I’ve tried to contact Bank of America’s customer service several times through the online form, and although it prompts me with a message that I’ll have a response in 12 hours, I never get one. Worse than that is when I tried to report this behavior through the technical service form, I’d get a “technical error” and can’t even point out the problem.

    Go figure.

    I can’t wait to close my account with them once I’ve paid off the balance in a few months–anyone find the correct address to mail to?

    July 10th, 2007 at 8:21 pm
  5. The best business card is from Advanta: no annual fee, plus an interest rate of 7.99%.

    Rick Campbell
    October 30th, 2007 at 3:09 pm
  6. Until I had my card with MBNA, I was allowed to download the transactions to quicken. BOA screwed it all up which is considered as a giant financial institute. I have to call them few times to find out (after talking to few no clue reps) that I need a bank account in order for credit card transactions to be downloaded automatically by quicken. Silly!!! Once I find out that how closing this account will hurt my credit score, I can’t wait to say BYE BYE to BOA CC!

    March 22nd, 2008 at 12:15 pm

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