Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

RantWatch: Extremely Poor Service from Wells Fargo

Posted by Tom Foremski - April 23, 2007

I used to be impressed by Wells Fargo, professional and with great service. My local bank manager even used to call and invite me to barbecues. That was when I had money in various accounts. He never calls anymore, now that I'm a semi-liquid media entrepreneur, but that's OK, I'd rather he didn't anyway.

As with all startups, revenues--if you are lucky to have them in the first place--tend to be a bit lumpy. Money comes in some months and in other months it doesn't--that's just the way things are.

Last month I deposited a check for $7500, a sponsorship payment from Edelman, the world's largest private PR agency. My bank put an immediate hold on it for five business days because of "unusual checking activity."

Yes, it has been unusual for me to get a check this year but it shouldn't be a flag for suspicious activity and a freeze on the funds. I'm not N.Korea and I'm not buying centrifuges.

After 5 days Wells Fargo cleared $5000 but kept a hold on the remaining $2500 for a further five days.

How is it that a check only clears partially?

How is it that a check takes so many days to clear? Especially in this day and age and with all the massive investments in tech made by the banking industry over the past three decades?

I put these questions to a hapless manager at my Wells Fargo branch. I was told: because the check is over $5,000 and it is an out of state check.

And because I had used an ATM to deposit the check, it takes longer because it is a different bank unit. I should have brought it into the branch.

I said I use an ATM because it is faster for me and faster for the bank.

I had no idea it was better to engage with a bank teller--clearly bank automation is far less efficient than we supposed. Don't be surprised if millions of ATMs start to be pulled out of walls leaving ugly patched holes along streets and on corners.

I then pulled out a $10,000 check from a very reputable company. So how long will it take for this check to clear?  

A careful examination revealed a problem, the check was drawn from a bank in N. Carolina. It will be 5 days for the first $5k and five days for the second $5k.

Is N. Carolina on some dodgy-check watch list? And how is that any faster than using an ATM?

The Wells Fargo person said that in two days time a phone call could be made to the N.Carolina bank to check on the money, as a special favor to me. Actually, make it three days.

Amazing. All that technology and someone has to make a phone call to check on funds.

Do other banks do this? Maybe, but that's no excuse. Everyone and their grandmother knows that the banks could clear deposited checks in a microsecond if they wanted to. Do they think customers are stupid and don't know that?

It is flagrant fleecing of customers because every time a check bounces there are three different $35 fees plus overdraft charges.

I hope Wells Fargo and any other bank that engages in such fleecing gets royally disrupted by PayPal and its ilk. I used to recommend Wells Fargo, I'd recommend otherwise now.

...
UPDATE:
Interesting stuff about Wells Fargo here... http://www.innercitypress.org/wells.html

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