A peculiar transaction caught Blake Rasmussen’s attention when he checked his bank account online earlier this month.
He saw a withdrawal for $6,000 had been made at his local Wells Fargo branch, but he hadn’t made that withdrawal. A $50 deposit appeared, as well, which Rasmussen also didn’t make.
“I immediately called the fraud department,” he said. Rasmussen was told to reach out to the branch, located in Austin, Texas.
The withdrawal turned out to be a teller error — Rasmussen’s account number was used for another customer’s transaction, perhaps due to a copy-and-paste error.
“They told me, This is a mistake on our part; you’re going to get your money back,” Rasmussen said.
He discovered the problem on a Thursday and was told it would be corrected by Saturday or Monday. Monday morning, the bank manager called.
Rasmussen’s money was going to be fully refunded, but not until Friday.
“That’s when I got upset.”
Correcting the Bank Error
Wells Fargo issued a $6,000 memo credit to his account while they investigated the error. Commence the angry customer emails.
“I wrote an email to the branch manager saying ‘This is unacceptable,’” Rasmussen said. “‘You’re giving me fake money. I can’t do anything with it.’”
Helen Bow, a communications manager for Wells Fargo in Texas, said in an email that the memo credit is standard procedure while the bank verifies an error.
“The most important point to remember is that the customer was never in jeopardy of incurring overdraft fees,” she wrote. “We covered his account throughout the investigation.”
The bank manager responded to Rasmussen in a similar vein, saying that the bank needed to do its due diligence and make sure the error really was an error before placing a permanent credit in Rasmussen’s account.
Wells Fargo had already acknowledged its error — why couldn’t Rasmussen have his money back? He felt the memo credit did him no good. Frustrated, Rasmussen continued to press the bank manager. He took to Twitter: “Potentially looking for a new bank. Want something national. Any suggestions for alternatives for @wellsfargo?”
After another heated email, and in the midst of a Twitter exchange with @Ask_WellsFargo, a customer service account, Rasmussen saw his problem resolved.
Four business days after the initial complaint, his account was made whole.
Striking a Balance
Nessa Feddis, senior vice president of consumer protection and payments for the American Bankers Association, put the scenario in perspective:
“Obviously, banks have an innate interest in making sure that there are no errors. They’re in the business of making their customers happy. If the customer isn’t happy, they’ll leave the bank.” She continued: “But they also have to have procedures to make sure that neither the consumer or potential fraudsters or their own employees are conducting fraud.”
She said there is no industry standard on how these sorts of issues are resolved — procedures vary by bank, by customer and by elements of the problem. She also noted that errors concerning greater amounts of money require more care.
“I just didn’t understand how they could let someone walk out the door with my $6,000,” Rasmussen said. “Whether or not they’re able to adequately answer that will be a big part of my decision [to remain a Wells Fargo customer].”
Rasmussen has been a Wells Fargo customer for 15 years, and he has only had one other problem with the bank (a deposit that never hit his account — he showed a receipt and it was immediately fixed, he said).
Bow, the Wells Fargo communications manager, said the amount of time it takes to investigate and rectify an error varies.
“We — as all financial institutions — are allotted time to figure things out,” she wrote in an email, speaking generally about errors in customer accounts. “It may be 30 minutes or five days. It depends on the circumstances.”
Feddis says no matter how hard a bank works to be error-free, it’s a balancing act.
“They want to get it right but it’s not always instantly clear,” she said. “Does it work 100% percent of the time — what does?”
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