I am sending or posting a copy of this letter to various news agencies and sites in the hope that I can bring to light the sort of ‘business ethics (and frankly I don’t believe ‘ethics’ with its own separate caveat qualify as ethics, sorry)’ practiced by Wells Fargo bank.
My family and I are not model customers of this institution to be sure. We live paycheck to paycheck and unfortunately often a little beyond our means just to survive. We live in an apartment, have one vehicle we depend fully upon, and cannot afford daycare for our five year old daughter (and would not care to give our child over to the care of strangers if we could). As my wife makes more money than I do as a newly licensed marriage and family therapist, I am regulated to part time work, part time childcare. In a world of mounting expenses and incessant debt due to schooling, we do our best, but despite my wife having attained her masters and myself having a bachelor’s degree, it is not often enough to avoid overdrafts and late fees.
My last pay period I was given a substantial pay raise and more hours at my job, and consequently earned a more substantial paycheck. We planned to drive to Arizona for Thanksgiving (we live in California) to spend the holiday with family and my wife deposited the payroll check on Tuesday, fully two days before the holiday to give it time to clear. We were then told that Wells Fargo had decided that because the amount was over a thousand dollars and never had been before in nine months of working, that they were going to put a hold on the available funds until December 4th, a full seven business days after the deposit. This was not a partial hold. They were not holding the difference past a thousand dollars, they were holding the entire amount.
Has anyone ever had their entire payroll check held for more than three days? If you have, you know it puts a pinch on your living expenses. Now consider an extra week, the day before a holiday.
As it was past business hours, I sent Wells Fargo an email about what I considered to be a somewhat unreasonable situation – well, I had to send three emails, as the comment fields in which complaints or questions are supposed to be drafted were not large enough to fully explain my predicament. I guess I’m pretty verbose, but the character limit seemed to me almost to be designed specifically to discourage complaints and questions.
The next morning I called Wells Fargo and complained to a telephone banker and was told by her that she did not have the power to rescind the hold. She did suggest I enroll in direct deposit, but my employer as a start up company doesn’t offer it. I stated that I understood that as a teller she did not have the authority to unfreeze my money, and asked for somebody who did. I was at first disconnected. After calling back and giving the same spiel I was finally put in contact with ‘Dean’ who though polite, explained to me in a somewhat condescending manner that although I had deposited all of my payroll checks (from the same institution) with them for many months, they were having problems securing the funds from the other bank and were not going to remove the hold. He told me to go to my employer and ask for them to cancel the check they’d issued me and ask for cash. So, the policy had switched from the reason they had originally given for the hold. I was initially told that the hold was placed due to my history of overdraft fees. Now it was because the other bank was having a problem. I personally believe Wells Fargo is intent on collecting all the fees that will be incurred for the next seven days as my unavoidable bills come through. I suppose they were willing to let it go if I were able to successfully cajole my employer into incurring a canceled check fee, but is the a reasonable request for a contract employee to make of their employer in such a shaky climate of rampant unemployment as we live in today? I work for a start up company, and I’m sorry, I wasn’t about to ask my employer to go through the rigamarole of cancelling my paycheck (which was issued four days previously, I just picked it up on Tuesday to avoid the delay of the mail) and issuing me cash (!).
In the end, I am looking for a new bank. I can’t abide a financial institution who would deny a family its honest, due compensation the day before a national holiday and then have the gall to hold the entire amount for seven days. I urge anyone who reads this who is considering banking with Wells Fargo to weigh my experience in their decision. They do not have the good of their customers or the American people in mind, which is a shame as they have such a distinguished history – the sort I had thought I could trust. I am sure that Dean and all the folks at Wells Fargo will have a happy and abundant Thanksgiving. I know it in fact, because it’s on me.