Despite what big banks would lead you to believe from their advertisements, the difference between the service most mega institutions dole out and that which the “average” person receives at a community bank is palpable.
Take this example: In late February, a Columbia, SC, attorney was in Simpsonville, SC, to meet with a client and needed to get a document notarized. The attorney walked into a Bank of America branch in Simpsonville and asked for assistance.
The Bank of America employee’s first words were: “Are you a customer?”
“No, ma’am,” replied the attorney.
“It’s the bank’s policy not to notarize anything unless it’s for a customer,” the employee said.
The attorney was taken aback. “Really? You only notarize for bank customers, because notary public is a public service that’s supposed to be available to anyone.”
The employee, with more than a twinge of disgust in her voice, said she’d get her manager.
A few moments later, a Bank of America manager came around the corner and blurted out: “She’s right, we don’t notarize except for customers.”
The attorney was growing increasingly frustrated. “All we need is to get a one-page document notarized.”
The manager responded rote-like: “It’s the bank policy not to notarize anything except for customers.”
At this point, the attorney opted not to point out the fact that Bank of America had received approximately $45 billion in federal aid recently, so theoretically every single American is a Bank of America customer, but instead went down the street to a First Citizens Bank office.
The difference between Bank of America and First Citizens was night and day, the attorney said.
“Before we could even sit down in the lobby, a customer service representative asked how she could help us,” the attorney said. “I explained that we need to have a document notarized.
“Come on over and let’s see what we can do for you,” she said.
The attorney mentioned briefly the trouble she’d had at the Bank of America branch up the road and the First Citizens representative said she felt it was her duty to do whatever she could to help the community.
“I couldn’t help but be struck by how friendly and helpful everybody at First Citizens was, particularly after what had happened at Bank of America,” the attorney said. “It really reminded me of what banks and banking used to be like years ago.”
Of course, a couple of short-sighted employees at a small Bank of America branch in Upstate South Carolina doesn’t necessarily mean the entire organization is rotten, but it may well be indicative of a need for the company to rethink the way it does business.
When your industry’s reputation is in the toilet, your stock price is less than $5 a share and you’re in the process of laying off tens of thousands of employees, you’d think your employees might understand the value of a little positive public relations.
But perhaps the above gaffe in small-town South Carolina, no matter how minute, is indicative of Bank of America’s problems as a whole, and helps to explain how the financial services giant and its counterparts got themselves into the dire straits they find themselves today.