Would you pay for better service?


It has been a weird summer for me and my checking accounts.  Both my primary and secondary accounts were breached over the past few weeks.   Nothing serious happened.  I didn’t lose any money, but each bank handled the ATM card replacement very differently.

I have a free checking account with Ally, and a regular account with Citibank where there is a minimum balance to avoid service charges.

Citibank Experience (primary account):

I received a call on a Friday evening, around 5:30 or 6pm.

  • Agent: Hi, I am calling from Citibank. Unfortunately your credit card number has been breached.  We will need to get you a new ATM card and immediately deactivate your current one.
  • Me: Do you know how it happened?
  • Agent: No, I do not know the circumstances of the breach.  You should let us know if you see any strange charges.  Do I have your OK to cancel your card and send you a new one.  We’ll send out the replacement card immediately.
  • Me:  When should it arrive, I am going on a trip on the following Tuesday and I will be gone for a week.
  • Agent: I’ll process this request immediately. I think we are before the deadline to get this delivered on Monday.  Let me confirm with my colleagues that this is the case. …
  • Agent:  I have confirmed this will be sent via priority mail for a Monday AM delivery.
  • Me: What happens if it doesn’t arrive on time.
  • Agent: You can always go into a branch and get a temporary card to use for a trip.  It won’t have a Visa logo, but you can use it to get cash.
  • Me: Great thanks for your help.

** The card delivery was attempted on Monday, but that’s another story.  I ended up getting the card on Tuesday after the delivery issues.

Ally Experience (secondary account):

I got a call on a Saturday afternoon from Ally’s fraud service.

  • Agent: Hi, I am calling on behalf of Ally on a potential fraud issue.  We have some suspected charges.
  • Me: OK, what are the details?
  • Agent: Charge A in PEnsylvania, Charge B in Deleware, Charge C in California.
  • Me: Charges A and B are not mine, C is valid.
  • Agent: Do you have the card in your possession?
  • Me: Yes, it has never been out of my possession.
  • Agent: We can put a block on your card, but you will need to call Ally in order to get a new card issued.
  • Me: OK
  • Me: Hi, I am calling because it looks like my ATM card number has been stolen.  I have also noticed suspicious activity on my account.
  • Agent: We can issue a provisional credit for the suscpicious activity while we will conduct an investigation.
  • Me: I thought my card had been blocked, so I am puzzled this new charge appeared.
  • Agent: Yes, your card has been blocked.  No more charges will go through.
  • Me: Can I get a replacement card?
  • Agent: Yes.  It will take 7-10 business days in order to receive the card.  The PIN will arrive a few days after that.
  • Me: Is there a way to get the card sooner, that seems like a really long time.
  • Agent: Yes, the rush fee is $15, and the card will be delivered in 2-3 business days.
  • Me: Even though the reason to replace the card is fraud?
  • Agent: Yes, unfortunately the fee to rush is $15.  Do you want to do the rush?
  • Me: No thanks.  Can you process the replacement request?
  • Agent: You should receive your card in 7-10 days.  Thank you for banking with Ally.

A few days later I received a letter from Ally to dispute the charges with the typical dispute reasons. IT asked me to attach an affidavit on why the charges were invalid etc.

Customer Service Comparison:

Citibank: The entire process happened in one phone call and a replacement card was received one business day after the initial contact (even though things started on a weekend).

  • Incoming Phone Calls: 1
  • Outgoing Phone Calls: 0
  • Total Days: 4 (including the weekend, and delivery delay)

Ally: After the issue was reported, I needed to make a phone call in order to get a new card.  At this point, I am not sure if my claim has been approved, although the money has been credited to my account.

  • Incoming Phone Calls: 1
  • Outgoing Phone Calls: 1
  • Total Days: 2 weeks and counting

I have banked with Ally for about a year, and it has been a good experience.  The phone lines are open 24/7 and the agents are friendly.  I love the live chat.  The online banking UI is pretty good.  I have been testing them out to see if I’d want to ditch my mainstream bank for an online only bank.  After this experience, I am not sure I am ready to ditch the branch.  If Ally was my only account, I’d have no way to access my accounts or money while waiting the 7 or 3 business days for a new card to arrive.  I also needed to be proactive to get the replacement.  Since the bank had outsourced the fraud monitoring, the phone agents didn’t have access to the systems to generate new ATM cards.  I needed to make an additional call to get a new card issued.  This is a lot of work for something that wasn’t my fault.

With my Citi account the entire process was completed within one phone call.  I also had the opportunity to go to the branch for cash or a temporary card.

A couple of years ago, my Washington Mutual account was impacted by a similar breach where ATM card numbers were stolen.  Wamu was much less proactive than Citibank.  I received a letter in the mail to the affect of: your card number was possibly stolen, we are sending you a new card in the next couple of days.  Please activate it immediately, your existing card will be cancelled on XXX (a few days after the new card was due to arrive).

Honestly, if I hadn’t had the Ally experience, I wouldn’t have bothered to write about this experience.  But Citi is offers superior service and proactive customer support here.  Washington Mutual did not handle a similar situation with the same sense or urgency.

For the average consumer, all banks are the same.  You only differentiate the banks on convenience, price, and services. When everyone looks pretty equivalent on paper, how do you choose?

You tell me, how much is better service worth for you?  Are you willing to pay a premium for premium service?  Do you appreciate premium service when you get it?

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