The Potentially Apocryphal, Yet Well-Worn, Story Of Ken Lewis' Personal Dedication To Customer Service

According to a tale, possibly apocryphal, we picked up while visiting Charlotte, Bank of America’s home base, BoA CEO Ken Lewis was once standing behind some customers having trouble with a malfunctioning BoA ATM.

As the story goes, he then introduced himself and said, come with me, I’ll get you some money. He then drove them in his own car to another ATM, withdrew money from his account for the amount they wanted, and gave them his business card. Call the main line, he said, tell them how the machine was broken, and tell ‘em I sent you.

Hogwash? Perhaps, but our source tell us that BoA really pounds the idea of customer service into all of its employees, even ones who don’t work on the retail side.

We know that writing a complaint letter to Mr. Lewis has actually lead to very positive results for some of readers. We don’t know, then, how a company so damn dedicated to customer service, people seem to hate them so much. (see our reader poll, “If Banks Came To Life, 42% Of Our Readers Say Bank Of America Would Be A Deadbeat Dad“) — BEN POPKEN

(Image: Euromoney)

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  1. Chicago7 says:

    And we can’t even get the CTA executives to ride the damn buses in Chicago!

    I hope the story is true.

  2. Dan25 says:

    Like the CEO of BofA drives a car himself. I bet he has a corporate jet. It’s probably called the Bankroll 1.

  3. oldhat says:

    Fuck BofA.

    I bought something on my debit card on the net. I do that a lot.

    They locked my account due to suspicious activity.

    They called me to tell me. Good. But I had to call back since it’s stupid to tell your banking info to anyone who calls you.

    4 calls later, transfers to multiple departments, long hold times, I FINALLY get somebody!

    Now it gets bad: I’m away from a computer, she is playing mind games trying to get me to tell her the dollar amount and credit card processor name of several recent purchases.

    I tell her “Look, just clear ALL of them, unlock my account, and if I notice fraud, I will let you know! Pleases stop this madness!”

    She refuses, and continues like a fucking robot. After 20 minutes of this, I totally lose it and curse her out.

    She says “Fine, you account is unlocked. Is there something else I can help you with?”

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHA Yes, bitch, can you recommend a new bank for me?

    Fuck BofA.

  4. consumed says:

    Fuck people who use their debit cards for everyday purchases and bitch about the consequences. Seriously, you’re probably one of those people who calls and bitches every time you get an overdraft from all your stupid debit card Internet purchases.

  5. larry_y says:

    I guess people hate them for their fee structure. Otherwise, I’ve had good experience with their customer service, and the have branches and ATMs everywhere They’re fairly with it in terms of the Internet, except when you’re trying to find their fee schedule.

    As for the debit card thing: there’s a reason why I ask for my ATM card sans debit/check card.

  6. synergy says:

    Yeah and I don’t know where all those haters bank. I’ve been with BoA for nearly 4 years and have yet to have a problem with them. I’m pretty happy with the bank. I don’t bother them, they don’t bother me. *shrug*

  7. Televiper says:

    I think people just hate banks in general. They don’t feel as if they should be paying for the services… they don’t feel as if they should ever have to wait for customer service. They are after all the people who foreclose on mortgages and repossess cars.

  8. mac-phisto says:

    so, when do they start teaching customer service to those witches behind the counter that make me wish i was at the dmv.

  9. Seth_Went_to_the_Bank says:

    Banks are funny in that they are really uncreative. They don’t change based on customer need. They don’t listen to suggestions. But if one does something new, they ALL do it. Like when Commerce started having extended hours, weekend hours… Immediately a ton of other banks started doing this. When Commerce and Washington Mutual started offering really nice free checking accounts, they ALL started doing it. Other banks increasing retail locations? Now ALL banks are going crazy increasing their retail locations.

    You might think this sounds like competition, but if you look closely, you’ll notice the major banks NEVER actually do anything new themselves. You will never see, for example, Chase roll out something actually different. You’ll never see BoA do something that other banks have to follow. The big banks would counter and show you 500 different things they’ve done, but they are things that actually sound different but are actually the same thing with new marketing.

    I guess you might say, though, that the big banks are creative – it’s just that their creativity is always focused on how to sock it you instead of actually making your banking a better experience.

  10. specialed5000 says:

    I banked with BoA in Richmond, VA for several years after a horrible experience with BB&T. I never had any problems with them at all. They were great. I never had a credit card with them, just checking, and never had very high balances. I never was charged any fees of any kind at all for anything except the checks I ordered when I opened the account. After that I used direct deposit, and paid all of my bills online. Their online banking worked great for me. I never reordered checks, but when I did have to re-order just deposit slips they were free too.

  11. MeOhMy says:

    I think part of the dislike is that there’s maybe a dozen people in the US who actually signed up for BofA accounts. The other 400 million had their other bank(s) swallowed up by BofA.

    These 400 million have no reason to love BofA. They didn’t even choose BofA and only stay b/c it’s a pain in the butt to switch banks.

  12. haroldx says:

    I’ve been having problems with someone phishing via telephone (using an “overdrawn account” that isn’t as an excuse to pry security information from me), and can’t get anybody at BofA interested.

    The best they can do is suggest that I contact the D.A. (it’s interstate, should probably be the FBI in any case), and they don’t want to bother on their own.

  13. ChrisC1234 says:

    You know… banks can be a royal pain, but have you ever sat down to think about how much money you actually PAY the bank? I’ve got 2 checking accounts and 2 savings accounts, and it costs me a grand total of $12 / year for that (only because I’m too lazy to go to the bank to get them to take off the antiquated check card fee). So basically, FOR FREE, I have access to all of my money from anywhere in the world, fraud protection, interest which gets paid to me on my savings accounts, access to ATMs, etc. Now how much money is the bank acutally having to SPEND to provide these services for me?

    Basically, as I see it, banking is free unless I screw up. I just have to navigate their strange rules about what ATMs I can use, if I can see a teller (which my bank doesn’t ever charge for), etc., and as long as I don’t mess up, it’s all free. I’d rather deal with this than have to actually PAY money to the bank for all of the services they provide (then those pesky “fees” wouldn’t look so bad).

  14. ahwannabe says:

    If that story’s true then how dumb were those people to get into a car with a stranger. I call bullshit.

  15. jpcarnegie says:

    being an unwilling combatant at several megabanks, i’ve found that bofa is by far the worst. case in point: debit card theft. somebody broke into my car, snaked my wallet [i know, bad place to keep your wallet], and rung up a bunch of charges at places i don’t frequent, like tattoo parlors and best buy, in parts of LA that i’ve never been. i have three lengthy interviews with the fraud team and wait nearly a month before they decide to reissue my cards. keep in mind that no matter how high-risk a group that early-20′s males are, i had done nothing wrong. fast forward a couple years to when my wamu debit card is stolen from my house [which is a little safer than the car]. i have one quick phone chat confirming that my card was stolen, and within a week of the incident, my new card had already arrived. not that wamu and jesus are on the same level, but comparing wamu to bofa is like comparing apples to turds. hence all the hating on bofa.

  16. shoegazer says:

    @ChrisC1234: Actually, you pay the bank in lost interest and the opportunity cost to invest it elsewhere. The bank probably gets a return of 10-15% on your money whereas your interest is far below this (4% if you’re really lucky).

    If you had access to the investment vehicles that banks and rich people do you’d see how very raped we are in terms of the spread in investment income vs. interest on savings.

  17. shoegazer says:

    I also call bullshit. Companies are full of these tall tales of CEO kindness. Yes, they’re human too. It’s not unreasonable to help out a customer of the company you run. The kicker is the fact that he was standing behind them in line for an ATM. Like he’d ever need to queue for BOA’s cash.

  18. vrtclsmile says:

    Then how come he never stepped in and took care of the Matthew Shinnick fiasco? The guy was arrested right in the bank for cashing a check that the bank told him was valid first.

    http://clarkhoward.com/shownotes/2006/09/21/

    Scroll to “How the BOA blunder went down”

  19. j.a.s.o.n says:

    @shoegazer: “Actually, you pay the bank in lost interest and the opportunity cost to invest it elsewhere. The bank probably gets a return of 10-15% on your money whereas your interest is far below this (4% if you’re really lucky). “

    Oh, pray tell, where are these magical 10%–15% returns?

    “If you had access to the investment vehicles that banks and rich people do you’d see how very raped we are in terms of the spread in investment income vs. interest on savings.”

    Where do you think the funds for mortgages come from?

  20. Jmajor1111 says:

    I too use BoA for all my needs. I left them once to see what the fuss what about the Compass free checking and ATM refund crap and I was sorely disappointed. Granted compass bank had some funny ATM screens like one had “gimme money fast” instead of “fast cash” but the other aspects of the bank sucked.
    I went back to BoA for the online banking, free bill pay and the newly feature keep the change which is a BoA original I believe. I used to balance my checkbook by rounding up and now I just let the bank do it for me, $3.94 round to $4 and .04c goes to savings… it adds up real fast and offers that missing buffer if I ever needed it.
    Granted I haven’t bounced a check in my 6 years with them (minus 6 months in between somewhere) but bounced check fees start at $19 for the first 2 then $25 for a few more with $33 being the highest per charge (kind of like accident forgiveness :) ).
    Online banking shows pending charges immediately (a feature Compass did not offer) and the My Portfolio allows me to not only manage my money in a “quicken” like fashion but see other accounts at most other banks. My 401k, IRA, Stocks, Credit Cards and small membership at a Credit Union all appear with transaction history and without logging in!!!
    Oh, while the CEO story is also a little far fetched, I too had a problem at an ATM outside of the BoA branch and the rep at the customer service counter came out, told me to come in and worked with me at the counter for my ATM withdrawal and then helped the others waiting in line… That’s good service. So much so that now I have relocated to Colorado where there are only ATM locations (no deposits, no branches), BoA has offered to drop their ATM fee for non-BoA ATMs and sent me prepaid deposit envelopes to tide me over in the event I need overnight deposit service.
    Ok, my life story about my love for BoA is over :P just my $2.48 worth.

  21. mac-phisto says:

    @shoegazer: your estimated ROI is extremely high. when you consider where banks are investing your money, you’ll get a better understanding of how much banks are bolstered by fee income & the likes.

    credit cards are undeniably the most profitable sector of commercial banking, followed by business lending & then mortgages, t-bills & other gov’t bonds. a bank operates just like a 401(k) or stock portfolio – the key is diversification. sure, some money is earning a ROI of 15%, but most is held in securities & bonds that earn between 4-7%.

    if banks were capable of as high of a ROI as you claim, why are they not all blue chip stocks? can any other industry claim a solid 15% return year in & year out? no, & neither can banks. sure, BOA netted 21 billion in profit last year alone. but when you consider that they have 600+ billion in deposits, that’s about a 3.5% ROI (after dividends).

    but, if you think you can do better, assume the risk yourself, & try out something like lending club:

    http://www.lendingclub.com/

  22. “Hogwash? Perhaps, but our source tell us that BoA really pounds the idea of customer service into all of its employees, even ones who don’t work on the retail side.”

    I worked there. They don’t. And retail banking was the bastard step-child of where the REAL money was — private banking and corporate banking. Retail was a necessary evil and treated as such.

    We’re desperately fleeing our credit card with them — our provider got bought by BofA — and we’ve had nothing but bad experiences with their customer service, who have removed our internet access and can’t seem to fix it, booted me from the account, and, as noted before, compromised my identity.

    Even calls to folks I used to work with there, VP level and above, have been unable to rectify a simple situation. And those folks have expressed a similar screaming frustration when they’ve tried.

    I did really enjoy working there, though. It was a great workplace. Loved my colleagues. I’d just never bank there on purpose after having worked there. Very few of my colleagues did — they were all popping out during lunch hour to visit a different bank. (Often, incidentally, LaSalle.)

  23. royal72 says:

    my fiance, myself, and several of our friends and family members have all had bad times with b of a. i will never use them again period. i don’t care if ken lewis shows up at my house with $200 in cash to get me back as a customer. within six months that $200 will be fee-siphoned back and i will be just as unhappy with the “deadbeat dad” style of customer service.

  24. shoegazer says:

    @mac-phisto:

    sure, some money is earning a ROI of 15%, but most is held in securities & bonds that earn between 4-7%

    I’m not sure if you’re trying to misquote me or what, but… my original comment did say “probably 15%”, so I’ll let that one slide… and no, the majority is funneled to their investment arms which consistently do between 8-10% here in the UK, and if it weren’t for the US slump, would have been doing the same in the US as well.

    but, if you think you can do better, assume the risk yourself

    That’s EXACTLY my point. I can’t do better because I’m not a bank or hedge fund or PE firm. I never heard of this lending club before, but working in the finance industry has opened my eyes to a few things.

    @j.a.s.o.n: here, and here, for starters. That last one was a BOND fund. The stockmarket grew 46% in 2006.

    Next question.

  25. mac-phisto says:

    @shoegazer: lending club is basically a loan market where one can obtain loans directly from private investors, or invest in a portfolio of loans to borrowers (or both). there are a bunch of these sprouting all over the internet lately. you get the returns you’re looking for (lendingclub boasts returns between 7-12%), but you’re not insured against loss.

    personally, i’d rather have my money sit at 5% insured than 7% uninsured. 12% sounds great, but if you’re not assuming that a portion of that loan portfolio could go bad & reserving for that, you’re asking for trouble.

  26. mac-phisto says:

    @shoegazer: i guess the problem i see in your argument is the inferred idea that a bank is taking your deposited funds, investing it at a high rate (not to misquote this time – somewhere between 8-15%) & only giving you a few pennies back. when you look at the whole picture, a percentage of your money is invested at a negative return (depreciating assets), no return (cash on hand), low return (capital reserve, bonds, overnight market, etc.), & then high return. but on the other side are the expenses related to business operation, taxes (profit, property & payroll), & investment losses.

    anyhoo, there is still merit in what you say. it’s just that from my perspective, the numbers aren’t quite as high.

  27. huginn says:

    How do we hate it? Cause it is a bank.

    Banks have a ridge set of rules. You screw up, and you’re at fault and there is not if/ands/or exceptions.

    The Customer Service will do it’s best to help you. They are great CS folks, but it’s a bank. Big banks have rules designed to suck money away from you every chance they get.

    It’s like a pickpocket smiling at you as he pilfers your wallet