Etrade: Hire That Baby To Do Customer Service, He'd Do A Better Job

“Maybe I should call the E*Trade Baby. He might give me better customer service.” Matt’s mother died last year and he has been trying since last year to liquidate her E*Trade CD and put it in the family trust. Every other financial institution has been able to liquidate the assets with no problem, but it seems after blowing their wad on funny Superbowl ads, E*Trade has nothing left over for customer service. Here’s Matt’s story, and our advice on how can get his problem fixed:

Joe writes:

I lost my mother in April of 2007, and was appointed as co-trustee to her Estate. My brother was the other co-trustee. Problem was, he shipped out to Iraq the very same day she passed. While he was able to return for emergency family leave for several days, he had to return to his Army unit south of Baghdad after we held a memorial service. So, for all intents and purposes, I was the sole trustee since he couldn’t effectively do much to help me from a war zone. My father had passed the year previous, so I’d already gained some valuable experience and had become somewhat of a hobby-level forensic accountant.

My mom was not much of a communicator, and she held most of her financial doings close to the vest, even in her final weeks. After she passed, I had to go through boxes of documents to determine what holdings she had, tally them up, then develop an action plan to convert them all into one large Trust account that I was establishing with another firm. She had a little of everything: Stocks, Bonds, Mutual Funds, and two CDs with E-Trade.

Over the course of the 18 months, I’d managed to contact each financial institution where she had holdings, fill out and return the paperwork they requested, then liquidate those holdings and move the proceeds into this Trust account. Thank heavens I have a nicely equipped home office with a decent grade multifunction printer and a FedEx-Kinkos down the street.

So back to E-Trade. My mother had two measly CDs there, combined value of not even $10K. I’d actually sent letters to E-Trade the year before with all the various signed and notarized forms they asked for. But nothing ever happened, and I was never able to cash out the CDs to consolidate the money into the Trust account. Mind you, I worked with a half-dozen other financial institutions (she spread her money around) and had a much easier time with them. But not E-Trade.

Calling their main customer service number to ask the simple question “What do I do to get this money” would prove to be a pointless endeavor. I would get different responses from different people, and then told somebody would get back to me, which (of course) nobody ever did. I’d continued to write and call to no avail.

So I changed my approach a little, getting away from their joke of a call center in an attempt to get deeper into their back office to locate a person who actually gave a crap and, more importantly, could help me achieve my goal. Finally, I got a call back (cue the chorus of angels) with a name and number. I thought I was neared the end of this journey.

She explained what she thought the hang up was, that since my brother was Co-Trustee, they needed his signature on some of the account forms. He was nearing the end of his tour in Iraq, and when he came back to the states, I gave him the forms to sign and promptly sent them back into E-Trade. Surely now they had everything they needed and would let me cash out those CDs. Umm. Yeah. Didn’t happen. That was back in April, and I’ve not gotten as much as a penny out of them.

I have the name and number of this nice lady that seemed to want to help me, and since she actually returned my calls (more than once), I though she’d be happy to “un-stick” things for me. Problem is, she is suddenly unreachable. Roughly half the time I call her number and extension, I get her voicemail, leave a message and never get a return call. The other half of the time, I call the very same number and extension, and it rings and rings and never goes to her voicemail. So I’m thinking that she still works there, but who knows?

I’m hesitant to call the main customer support number because I’ve never gone anywhere but in circles with them. But the “inside” person that I was hoping would be the answer has become unreachable and unresponsive.

So Consumerist, do you guys have any “EECB” info on E-Trade? I need something. I guess I’ll bite the bullet soon and call their main number and re-invent the wheel with somebody who will tell me the same flim-flam as all the others. I’ve given them EVERY single document, form and signature they have asked for, and they simply won’t let me at this money.

Matt W.

We don’t have any EECB for E*Trade, but here’s how to go about finding it. They can be unresponsive. It took one reader eight EECBs to get his own money from them. You should also file a complaint with your bank’s regulator, which for E*Trade is the Office of Thrift Supervision. Here is their info on filing a complaint over the phone or by email: http://www.ots.treas.gov/?p=ConsumerComplaintsInquiries

Comments

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  1. snoop-blog says:

    I do love the one where he rents the clown.

  2. Megladon says:

    After my company switched from wells fargo to etrade to manage our esop we had nothing but problems. It took me 2 faxes and about 8 phone calls and 7 weeks of waiting to get my money after I sold some shares to buy an engagement ring for my gf. I was not the only one that had problems with them. My branch manager wanted to move all his shares to his personal broker, they charged him twice what they would have charged him to sell all the shares! In an effort for my company to save a few dollars they sold out to the lowest bidder and now we’re forced to put up with them until they manage to piss off an VP. I told etrade when i finaly got my money that my next trade with them would be to clean out my account. Thankfuly I was able to do that, and after only 4 weeks I got my money from my 2nd trade. Wells fargo was able to get me my money in 4 days, odd that etrade took 3 full weeks longer on my 2nd trade. I use Scottrade now, and have had no problems with their service.

  3. hellinmyeyes says:

    Not even going to read this story. I just can’t stand that goddamn baby ad series.

  4. TVarmy says:

    I don’t find the baby that funny. As a person who watches TV but skips over the commercials via Tivo, they could win my heart and mind by giving me a check for my collective share of their ad budget.

  5. mrgenius says:

    You said that you were appointed “co-trustee” of her estate. Terms like executor, administator, personal representative or curator are used to denote those in charge of disposing of the estate. Co-trustee would imply that she already had a living trust in place, and that in the trust she named you and your brother as sucessor co-trustees.

    The distinction is important only because the paperwork requirements are different.

    If the CD’s were actually held in a living trust in your mother’s name, then all you would have needed to provide them would be a copy of the trust, a death certificate and an affidavit of domicile to change the account from her as trustee to you and your brother as co-trustees.

    They may have required that both trustees sign since the money was leaving the account, though this varies from firm to firm.

    It sounds like once they told you what was required of you, you did the right thing and gave you what you asked for.

    I bet you that the EECB if not another escalated phone call to an actual manager will work VERY quickly because they under FINRA (used to be NASD) rules to respond to customer complaints in a timely manner. Not only that, they are required to keep these complaints on file for a long time. It’s not just like Comcast where they just do whatever the hell they want with impunity.

    In the email, use the magic work ARBITRATION and that your next call will be with the to the FINRA to try to resolve this matter. If you don’t get a call back by the close of the next business day by a manager, I’d be shocked. Be sure to take good notes!

  6. PirateFrankie says:

    @mrgenius: I’m going to second basically what he said. The hang-up is going to be what kind of account your mother had. If it’s a Living Trust then it should be straightforward.

    If the account was an individual account or a retirement account then it depends on whether she had TOD or beneficiary provisions.

    If nothing else, all it should take is a death cert, court docs showing that you are the executor/personal representative and the proper transfer paperwork from the other firm.

    And yes, the magic words you want are FINRA and WRITTEN COMPLAINT. Threaten that and you should see some action.

  7. PirateFrankie says:

    @PirateFrankie:
    ETrade transfer department numbers:
    1-866-902-1596
    1-800-833-8902

    Might get some mileage, especially if you use the magic words.

  8. Canino says:

    In addition to mrgenius’ advice, etrade is based in Virginia. Make some calls to the VA state banking and business regulation/licensing agencies. Places like etrade, UBS, Merrill, etc. have people who deal constantly with the feds, but when state people start snooping around they tend to figure out problems quick.

    The reason is that the state regulators have most of the same enforcement authority (like serving papers and pulling licenses), can move faster, are interested in keeping the state’s reputation for business friendliness, and are not as politically strapped.

    Believe me, etrade doesn’t want the “local” VA securities/banking/attorney general people getting involved. Just ask UBS how that’s working for them in Texas.

  9. Wormfather is Wormfather says:

    I dont even know how to blame the victim here.

  10. RhymePhile says:

    Condolences to Matt for the loss of his mother and all the hell he’s been through.

    But I just have to say that the suggestions here are some of the best I’ve seen on Consumerist in a while. Kudos to mrgenius and PirateFrankie.

  11. StoneKitten says:

    Actually as someone going thru a battle royale over family trusts, I don’t see why this guy is whining.

    There are plenty of legal cases where co trustees tried to screw over the other co trustees.

    Sure now that etrade has BOTH signatures they should cough up the money, but before then no dice for his nattering complaints.

  12. mwwilk says:

    Hi everybody, OP (the guy with the CDs at E-Trade) here. Thx for all the advice everybody… good stuff. My mom did have a living trust, but the CDs were not registered that way, just to her individually. Most of her other investments WERE actually in the name of her living trust, which is perhaps why I had an easier time handling them.

    I’ve sent those knuckleheads so much paper, I think Al Gore is going to give me a beat down. Original death certs, notorized this, certified that, on and on and on. It’s just like they don’t have want to deal with me.

    So, I’m going to take Mr. PirateFrankie’s advice and call those numbers and use the magic words.

    Stay tuned kids!

  13. mwwilk says:

    @Copperplum:
    I’m not whining about being a co-trustee or anything like that. I suppose I am whining because I’ve done EVERY SINGLE THING E-Trade has asked me to do, and yet I can’t get the money out of their system to roll it into the main trust account myself and brother oversee at another institution. E-Trade DOES have both signatures, so I am determined to natter on as long as it takes for them to cough up the dough.

    Sorry that your particular situation with a Trust was troublesome for different reasons.

  14. mwwilk says:

    @RhymePhile:
    Thanks… agree that these are (mostly) great comments.

  15. ironchef says:

    ETrade does have branch offices. It might be worth paying them a visit when you have to deal with documented transfers between estates.

    Etrade customer service is perfectly fine for regular, everyday transactions. I have no complaints.

    When you get into issues of trusts etc… the novelty of the situation requires in person help.

  16. mwwilk says:

    @PirateFrankie:
    I tried those numbers… they go to Ridge Clearing (www.ridgeclearing.com), which I’m guessing is the firm E-Trade has outsourced the processing of transfers too? I don’t know that they’d talk to me, since they are geared to deal brokers and dealers, not retail customers/investors.

    I have to wonder if that’s who E-trade routes me to anyway.

    Hmmmm….

    Can you give me some more pointer

  17. mwwilk says:

    @ironchef:
    There’s one office in downtown Chicago that I may resort to going to if I don’t soon get this resolved over the phone.

  18. PirateFrankie says:

    @mwwilk: Good luck and stay on them. Since the CD’s are in her name, and not in the name of the trust you’re going to need to show proof that you’re entitled to take possession of her assets.

    Usually this is accomplished by sending a copy of the court docs naming you as executor. Firms are anal about this since estates are one of the major liability areas.

    One of your problems might be that the CDs can’t be cashed without penalty so they need to go directly to the other firm. Have you checked with the going-to firm to see if they are able to hold CDs?

    Once you’ve gotten hold of someone who’s willing to help you – find out:
    1) Can you cash the CDs without penalty and have a check sent to the contra (other) firm?
    2) Can you have a check cut to the estate? If so, will the contra firm accept it into the trust?
    3) Can you send the CDs in-kind through the non-ACAT system to the firm?

    Hope this helps. Estates are tough to deal with, especially when it’s family. ETrade probably handles hundreds of these a week so they have no reason to be treating you so poorly.

    *This is not to be construed as investment or tax planning advice. I’m not selling any securities here*

  19. PirateFrankie says:

    @mwwilk: Damn, I though they were self-clearing. Ok – time for the scorched earth strategy. Call the person you last spoke with and threaten a written complaint to both Compliance and FINRA. When you finally get a call back, ask the questions I’ve given you so you can figure out how to get the assets out of the firm.

  20. Canino says:

    @PirateFrankie: One of your problems might be that the CDs can’t be cashed without penalty so they need to go directly to the other firm.

    Some CDs have clauses that stipulate no penalty if the reason for the transfer of ownership or cashout is because of the death of the account holder. My dad just went through this with his parents and there were no such penalties.

  21. ElizabethD says:

    The first time I saw that baby on TV I laughed.

    Now I just hit the mute button. Gaaaah.

  22. mwwilk says:

    @PirateFrankie:
    yaaaaaaaaaar. You’re my favorite Pirate, Franky!

  23. jen_h says:

    My only advice is to set an appointment to call them every single day. Every. Single. Day. (Or every two days, as they often give you the “wait for the back office to respond in 48 hours” line.) Ask the status. Give them detailed information about what you sent and when. Re-iterate this. You sent x, y, and z, please release the money. You can’t release the money? Please send me the forms right away, I will fax it back to you (then call to make sure they actually received it and it didn’t get “lost”!). Write down everything.

    Follow-up, make sure that the person you talked to the day before actually logged a record of your call (in my experience, there were many times where nothing was logged at all and folks I talked to had straight out lied to me about status). Get names and extensions of the people you talk to (especially if you actually get someone helpful – I have had 1st line customer support people call back to give status). Get the number of the magical “back office” person in charge of your escalated issue, call them back to check status. If they are inaccessible or unresponsive, call again and get someone else.

    This kind of time-expense sucks and shouldn’t be required, but E*Trade’s customer service is incredibly useless for anything complicated (i.e., anything that you can’t figure out yourself from the web site). They just don’t equip those folks with the information or access to information that would solve anything complicated and the contact between the “front office” and the “back office” (contractors for some transactions, I was told) is really backwards. I had a restricted stock transaction that took 7 months for my company to get straight and once *that* was resolved, 3 months for E*Trade to get straight. I set “Call Etrade” appointments in my calendar every two days…after three months of stress and countless hours listening to E*Trade’s horrid wait music (seriously, heard it in my DREAMS), they finally got the right information and sent me the correct forms/fax #/E*Trade contact — my money was free in less than 48 hours!

    I haven’t yet computed the time spent calling/stressing vs. the money it yielded…have a feeling it would be far too depressing.

  24. bwcbwc says:

    @PirateFrankie: Yeah, it looks like the problem may be that the eTrade CDs are in her name rather than the name of the trust. You may simply not be allowed by law to co-mingle funds of the trust with funds of the estate. More likely is that you’ve sent in paperwork to eTrade naming you as trustee, but did you ever send them paperwork from the court showing you are the executor? It would’ve been nice if one of their script droids could have told you what the real problem is. Maybe you’ll get lucky and it will turn out the missing Ms Helpful was just out on an extended vacation.

  25. spryte says:

    @Copperplum: The reason why you “don’t see why this guy is whining” is because he ISN’T.

    This is actually one of the best letters to Consumerist I’ve seen. It’s written well, it’s clear, it doesn’t go off on tangents or make exaggerated claims…and I got zero sense of whining from it. He’s legitimately and understandably upset and frustrated with the company. To be honest it sounds like you barely read the post, so therefore….STFU. Sorry, can’t think of a better way to say it.

    To the OP – best of luck to you in getting this sorted out. I can’t imagine what a headache this is, on top of having lost both parents in the space of a year and having a brother in a war zone. I think you are overdue for some good tidings!

  26. mwwilk says:

    @spryte:
    Thanks for the good vibes Spryte!

    It was an unsettling feeling having my brother ship off to Iraq days after my mother passed, and scarcely a year after my father passed. But my bro’ came back in one piece (at least his body did), and he’s gainfully employed. He was in Afghanistan in 2003, but that didn’t seem nearly as scary as the Iraq deployment. Although when he got back from Afghanistan, his wife served him divorce papers. But that’s a story best told over cold beers in a Chicago corner tavern.

    Back to the E-Trade front, I have some news to share. Nothing dramatic, but I had a voicemail message late Friday afternoonfrom an E-Trade rep (too late to call him back) offering to “un-stick” things for me. I thought perhaps somebody at E-trade got eyeballs on this post, but I don’t know how they would have figured out who I really am from the generic info it contains. Most likely explanation is that my continued voicemails directed to my previous contact finally got her to bump this up the food chain. I left a fresh voicemail on Thursday (after getting somewhat fired up after writing this post)… and as politely as I could, expressed my frustration at the lack of movement and lack of assistance provided.

    I could be wrong, but the message I got back on Friday, the guy sounded like he was in a position to get me some results.

    As soon as I have something more to share with the class, I will!!!

  27. mwwilk says:

    Got hold of the E-Trade rep that actually called me, and he said he saw my case pop up in one of their internal systems. He was very helpful and said he can “un-stick” things for me. I had to fax him one document that they apparently misplaced (scary), but he called me back right after he got the fax and said he’s working it through the system.

    I’ll post any updates here.

  28. mwwilk says:

    Not that anybody is tracking this… but my new “inside man” at E-Trade just called to happily inform me that they’ve cut checks from the CDs and I’ll have them next week.

    Such a struggle to get to this point, but a happy ending nonetheless.

    Adios E-Trade (but thanks to my inside guy for unsticking this for me)!!!!

  29. mwwilk says:

    CLOSURE AT LAST!

    Got the check from the fine folks at E-Trade. Finally. Later losers. Except for the last guy who actually helped me, the experience was utterly negative.

  30. ranchgal says:

    There’s a reason the Consumerist is my “new” favorite website over the past couple years. I tell everyone about it. I quote it and give the web address when I’m asked to show my ID when using my credit card. Mostly, it’s circumstances like the one covered here that truly make me an addict! Thank you, thank you, for the situation presented, the information and succinct comments offered, the updates by the OP and the fruitful conclusion to the story. My jaw is resting on the floor. Could it be the “regular guy” has a voice (here) and actual recourse, complete with strategy and then… an outcome… with RESULTS?! Wow.