'I Stopped Denying People': Ex-Bank Of America CSR Tells All

Here’s a testimonial from a former Bank of America customer assistance employee. She was fired on Monday for offering repayment plans to too many customers, even those who “deserved” the 29.99% APR for making late payments. After hearing her story, you might conclude that this job was never a good fit for her skills. The next time you run up against a dead-sounding CSR, though, remember that people like Jackie don’t make for profitable collections department employees, which is why they don’t stick around for long.

Below is a transcript in case you can’t see the video:

My name is Jackie Ramos, and I would like to tell everyone a story. I am a former employee at Bank of America in Georgia. I worked in the customer assistance department from May 1st to November 23rd, 2009. And by the way, “customer assistance” is a euphemism for “the collections department.”

Every day I came to work and did just as I was supposed to: I collected. In fact, I was one of the top performers of my department, even outdoing those who were more tenured than I was. But something was wrong. There was something inherently evil about my job.

I’m not sure if Bank of America knows this, but we are in a recession, and most of us, we are hurting.

Day in and day out, I was told to charge people who had already fallen behind in their credit card bills an additional $15 just to make a payment with me. As I was told by my manager, it was a convenience fee. I was told to deny refunding as many late and over the limit fees as I could. There was even one month I was given a verbal warning about the amount of fees that I refunded, because as I was told so many times, Bank of America is a corporation, and they are for profit.

There is something we have in my department called a Fix Pay. Essentially it is a program that turns your balance into an installment loan. It stops all fees on the account, and it also closes your account. In order to get a Fix Pay, though, you have to qualify by answering a rather irrelevant set of questions, like how much you spend on groceries and how much your cellphone bill is. Day in day out I had to deny countless people who needed the program but didn’t qualify. Too often I would have to give them the spiel about, “I can’t accept you [into the program] because your disposable income is too negative,” and then they would just sit there on the phone and say, “Well, if I could afford to pay my bill, why would I need a program?”

I will never forget one card holder. A 24-year-old woman with a child, just found out she had cancer, she lost her mom and her husband all in the same week. Of course she had a very limited income. She had to quit her job. But she still respected Bank of America enough to try to pay off her $6,000 debt. But she just needed help. She sobbed on the phone telling me she couldn’t afford the 30 percent interest that we had her–sorry, 29.99 percent interest–that we had her account on. She couldn’t afford the $39 late fee, the $39 over the limit fee. She told me that we were her first credit card when she turned 18, we were her only credit card, and that she was a loyal customer, and given the time to be on this earth a little while longer she would have always remained a loyal customer. I couldn’t put her on the program, she didn’t have enough income.

According to BOA she doesn’t have enough income to be put on the program, but she can however keep paying the high interest rate on the account, and fees, because at the end of the day it is her account, she did rack up the debt, and she was late, so she did deserve that 29.99 percent interest rate that she had, and it wasn’t up to Bank of America to help her figure out how to get this debt paid off. It was up to her.

There’s a joke in my department: upstairs they sell you the credit, downstairs we collect on it. Too often I heard stories about how senior citizens and college students were specifically targeted, so Bank of America could continue to make money off of them. I had one elderly lady who was legally blind. Every month she sent them the incorrect amount because she couldn’t see. Her 3 percent APR after 3 times being late went to 29.99 percent. She actually told me that one of the associates told her she needs to look at her statements more clearly.

After all, who better to target than the young and the old. Don’t deny for a second that there are systematic practices put in place to keep America in debt.

I’m not doing this video because I’m bitter. I’m not doing this video because I hate [my old boss]. I still have a lot of respect for him. Out of all the interviews I had in my life, I will never forget the one I had with him. He told me the most interesting interview question he’s ever been asked is, “What keeps you up at night?”

Before I got that job, that question didn’t really make sense to me. Who asks that in an interview, I thought? But now that I’ve been in that department for a while, it makes sense, it does seem normal. All the people that I’ve had to deny [repayment] programs to–they kept me up at night. All the people that I’ve pissed off with a $15 “convenience fee”–they kept me up at night. All the people who were dying, lost a child, husband, mom, dad, all the people who lost their jobs and sat on the phone sobbing to me that if we just gave them a little bit of help, they could make ends meet–they kept me up at night. All the angry cardholders who told me the reason why Bank of America is the corporation that it is, is off the hard work of them and their tax dollars–they kept me up at night.

So… I stopped denying people. I helped people get on programs that they didn’t necessarily qualify for, but who definitely needed the help. Every day I was told three things:

  • do the right thing for the customer;
  • think of yourself as a customer;
  • and do the right thing for the company.

I figured if I placed more cardholders on programs at affordable rates, then maybe they could afford their light bill, or even enjoy a trip with their child to the movies. If the account was affordable for the card holder, it wouldn’t charge off. I mean, that seems as simple as 1 and 1 being 2. But my company didn’t think so.

At the end of the day I would love to have a company that thought of me as more than just a dollar bill. I would love to have a company just be more humanitarian, and think of me as a person instead of a profit.

But the three things I was told to think about every day in my interactions with cardholders didn’t matter. In fact, only one of them did. “Do what is right for the company.” Again, Bank of America is for profit. They would rather charge 30 percent interest anyway, than give hard working Americans like me and you a lower interest rate and work with us instead of against us.

So, [my boss] fired me. He told me I can’t put people on programs who don’t deserve it. During our meeting, he asked me if what I did was right. I looked him dead in the eye and I said, “Absolutely.” I know he was expecting me to maybe say no or to apologize, but there’s no apology. There’s no way I could look myself in the mirror every day and justify not helping someone when I had the power to do it.

Given the opportunity to do it again, I wouldn’t change a thing. He actually looked at me, he told me that he understood why I did what I did, he said I had a really big heart. But at the end of the day, it was policy, and he had to let me go. He told me my manager would escort me to the security desk and that all my stuff would be there.

And he was right. All my stuff was there in two boxes, all my awards, all the pictures of my son, even a plate of food that I had on my desk. [My manager] packed all my belongings, including the plate of food, and threw it in the box. The food got all over my shoes and awards, even the picture of my son. After all, Bank of America? They’re just a corporation. They’re not concerned with their employees’ well-being or clearly even their cardholders.

There’s a saying in my department that you are as good as your last payment. No truer words could have been spoken.

I’m not necessarily sad about losing my job. I felt like I took a stand and I did what was morally correct. I have a wonderful support system, I have a college degree, and I consider myself personable, so I’m sure I’ll land back on my feet. In fact, as my manager was escorting me outside she told me that if I needed a reference, she would highly recommend me to everyone. I received nothing but accolades while I was at Bank of America. Even while I was getting fired my boss told me that out of anyone she’s ever met I’ve had the highest morals and biggest heart she’s ever seen, and that means more to me than my job.

At the end of the day, I don’t have anything keeping me up at night. I did the right thing in God’s eyes and I’m sure that He’ll bless me. But [boss], can you say the same?

Update: A reader asked what will happen now to those customers who Jackie approved for a repayment plan even though they didn’t qualify. Here’s her response:

The last cardholder that I approved for the program will be rejected. My boss has no way of knowing everyone I’ve helped because BoA has an outdated recording system. Most phone calls between reps and cardholders aren’t recorded. The only reason this call was recorded is because once a month my manager has to listen to our calls so the system randomly recorded this conversation.

“Why Bank Of America Fired Me” [YouTube]

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