Things aren’t always what they seem, especially in the world of banking. In water cooler or cocktail hour conversation, the word “bank” is likely to inspire different reactions. Some may champion Occupy Wall Street’s stand against financial greed and corruption, while others collectively blame banks for the current housing crisis. Still others decry the lack of personalization at banks, exemplified when your phone call is answered thousands of miles away in the Pacific.
It’s not fair to generalize: Every bank isn’t like every other bank, and some smaller banks still deliver individual attention to both businesses and individuals. In this part of Southern California, American Security Bank and Orange County Business Bank are good examples, while many credit unions retain excellent reputations.
Family financial affair
Because my father was in the Air Force, my family banked with USAA, and so did I. In fact, I always thought of USAA as a more sacred place and historically, it’s an institution that treated me very well. Our relationship was sorely tested in 1999 when I moved to Los Angeles and my car was subsequently hit six times in 18 months. My insurance carrier, USAA, came through for me each time.
Recently, I called USAA about a loan on a very special car. The initial conversation yielded that yes, I not only qualified—no worries—but I qualified for much more. The rate was low at 3.49 percent and the payments were manageable—in fact I could finance more than I’d requested.
The letter read: “Congratulations! Your application has been approved. Below are details…”
Great! That is, until I opened the actual loan document online and saw a percentage rate of 7.49 that was more than double the one promised in my first loan letter. The reason? Even though I’d initially divulged the year and make of my car, USAA now valued it lower than did the private party from whom I’m buying this vehicle.
Seems I’d missed the “fine print” of the first letter, which USAA representatives hadn’t shared with me verbally. It reads: “Your final approval is subject to the loan amount not exceeding 100% of USAA’s determination of the collateral value.”
As I expressed my disappointment in several phone calls, I received apologies, but USAA would not agree to its originally promised rate. In truth, this created some real problems for me.
I feel betrayed by the company I’ve trusted for so many years, but realize I need to get a grip here. What used to be isn’t what is, especially in the current brutal economic environment, and if a bank loses you as a customer, they’ll gain another somewhere else: Yes, I am disposable.
As baby boomers seeking to make wise financial decisions, perhaps we need to ask smarter questions when seeking information, and not rely on the person on the phone to have our best interests in mind. I’m banking on that knowledge when I make my next call. And I am so very disappointed.
(Photo courtesy: © Stiven | Dreamstime.com)