When I was growing up, one of my favorite shows was “Fight Back With David Horowitz!” He was a crusader for the consumer, an aptly named David fighting the corporate Goliaths of the world.
Nowadays, with worldwide communication so rampant, there are millions of David Horowitzes hard at work, all the time. As a result, more than ever, companies need to know that their reputation is subject to constant scrutiny on sites such as RipOff Report and My3Cents. The smart organizations take this issue very seriously. Others…well, let me share a story about Citizens Bank.

Below is a letter that I helped write for my sister, who was trying, politely, to get the bank to do the right thing—which, yes, entailed going beyond the bare minimum of what they were required by law to do and actually behaving in an ethical, responsible manner. (See the excerpt of the letter that is in bold.)

For the record, it’s unclear how long Citizens Bank was improperly debiting money each month—it may well have been for upwards of 10 years or more. They have done nothing to shed light on that, and would have charged a $35 hourly fee to determine the answer. Imagine that: “We know that we ripped you off, and we’re going to charge you more to find out just how long we we did it.”

Not-So-Good Citizen: A Disappointing Response

Citizens Bank refused the request spelled out in the letter. While their decision was disappointing, it was, sadly, not surprising. I’m sure it was nothing personal. In fact, it was quite impersonal–$imply a bu$ine$$ deci$ion for those fine folks.

But that decision has ramifications. What happens if this blog post captures the attention of a few people who opt to steer their funds clear of Citizen$$$$ Bank?  And now….onto the letter:

December 8, 2006

Heather Campion
Group Executive
Vice President
Citizens Bank
28 State Street, 38th Floor
MS 3845
Boston MA 02109

Dear Ms. Campion,

My husband and I have been account holders with Citizens Bank for the past 12 years. In that time, we have been pleased to entrust our funds with you.

Through a mortgage, an equity line of credit, and other major transactions, you have been a reliable partner in our journey as we have raised our four children.

We thank you and your colleagues for providing such excellent service all these years. My husband has overseen our accounts all these years. A few weeks ago, I questioned him about a monthly fee that appeared on our statement. He replied that he had assumed that it was a proper charge.

However, when I inquired further with Salem, NH’s branch, I learned that the fee ($17.50) had been mistakenly assessed, based on our having Circle Gold Checking. The fee would have applied if we had another checking account service.

A few weeks later I was speaking to Debbie Elliott, branch manager in the Windham, NH branch about some other matters and she reiterated what the Salem branch told me. I found Ms. Elliott to be professional, thorough and earnest in our conversation.

She noticed the credit to our joint checking account, $52.50, covering the previous three months. She also accurately pointed out that under the terms of our account, spelled out in what some might call “small print” language, the bank is under no obligation to reimburse us for the previous period of time when this fee was improperly assessed, month after month, year after year.

While you have no legal obligation to render credit for that period, I would like to believe that we are entrusting our money with an institution that doesn’t seek merely to abide by the law to avoid prosecution, but holds itself to a higher standard of operating in a highly ethical manner to engender trust and respect.

Therefore, please consider this a formal request for full credit to the account for the entire length of time that the fee was incorrectly assessed.

Thank you for your kind consideration of these requests. It’s my hope that you preserve our faith in entrusting our funds with you, and that I have a story of high corporate ethics to share with others in my life.

Sincerely,

Judith Tremblay
Salem, NH

cc: Debbie Elliott, Citizens Bank branch manager, Windham, NH

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