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Podcast 95: Behind the Scenes at a Bank

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Today’s guest on the Consumerism Commentary Podcast is Tom Dziubek, frequent host of this podcast and a recent customer service representative at one of the U.S.’s ten largest savings banks. Tom, Flexo and Bryan discuss what it was like behind the scenes, dealing with customers and working in a call center.

Consumerism Commentary Podcast #95
Behind the Scenes at a Bank, Tom Dziubek: S04E17 / 118

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Table of contents

[00:00] Introduction from Bryan J Busch
[00:37] Interview with Tom Dziubek
[01:00] Tom’s position with the bank
[02:03] Recommending new products to customers
[03:31] What banking information is visible?
[03:53] How does the bank know they’re hiring trustworthy people?
[04:33] Tom’s changing opinion of banks
[05:35] Incentives and goals for recommending products
[06:32] Being trained as a Customer Service Representative
[08:43] Answering customer questions and complaints about overdrafts
[09:04] When do fees get refunded?
[11:08] Checking your Available Balance is a mistake
[13:57] Working in a call center is like “manufactured joy”
[14:48] Forwarding trickier calls to a second tier
[16:44] The best approach for asking to get a fee refunded
[18:14] Bank errors and the customers’ responsibility
[19:14] Different forms of overdraft protection
[20:55] Providing you account information
[22:05] Assessing a levy on an account
[23:36] Even bad customers are beneficial to banks
[25:31] End

We always welcome feedback from listeners. If you have any comments for this episode or for any other, or if you have suggestions for future episodes, please leave us comments here or email us at podcast at this domain name.

Theme music by Mindcube.

Full transcript

Bryan J Busch: This is the Consumerism Commentary Podcast for Sunday, February 13. Today we go behind the scenes in customer service at one of the nation’s ten largest savings banks.

[music]

Bryan: Welcome to the Consumerism and Commentary Podcast. I’m Bryan J Busch. Today, Flexo and I are joined by Tom Dziubek. Who, aside from hosting the Consumerism Commentary Podcast, recently stopped working behind the scenes at one of the U.S.’s ten largest savings banks. Tom, welcome back to the show.

Tom Dziubek: Good to be here, guys. And boy, it’s weird being on the other side of the microphone.

Bryan: Yeah. And Flexo, thanks for being here today, as well.

Flexo: You bet.

Bryan: So Tom, give us a little bit of background. What was your position with the bank?

Tom: I started off work at the bank. I got a job there as a customer service rep. I’m kind of in-between jobs right now. I had got laid off from Dow Jones a couple years ago and I’m pursuing another job opportunity right now. So, I needed something to go and tide me over. So, the bank job filled in just nicely.

I had a background in customer service. I also had a background in IT. So, this was a little bit of a change for me. But, working with banks kind of is a good segue into what I’m currently doing in my new job. So, it was a different change of pace.

But, on the phones I get to deal with a lot of people with anybody who had questions about their bank account, anybody questioning overdraft fees, anybody wanting to check on recent balances, recent transactions in their bank account. So, it was an excellent position for me to have for a few months. I fully enjoyed it, but at the same time I’m kind of glad to put it in my past. [laughter]

Bryan: So, you knew going in that you were just going to be there temporarily?

Tom: Correct, correct.

Flexo: So, how deep did your responsibilities go? Were you recommending products for customers to add on to their portfolio there?

Tom: Well, we did start to go that way in the very end when I was just getting ready to leave, but it wasn’t like a hard sell kind of thing. We were mostly there just to answer people’s questions, help them out with their accounts, get copies of their old checks or old statements sent back to them, basic things like that.

But we started to also work in the end, we started working different things that we could offer to customers. But, it was kind of like hey, I see that you have a checking account. If you want to, we can go ahead and set you up with a savings account to kind of back this up. You can use it to mirror your checking account and use it to keep extra money in. If you go ahead and overdraft your checking account, you can have the system automatically dip into your savings account and use that for overdraft protection.

You know, little things like that to ask the customers to see if they want it. So, it wasn’t really hard sells, but it was just evaluating what the people, what their situations were, and then seeing if there’s a product that we could have to help them out.

Flexo: AWhat was their response to that? Did customers usually tend to take your suggestions or did they prefer not to make any changes?

Tom: It was kind of hit and miss. Some customers did go ahead and take advantage of the opportunities, but other ones really just said, “Look, I’m not really interested in it at this time.” It kind of depends on the situation. Every customer is different. So, it really depends on their own individual scenario.

Flexo: And, how deep of someone’s account did you have access to? Were you able to go in and see all of their personal information and their past transactions?

Tom: Correct, correct, any kind of accounts that they had open with the bank. I could kind of get a little bit into their loans and any kind of lines of credit that they would have had, stuff that you would need to access in order to help out a customer.

Flexo: So, that’s pretty deep personal financial information. So, did the bank actually put you through any kind of background check before they offered you the position?

Tom: Oh, absolutely. We had to go and go through an FBI check. We had to go get fingerprinted and they would go and check our fingerprints against a national database to see if I’m a criminal. As far as I know, I haven’t committed any crimes in any states that they know of. [laughter]

No, of course, I’m absolutely clean. I had no issue getting a job there because of that. But it makes absolute sense. If you’re going to be dealing with people’s bank accounts and their money, then you want to make sure you’re not going to have somebody with a criminal history messing with your account.

Bryan: Now, I haven’t met a single person who has never had a problem with their checking account regardless of how long they’ve had it or what bank they were with. Did your experiences with banks in the past change your point of view when you started working with one?

Tom: The funny thing is that I never really had issues with banks myself. I’m glad to say I married, my wife does most of the accounting in the family. And, even before that when I was out on my own, I had a checking account, I used it, but I never really had many issues with it. I guess I was excellent with my money, so I never really had any issues with overdrafts. I never got myself into that position.

But, there were a lot of things, though, I guess because I never got myself into those positions, I never really experienced it either. So, it was kind of odd to see how other people react when they do overdraft their account and different, I don’t want to say games they play, but different little things that they try to do to try to maximize their position with the bank, to see if they can get more money out of the bank to do different things they want to do.

Flexo: For the customers who did select a product that you recommended while they were on the phone with you, were you paid incentives or commissions for recommending them?

Tom: No, not really. I mean, we did go ahead and we tried to meet team goals. I think there were some cases where that– and again this was all being rolled out just as I was leaving the company. It was actually kind of one of those things they kind of released if from my shoulders before I left. In other words, the said, “You don’t have to worry about doing this,” which was a blessing to me because I’m not exactly a seller.

But, from what I did see there, though, as I was wrapping up, is that they did team incentives. They also did try to reward teams in different ways so that if we happened to be the best selling team on the floor, then our group would get, oh, I forget the amount of cash, it might have been like $500. Then we’d have to find a way to split it up through the team. So, there was some incentive, but it wasn’t a huge incentive.

Flexo: Did the training that the bank provided when you started the job prepare you for what the customers would be coming to you with?

Tom: Yes. We went through different kind of questions that we were going to get on the phone. One of the biggest things, aside from actually accessing the account and making sure you’re able to answer people’s questions, is understanding overdraft fees and understanding how items post to people’s accounts which I think can be kind of confusing to many people.

They don’t know why certain items may have shown up or how come they ove drafted because of this, or if their mortgage check goes through, is that considered before lesser checks when they get posted to your account or are they considered higher?

I can only really speak from this one bank’s perspective, but I’m guessing that’s going to be kind of similar for all other banks, too.

So, at least for this one bank here, when they post items to your account every night, they’ll go ahead and take any kind of credits to your account, any kind of payroll checks, any kinds of checks that you cash, any kind of deposits, and they’ll give you that money first when the nightly processing runs.

Then, after that, they’ll go and deduct the highest debit to the lowest debit. So, this way your mortgage payments, your rent payments will all get paid off first, like utility bills, your big ticket items essentially. This way when you go and check your items that posted to your statement, many times you’ll see them going from highest to lowest, in that order.

Now, this actually works out for both parties, if you’ll think of it this way. It does work for people because they know that if they have $800 in their account and they know that they had $1,000 in transactions, they know that they’re not going to have their small iTunes and McDonald’s transactions bankrupting the account at the very end and therefore, a mortgage check may not get paid. They know that the highest one is going first and therefore it’s going to be the little ones at the very end that could overdraw your account.

Likewise, those are all overdraft fees for the bank. So, if you have big ticket items coming out first, you run the risk of overdrafting your account multiple times at the very end with those very small transactions. So, therefore, you could have four or five different instances of overdrafts when all those other items post to your account.

Bryan: Would you say that calls about overdrafts were the most common call that you feielded, or was there a more popular issue?

Tom: No, I think that was probably the most common call. It’s surprising that people always seem to be shocked they had overdraft fees. In some cases I can understand where they are coming from. In other cases it’s just like look, you’ve got to be better off with your money.

Bryan: Which were the hardest calls for you to handle either procedurally or emotionally?

Tom: I guess you’d have to go with emotionally for me. Procedurally wasn’t really a big deal. Procedure is one of those things, you know? We had a vast database of knowledge. It just takes a few minutes to look it up. But, I guess emotionally. I’m a nice guy. I’m a pretty easy going guy. And so, when people try to hit me up for money, I tend to say yes.

But, with a system in place for refunding overdraft fees, we’re very strict about it. You had to look at somebody’s account and see whether or not they were habitual offenders or whether or not they had gotten overdraft fees refunded to them recently. And, usually the kind of rule of thumb we play it by would be roughly within a year. If you’ve had any fees refunded to you in the last year, then we’re not going to go ahead and refund them again.

But, in some cases, you could see that sometimes people may have had just some issues recently and you look at their past that they’ve had an account with your for ten years and you could see like the first eight years they never overdrafted their account, then sometimes you might go ahead and allow a little more leeway there.

Bryan: And, you were able to make those decisions?

Tom: I would sometimes, it depends. If there was a person on the phone, there were some decisions I could make, but if there were decisions that where a person did have money refunded to them recently, it would have to be bumped up to a supervisor.

But, the one good thing, though, is that after a while you love getting people on the phone who are very upset ornot really mad but just kind of very, you know…

Bryan: Maybe heartbroken?

Tom: Yeah. You hear about what’s going on and then you go back and you look at their account and see if anything was refunded to them. You go oh, wow, nothing was refunded to them and you can just go and make their day. “Out of the goodness of my heart, the bank has decided we can go ahead and refund your fees for you.” So, that was always a pleasant thing. But, those were kind of few and far between.

Bryan: I think we can safely conclude as a group, then, because I had a similar job to the one you’re describing ten years ago at a different bank. And, we had the same guideline, look in the last 12 months to see if they’ve had any overdraft fees reversed. And if not, then it’s up to you.

Tom: One thing that really gets people into trouble, too, is the whole concept of available balance. Let me just say first and foremost, the best way for people to balance their checkbooks is to use that old register. Go the paper method. Make sure you document every transaction you make. Make sure you know if you have checks outstanding. Make sure you know whether or not checks have been cashed yet. This way you know exactly what you have available to you and what you’ve already spent.

I’ve seen so many times where people get into trouble because they go online, they check their available balance or they call into our automated system and check their available balance. But, it’s like hitting a moving target.

I would always tell those people on the phone, there’s so many things that haven’t been, that really aren’t taken into account when you look at your available balance. For instance, you could have an available balance of $100, but then again, you may have written a check for $200 that you forgot to account for.

And, you go and make a couple transactions and that night when you make all those transactions, lo and behold your check clears. So, next thing you know you’ve over drafted not only your check, but the other items that you purchased that day.

Another reason why available balance doesn’t work is, now this is in New Jersey,I should say along the eastern seaboard for the most part, I don’t how this is elsewhere in the country, but from my understanding, is that gas companies have found a way to get around the credit card system, I guess at least to save money with transactions. Instead of going and authorizing a transaction immediately, to go and say look, you’re swiping the card, here’s a purchase of $30 in gas, and therefore, it goes through the system and comes back as authorized, they will authorize $1 to go through the system.

Then at the end of the night or in a couple days, once they have enough transactions, they’ll batch process them to put them all through at the same time. So, this way apparently it saves them money because it looks like almost every gas company does this.

But, from the perspective of your available balance, what happens is you look at this, you could have $50 in your account and now you have $49 in your account when you check your available balance, but that’s only because only because the gas company took out $1. They didn’t finalize the transaction yet, but tha gas purchase could have been $30. You should be accounting for $20 in your account and not for $49 because you are including that full purchase. Again it’s like hitting a moving target. I’ve seen people get into this a lot.

Bryan: Of course a person doesn’t have to use the paper check register necessarily as there are plenty of mobile apps that they could be carrying around with them. It just comes down to self-discipline really.

Tom: Exactly. It’s not just self discipline; it’s just being able to keeping good record of what you are spending.

Flexo: What was it like working with your team?Flexo: So basically you don’t even have any time between calls, it’s one call to another?

Tom: Exactly.

Bryan: What sort of calls would come in that you would have to forward on to a second tier?

Tom: Most things we can handle right of the bat. The questions about the account, even some online questions, some basic resetting of passwords, basic “I locked my account out,” things like that. But other itmes we would have to go up and pass off. We have a special online team that just handles web-related calls that are related to the bank.

Other issues we’ll be dealing with are fraud, sometimes people would have levies against their account and we have to forward those along to other departments. Some people are just as basically in trouble because they’ve overdrafted so much money from their account, they got closed and they to deal with security at the bank.

Those kinds of issues we would have to pass on to other groups. We also had a group that just handled strictly administration of items which is not necessarily like you would think like computer administration, but basic things like faxing things out to customers or handling incoming faxes and doing their requests. A lot of times we would have to say, “Can you send in a check register for this person?” or do something else and somebody might have to go and release a hold on the debit card.

Like for instance, if they had gone and had a transaction at Best Buy and they were double-charged, and Best Buy tried to reverse the credit that didn’t go through, so we would go ahead and get something from BestBuy and say, “It’s OK to go and release this person’s hold on their money,” and so we’d have a group that would go ahead and do that first.

Bryan: Did you have any customers call in and immediately ask for a supervisor and just try to bypass you?

Tom: Yes. You get that occasionally. But sometimes in a quest for information, you can sometimes tend to calm them down and find out what they’re looking for and even sometimes solve the problem yourself.

Flexo: A lot of the calls that you receive from customers were customers looking to have a fee refunded. Is there a certain approach that you can suggest to people, so that they can be more successful, if they do need to call a bank and have a fee refunded?

Tom: They always say you attract more flies with honey than with vinegar. Of course I’ve also heard of the thing is that, “Who in the hell wants more flies?”

[laughter]

Tom: I think I might have heard that one from Mr. Busch. [laughs] That always works in these cases here. But what also helps you in case, too, is that if you could prove something or you noticed something was wrong, or if you know that — a good example could be one of these double-charge situations. “Look, I wound up overdrafting my account because I was double-charged on this one item. Because of this I’m currently working on and disputing this with the vendor,” or you could see even better if you could happen to see your credit back from the vendor the next day, you can go in and say, “I see what happened. The vendor screwed up and that’s what caused the bank to…” cause you to overdraft your account.

That tends to increase you chances of going ahead and getting funds refunded to you, or even just keeping your nose clean. Like Bryan mentioned as well, you go back and you look at peoples’ past history. If you don’t screw up on your account and it’s a one-time instance, then you more likely going to get your fees refunded to you. But if you’re a habitual offender, it’s really is ultimately your responsibility.

Bryan: I am curious. In your time there were there any instances where somebody was looking for a fee to be refunded because the bank legitimately made a mistake?

Tom: Yes. I believe there were a couple of cases where I had that. Sometimes you had instances where the bank does double-post items to an account. It rarely happens, but I have seen in the past where just for whatever reason, it is a glitch and comes through twice. In this case, if there is a legitimate bank error or we screw up you are more likely to get the funds refunded to you.

Flexo: Is it up to the customer to catch that, though?

Tom: It would have to be up to the customer. You got to remember too, it’s all computerized, so these things all get processed automatically at night and there is very little double-checking, at least that I could tell, on the bank’s end, to find and make sure there was no double-post that happens. Like with anything else, anybody should be checking their account periodically to make sure there are no mistakes.

Bryan: It’s good to hear that at the bank that you’re working at, people can use their savings account for overdraft protection. I’ve been with a couple of banks where the only option was to use a credit card.

Tom: You can give people the option to go ahead and back out of that protection. Look, I see that you are getting yourself into a lot trouble with overdraft fees. I you want me to I could back you out of this and give certain protection. What will happen is and you swipe your card and if you don’t have sufficient funds in the bank, it will just reject you.

It’s amazing how many people just get frightened of the concept of swiping a card and being rejected and being embarrassed at the cash register. You know, to me it’s like, “So what? You know? I don’t have the money. Sorry about that, man, I’ll have to find some other way to pay. But it looks like I don’t have the money.” But I could definitely say it seems people just get frightened of that, and they keep relying on this overdraft protection, and, hundreds and hundreds of dollars in overdraft fees that I’ve seen people just rack up within a month or two months. And it’s like they survive by this. And, to me, it just amazed me.

Bryan: And the more often they do it, the less likely they are to get it refunded.

Tom: Exactly. Right. I’d see people who would do this and then you’d see their paycheck coming in through a direct deposit a couple days later. And then it would basically even out, bring them back into a positive. And then the next week they would do the same exact thing.

And it was, like I said, you feel bad for some of these people. It’s like you just want to take them aside and say, “Look, you don’t want to do this.” But, of course, you’re kind of working for the banks, so you have to kind of stay neutral through all these events. You have to give people their options and let them figure it out for themselves.

Another thing that people need to be aware of, too, is be careful, be careful who you give your account information out to. I’ve seen loan companies out there. People will try to go and consolidate their loans and they go ahead and give the loan company their account information. And then they’ll basically set up automatic payments with these companies. And the loan companies will go and try to pull the money out of their accounton a regular basis like a decent transaction. But I’ve seen — and I shouldn’t just limit this to loan companies, I’ve seen this with other companies as well — where the money isn’t there, and they go and they pull, it gets bounced. And they come back in with another account name to try to pull the money at a later date. So, what happens is, people know that they basically owe this company money. They try to put stop payments on these transactions. And stop payments are great, but stop payments will only usually work for a particular company name.

A lot of these companies know that, so they’ll bypass the whole stop payment process. They’ll go ahead and do it with another company name and come in and take the money. So, once people have your account number, just be wary that there’s a lot of stuff that they can do with your account.

Bryan: What was the bank’s policy toward — a court would decide that you owed child support or something? And you never paid it, and so they would actually come in with some legal thing, and the bank would be required to give the court as much money as they could, even if it brought your balance down to zero.

Tom: Assessing a levy, I believe is the terminology on it, and I would see that frequently, where you see somebody would just come and say, “How come my account balance is down to zero?” Then I look at the notes in the account and see, “New York State Levy Department. Call this number.” And bam! All their money in their account is gone. It’s like, uh-oh.

Bryan: And when that happened when I worked at Bank of America, the bank didn’t like that happening, so they would penalize you $75.

Tom: Oh, only $75? It’s actually gone up since then. And people would complain about that fee. And basically the bank, at least in this case here, you’ve got to remember that people are responsible for their own money. So if people are responsible for child care payments, and suddenly the bank has to get involved, the bank does not ever really want to get involved in these situations. Suddenly the bank is getting — I don’t know what the term is — a writ of execution or whatever you want to call it, where basically it says, “Look, here’s a lawsuit. You need to pull money out of this person’s account for this.” So now suddenly the bank is being dragged into this. So as a result, the bank in many cases is going to assess a hefty fine for that.

So, I mean, it’s not surprising. I guess it’s surprising a lot of people, but it’s almost like the bank’s way of saying, “Look, leave us the hell out of this.” [laughter]

Here’s the funny thing. Believe it or not, these customers already making you quite a bit of money. That’s the funny thing is that they are. Because if you can hit them up for so many fees and they keep coming back, like I said, hundreds of dollars in fees, some of these people are just racking up in a matter of a month’s time. That is a lot of money. The three of us here I’m sure have had very few incidents where we overdrafted our accounts.

Bryan: No.

Tom: No, seriously. I mean, from a relative perspective.

Bryan: Relatively, yes.

Tom: Banks probably don’t like us that much. They have our money, but they’re not hitting us up for these fees. So, I think a lot of these bad customers are beneficial to banks. But the funny thing is, of course, I guess it kind of evens out in the end, because in many of these cases, people wind up racking up fees that they can’t afford. So you wind up not collecting on those fees eventually.

A lot of times I used to get a kick out of when they would say, “I’ll take my money to another bank.” It’s almost like, “Ohh yeah, you’re not going to have any money at that bank either. How welcome are you going to be there? Like you’re not going to have the same thing with that bank.” [laughter]

Bryan: Did they talk to you at all in training about what percentage of the bank’s income was generated by things like overdraft fees?

Tom: No, they didn’t really go into that too much. But they did kind of mention it. When I was in training, they were very lax with the overdraft fees, and they basically said, look, as I was saying before too, is that you have the ability to refund fees in many cases, especially if they haven’t had any fees refunded to them. Take advantage of it. There’s no sense you’re really trying to be on the good end of the customer anyway, so if you have a situation where you can refund fees, go ahead and do it. But just keep in mind that in the end, those fees do wind up paying for a lot of expenses, especially for call centers and things like that, where everything is funding. Everything that you’re doing, your paycheck, all the little perks you get.

Bryan: That’s a lot of great information. Thank you, Tom, for being a guest on the Consumerism Commentary Podcast.

[laughter]

Tom: Not a problem. Not a problem, guys.

Bryan: And thanks to Flexo for helping me out.

Flexo: You bet.

Bryan: That was Tom Dziubek with a peek behind the scenes and some great advice for dealing with customer service at an average US bank. I’m Bryan J Busch. Join us again next week for some more great personal financial advice and information.

Updated May 3, 2011 and originally published February 13, 2011. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Luke Landes is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about Luke Landes and follow him on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Will @ HackingTheBank.com ♦258 (Nickel)

Awesome. Your podcast is my second favorite (behind Dave Ramsey, sorry). Looking forward to this one, though. I always wanted to know more about Tom himself. Downloading this tonight to listen tomorrow.

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avatar skylog ♦368 (Nickel)

i’ll say it again, love the transcript! great podcast this week, it was interesting to learn a little about the other side of the teller window / desk / phone. i can only imagine how much banks make on these fees. that said, i can not understand how so many people clearly have no idea what they are doing with their money. mistakes happen, and problems arise, however, it seems many of these fees are more a result of people not keeping track of their finances.

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avatar Will @ HackingTheBank.com ♦258 (Nickel)

Man, that was eye-opening to hear that there’s people who will wrack up $100 in fees, and then do it again the next week. I know people live paycheck-to-paycheck, but that’s not even living paycheck-to-paycheck. That’s more like living overdraft-to-overdraft.

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avatar TakeitEZ ♦549 (Dime)

I used to be a overdraft King in the past and used to always rant and rave about the unfairness of the banks. Now I can look back and say it was my fault and that if I had been more responsible with my money then I would have not have to worry about those fees.

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avatar Bobka ♦13 (Newbie)

Congratulations to Tom’s former employer for hiring Customer Service Representatives like Tom who speak English clearly. There is nothing worse than calling a company’s help desk and waiting for twenty minutes on hold before being connected to “Heidi” in India.

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avatar 4hendricks ♦248 (Cent)

Thanks again for these podcasts – they are filled with some great and interesting info

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avatar eric ♦1,549 (Half-Dollar)

I read through the whole transcript. Very interesting behind the scenes!

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