Citizens Bank: A Misnomer

How Citizens Bank can be uncaring about excellent customers. Imagine how bad it is for most people?

Citizens Bank is owned by Royal Bank of Scotland, which very nearly disappeared in the financial crisis. I’ve been a customer for almost 30 years, when they acquired Old Stone Bank in East Greenwich. Their local branch always had (and still has) courteous, helpful people, and their major competitor, Bank of America (which had taken over the local Fleet Bank), has had very erratic service.

Citizens is a classic case of the back room not caring about customers and the executives implementing a deliberate strategy to hide from customers. You simply cannot reach a local Citizens executive. No one in the bank knows (or will give you) their phone or email contacts, and letters are returned weeks later by minor functionaries.

I have seven figures in the bank’s investment area, which has performed well for me and has an eminently reachable senior person on that side of the house. I have mid-six figures sitting around in various accounts to be used during the year, personally and professionally. I’m called a “trust customer.” I’m not treated like a “trust customer,” but I’m called one.

Aside from the vastly annoying two dollar and ten dollar charges the bank finagles whenever it can on my various accounts, and the lousy rates it gives me on every exchange transaction, it often commits breathtaking departures from intelligent customer service.

I recently received a $13,500 check from a client drawn on the Royal Bank of Toronto. It was printed “US Funds” on the check stock, drawn on a US funds account in that bank. I have deposited such checks before without problem, albeit at lower amounts.

Knowing the perversity of Citizens’ approach to its customers (“please remove your hat and sunglasses” is one friendly sign that hits you as you walk in), I specifically asked the teller if there would be any delay or problem in crediting the check. “Not at all,” she said, and I deposited it and took off for London. On arriving home a week later, guess what? Citizens deposited it, then deducted it, and told me it was sent for collection which would take about three weeks. This was a form letter, with no signature.

When I went to the branch, the assistant manager called a senior teller and both told me they had never seen this happen “in 20 years.” I asked for the contact information for Citizens’ Rhode Island president. No one could provide it. “I’ll take the officer in charge of retail banking,” I said, figuring they all reported to him or her. But, no such information was available.

I made a total of six calls and sent six emails over three weeks. I was told by a woman who handles my retirement investment deposits to call a help line, which resulted in a woman telling me she couldn’t help me, and when I asked for a supervisor so that I could get an officer’s contact number, I was placed on hold and left there (I consider ten minutes to be abandonment). When I was given a special number for a “high priority, rapid response” executive, I got his voice mail, and a call back the next day from his administrative assistant, who couldn’t help me. He actually delegated the call, and when I told her I wanted to speak to him, he never called at all! That’s Citizens Bank’s high priority, rapid response, to a trust customer! He never bothered to call me back.

When you send a wire transfer from Citizens (I pay overseas meeting sites this way) you have to sit in a manager’s office for 15 minutes while he fills out a laborious computer form, and then — I am NOT making this up — sit for another 10 minutes while he calls a number in their back room somewhere and reads the exact same information to some shadowy figure on the other end of the line! They at least ought to serve you breakfast. They duplicate the transaction while the customer waits.

This kind of arrant stupidity, with executives systematically dodging their own customers and creating serpentine filters to prevent contact, is something out of the '50s, when banks thought you were lucky to be allowed in the door of the institution. For those of you in consulting, never be intimidated by a title or position. People who run banks and manage our money have shown dramatically over the past few years that Las Vegas is often better run and a more prudent risk by comparison.

I have tried long and hard to make my case with Citizens powers-that-be. Since they have gone to great lengths to ensure they do not interact with the rabble who are customers, I’m making my case here. We see this all too often: good, competent, front-line people completely unsupported by a rigid, sclerotic hierarchy.

If I told them the bank was on fire, they’d take 30 days to process the information. If someone knows the chair of the Royal Bank of Scotland, would you direct him to this article? I’ll leave it up for 30 days.

© Alan Weiss 2012. All rights reserved.

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Gary S. Carlson May 30, 2012 at 08:01 PM
Where as you could go to Coastway with your 7 figures and they might name a branch after you !!! PS: I have no formal affiliation with Coastway other than being a loyal customer since they were the "Telephone Worker's Credit Union" in Providence back in the 1970's. AND a fan of their smiles and good customer service !!!!
Brian York May 30, 2012 at 08:07 PM
In light of this new warm and fuzzy feeling, you should consider an earlier removal of this piece...28 more days of the hater brigade may be more then any of us can take. Glad to read that your publicity got at least one head out of the sand. Kudos.
Ray Andrews May 30, 2012 at 08:08 PM
It's wonderful that you're an important customer (well more important than the rest of us). It's fantastic that you have 7 digits in this particular bank. And it brings a joyful tear to my eye that you have funds in Toronto that you need to deal with before jetting off to London. But perhaps you might have gotten a clue from the name "Citizens Bank". Different banks have different target customers, Citizens is geared more toward the casual banker and small business. It is not an investors bank, nor is it entirely appropriate for high income / high value customers. It definitely sounds as though you need to change banks. By the way the removal of hats and sunglasses is a FED recommendation to all banks.
Ray Andrews May 30, 2012 at 08:10 PM
I think people are more put off by the "Oh woe is me" attitude than the actual amount of wealth.
Jorn Florgin May 30, 2012 at 09:33 PM
wtf patch is yelp lol
Alan Weiss, PhD May 30, 2012 at 09:50 PM
I pay little attention to people who don't use their names and hide in anonymity. When do the villagers arrive with pitchforks and torches?!! Martha, bless you, I've lived the American Dream, born poor, have helped hundreds of thousands of people build better lives. I'm not ashamed of taking advantage of the opportunities this country offers, nor of speaking out when we're treated poorly by institutions. (Maybe someone should have spoken out of the idiocy of 38 Studios' guarantees.) I never "dumb down" nor seek to make sure no one is offended, which is a horrible way to live. I'm going to leave this now, because it's becoming tedious and Citizens has now acted better than some of these letter writers. They've apologized and given me the opportunity to work with them in a better arrangement. That's what excellent leaders do, and I found one after all this in Tom Fay at Citizens, who read the blogs and reached out. Good for the Patch.
Frederick Remington May 30, 2012 at 11:53 PM
Alan, to add a final word, I have no problem with your achievement, and congratulate you. That being said, your arrogance and self-importance shine through. Please, on behalf of all of us (if I may so represent), please just jump into your Bentley, drive down to Coastway or Sovereign or Pawtucket Credit Union and open a new account. I'm sure for such an important customer as you, they will be very helpful in transferring your funds from Citizens.
Elizabeth McNamara (Editor) May 31, 2012 at 12:44 AM
And, for a couple more banks, my husband and I love Centreville ... and I've heard good things about Washington Trust!
Cynthia Lachapelle Shannon May 31, 2012 at 01:34 AM
You can have a blog/Patch space too and post whatever your heart's desire, so long as it falls within the parameters Patch sets!
ME02809 May 31, 2012 at 04:38 AM
Unfortunately....the target is no longer the citizens customer service but instead the citizens' pocket My min wage employees work 1 1/2 hrs wk for the Royal Bank of SCOTLAND. CITIZENS is presented w/a PAYROLL ck (US LABOR Dept regulated) drawn on CITIZENS-at the branch holding the account & processing my daily deposits-their employees from tellers to mgrs served daily at our place (certain identification for any employee needing to cash their <$200 check The employee is given two choices when presenting check for cashing: choice 1: Open a Citizens account-deal with the "$2 & $10 charges the bank finagles"--mandatory use of debit crd 5 times/mo to try to avoid some of the fees-all know the ramifications of teens w/plastic, etc.-these teens are not ready for banking for whatever reasons yet are bullied into that system that teaches zero on the value of money choice 2: Cash check WITH PROPER PHOTO IDENTIFICATION & FINGERPRINT--MINORS are fingerprinted without consent!! I, as a small business bank customer, am out of clues on how to reason with Citizens people since they "don't make policy" and so on it continues-hard working young people ripped off by luring crafty opportunists impersonating once respected bankers Citizens Bank will not be acquiring these youngsters as customers--they are learning the best lesson of all--competitive shopping and no better advertising than word of mouth
KrazyKitty May 31, 2012 at 12:45 PM
Mr. Weiss ~ I read your blog and all the comments posted and while I don't agree with name-calling, I think that most people were irritated with your "mid-six figures" comment. You could have written your piece and excluded that information. A lot of people are struggling in these economic times and that detailed information (not sure why you would want to post that statement about your balances when EG has had some break-ins in just the past 2 weeks!) probably stung people that are struggling. I see both sides of the argument and hopefully you are not left with the impression that "only here in EG do I receive nasty name calling" because I don't think that's what EG is about. I have lived in EG for over 30 years and loved Old Stone Bank but we left Citizens about 8 years ago and went to Centreville and have been totally happy with their service. When my husband and I walk in we are greeted with smiles and they address us by name. Try it!
eastbay mermaid May 31, 2012 at 03:46 PM
Okay now that all the bantor is at a standstill, I agree with Mr Weiss about Citizens Bank. I am not a "six figure" banker nor will I ever be, and had the same problem with reaching customer service and getting good service there. I belong to SMCU Southern Mass Credit Union also a (telephone workers credit union) and I couldn't b happier. I won't deal with banks anymore ...only credit unions..
Jack Baillargeron May 31, 2012 at 04:03 PM
Well I got out of citizens years and years ago, I do not understand you not being able to contact anyone. Found in about 1 minute on their website. Citizens Financial Group One Citizens Plaza Providence, Rhode Island 02903 1-401-456-7000 Rhode Island Operations Center Citizens Bank 1 Citizens Drive Riverside, Rhode Island 02915 1-401-456-7000 Citizens Bank PhoneBank® 1-800-922-9999 Citizens Bank Business PhoneBank® 1-800-4BUSINESS Citizens Bank Online Banking® & Bill Pay 1-800-656-6561 Citizens Bank Business Online® 1-877-229-6428 Citizens Investment Services 1-800-942-8300
Alan Weiss, PhD May 31, 2012 at 04:47 PM
You missed my point. Those numbers won't get you an executive. Anyway, I'm done with the banter here, but thought it would be interesting for you all to know that not only has a Citizens execrative reached out personally, but two other banks, including one bank president, have called to ask to come meet with me about my future business. Thanks to all of you for making this such a rollicking good time.
Judy Bailey May 31, 2012 at 05:41 PM
Very, very interesting "banter".
Carolyn Cure May 31, 2012 at 05:47 PM
Have you tried Prophet's Bank?
tappedout May 31, 2012 at 08:38 PM
Mr Weiss, It's never easy (as I'm sure you know) to engage the RI mentality on anything that requires straight forward evaluation or analysis. Citizens has been a pain to deal with for years. I left Citizens many years ago for similar reasons. I walked with my accounts and never looked back. I am sure that my exit from Citizens did not cause them one ounce of angst. The institution I switched to has been an excellent banking relationship for 8+ years. I understand that being contacted by an official of the bank makes you feel better. But does it really address the systemic problems within the bank for both the large and small customers, or is it the typical squeaky wheel gets the grease approach? In today's corporate world I believe it's the latter. Keep us all posted on the next dust-up with the bank, for I'm sure there will be one, leopards really don't change their spots.
Elizabeth McNamara (Editor) June 01, 2012 at 05:52 PM
Andrew Obrien etc.: We welcome comments, but do need you to follow a couple of rules: no profanities (even if you replace one letter with #) and tone down the attack mode.
Vicky White June 01, 2012 at 06:08 PM
It is certainly permissible to feel undervalued when your a time tenured customer *anywhere -and the system fails to deliver, I agree, Alan.
Stephen Briggs Jr June 01, 2012 at 06:22 PM
Washington Trust is a great bank! Just sayin...
Elise Burroughs June 01, 2012 at 06:24 PM
I used to supervise my organization's business accounts at Citizens and I can confirm every single one of Alan's complaints. His description of wire transfers is completely accurate and made me angry all over again at the time wasted. Sitting on hold forever, the inability to contact a real person -- ah, yes, I remember it well.
Alan Weiss, PhD June 01, 2012 at 07:59 PM
Vicky, Stephen, Elise, and others, thanks for contributing, and to all those who find it helpful to contribute without name calling, obscenities, and hate.
np June 01, 2012 at 08:00 PM
Washington Trust, been with them for 15 years with no complaints...
J June 02, 2012 at 12:05 AM
Way to generalize and stereotype "just like all other Phd's" keep to the article and the original poster, no need to criticize a whole swath of people.
ME02809 June 02, 2012 at 04:56 PM
can we not simply accept that Mr. Weiss experiences life at a different level? Once there, he has neither time nor patience to review his writing to carefully avoid petty class war offenses...he wouldn't be the success he is or claims without projecting himself at all times (even blogging) as the "Million Dollar Consultant® " & executive at "Alan Weiss’s Million Dollar Consulting® College" He is merely a salesman, a very successful one it seems with testimonials from Allergan, Inc. to Merck, The State of New York, General Electric & the Credit Union League (lol-obviously not short on banking options) http://www.summitconsulting.com/testimonials/index.php "Any city, however small, is in fact divided into two, one the city of the poor, the other of the rich; these are at war with one another; and in either there are many smaller divisions, and you would be altogether beside the mark if you treated them all as a single State."-Plato, Commonwealth IV Ralph Waldo Emerson's "envy is ignorance" rings bells through majority of comments here most lost sight of the issue at hand from an excellent salesman no longer selling door to door "Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people"-Eleanor Roosevelt
CBA June 02, 2012 at 06:35 PM
I agree with your comments about Citizens, but mentioning your 7 figures definitely came across as pompous. As does this (from your Patch profile): "We freqently go to New York for the theater and dinner. We believe THE CITY is New York and the city is Providence." Sheesh!
ME02809 June 02, 2012 at 07:48 PM
barney...I do see....Success is as lonely as the North Pole "lonely man with money"--I bet he likes it--better than lonely man without money LOL I accept people for who they are...even if it is merely what they are projecting to be. That doesn't mean I agree. I acknowledge who they want me to see. My personal evaluation/instinct then guide me to further interaction or lack thereof. The effort put into frustration with people not tactfully behaving as we would like them to just isn't worthwhile for me Mr Weiss resides on that "other level" for the "entitled" that's ok with me....I might like to visit but doubt I would be happy living there
Vicky White June 02, 2012 at 08:38 PM
CBA- NYC is to the U.S is what Paris is to Europe- a thriving metropolis of cultural diversity that is a destination for international visitors. It truly is *the city. I didn't take it as an insult, or a negative comparison for dinner and a movie. Most folks do both of those when they visit NYC. Mr. Weiss leads a cosmopolitan lifestyle with clear cut preferences. I wont judge or begrudge him that right.
Govstench June 03, 2012 at 10:28 PM
I ran into this nonsense with Old Stone Bank decades ago. The clerk had to describe my signature over the phone to someone before they would process by withdrawl slip. At the time, I was still in the Navy and had a Navy ID. I proceeded to withdrawl all the funds and went to a credit union. The federal credit unions are just as or safer than these big banks.
NKGOP Watch June 04, 2012 at 01:58 AM
We all have different experiences, I left Washington Trust Amateur Bank long ago, and never looked back. As to mentioning the seven figure balances, I didnt think that was in poor taste at all. The man earned his place and the amounts are relevant to the stupidity of mistreating a Jed Clampett level customer.


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