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Banks don't pay well, and senior citizens frequently overdraft

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If you still have a checking account, you should read this article, which reflects solely the experiences and opinions of the writer.

Did it ever occur to you that the people taking calls for your bank may only make $10 an hour? That's how much I earned while working at a bank call center in the Kansas City area as a temporary employee from St. Patrick's Day this year through July 11, 2014.

When I spoke to customers, including rude, angry ones, and pulled up their accounts, I could see those customers' debit card numbers, driver's license information, and how and when they got paid. I knew where they bought cigarettes and how they rented movies. I saw social security numbers, mother's maiden names, gym memberships, and morning caffeine habits. Wow. How much do you spend at Starbuck's each week?

I even knew pet names for those, usually older customers, who wrote “for Beowulf's grooming” in the memo field on the check they wrote to their groomers. This included some customers who were Department of Defense employees and consultants. Oh, did I mention that I knew when payroll deposits came and from where?

Here's an example of one of my phone calls:

"I want to know what you did with my money."

I got her account verified and told her, "Let's see...last night there was a transaction at Wetzel Pretzel and another one at Wendy's. Did you go to those places?"

Caller yells to people in the background, "Which one o' y'all took my debit card last night?"

It took four weeks of training to become an entry-level agent at the call center. Everyone in my training class learned how to verify customers and read bank statements quickly and efficiently. To verify customers, we had to get three questions correctly answered out of the following:

  • social security number (unless I used that to look up the account, in which case I could not count it as a verification method)
  • date of birth
  • the amount of the last deposit (within ten percent)
  • the amount of the last transaction or a very recent one (within ten percent)
  • the month and year that the account was opened (give or take a month)
  • the branch where the account was opened or the current branch the customer used if the original branch was no longer open
  • mother's maiden name
  • the customer's city of birth

We were not taught how often customers would call in because their debit cards were so-called “warm-carded” for what the bank called suspicious activity that they wanted verified or because they bought gas at a Pilot or other gas station that pre-authorizes $75 or more on debit cards. Neither were we told how many people would call in to inquire about overdrafting their accounts on payday weekends and holiday weekends.

I soon dubbed Saturdays “lost-debit-card days” because I took many Saturday calls from customers who woke up presumably hungover without their debit cards. Really. You would not believe how many of those calls I took. Yes, that was a fun way to spend a Saturday...for...ten dollars an hour.

Some customers called from casinos asking either to raise the daily withdrawal limit on their cards for the day or to overdraft their accounts. Whether I said so or not, I wished them luck but doubted that they got any.

Alarming was the number of seniors on government benefits who called in to overdraft their accounts every month. If an account was overdrawn for 25 days or more, then the account had to remain positive for 24 hours in order to reset the number of days overdrawn back to zero so that an overdraft limit could be accessed again. Overdrafting senior citizen account holders had to leave their bank accounts positive for 24 hours after their monthly deposits became available before they could overdraft because they were overdrafting every month. These seniors took everything plus their overdraft limit in one transaction and then remained overdrawn with only one overdraft fee until their next benefit payment arrived more than 25 days later. It was good that the seniors avoided multiple overdraft fees, but they could never catch up.

What's worse, many of those who received payments on Thursday, July 3rd were not able to overdraft until after the bank updated post-July 4th weekend, which meant many of the bank's regularly-overdrafting seniors went without food and possibly utilities over that entire holiday weekend.

Do you know anyone at any bank who was unable to access an overdraft limit on their bank account over July 4th weekend? If so, or if you would like to discuss this article, please reach out to me at whitney.bell@live.com.

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