A Banking Story – The Ten Day Hold

I've just had an unpleasant experience with my bank. I chose this bank because it was directly across the street from my office, and accepted everything which came with the package.

grouchy receptionistI’ve just had an unpleasant experience with my bank.

Interesting. I called it “My” Bank. Why did I do that? Merely because its the institution I’ve used for several years?

I remember why I chose this bank to begin with. I’d just moved to a new community to take a job with a company which required direct deposit of all payroll checks.

I chose this bank because it was directly across the street from my office.

Not because they offered free checking (they didn’t), or for the vast number of their ATMs (which they didn’t have in this community). I didn’t even choose them because they were “big enough to handle my needs but small enough to care.” The bank in question was owned by one of the biggest bank holding companies in the U.S., and since then they’ve been acquired by an even bigger company.

(Side question: “My” bank changed owners two years ago. Are they still mine? Probably. I haven’t noticed any significant changes other than the signage.)

Nope. All of the reasons banks put in their ads about why I should choose them meant nothing to me. I chose by location, and accepted everything which came with the package: the hours of operation, the fees, the interest rates… all of it. After I went into business for myself as a marketing consultant I opened a business account with the same bank.

Flash forward with me.

A couple of weeks ago, I, an otherwise satisfied customer, closed out a brokerage account and deposited the funds into “My” bank account. I hadn’t brought a deposit ticket with me, so I had to ask the teller for a blank deposit slip and to look up my checking account number.

I was told there would be a minimum ten day hold on this check, so that it could clear the issuing bank. Knowing this to be standard policy for many banks around the country, I merely nodded, took my deposit receipt, and left for my office.

On the eleventh day I called to ask about my deposit. I was told the hold on my check was for ten “business days.” Oh. Business days. OK. Because of the weekends, another four calendar days, I guess.

On the fifth day following, also known as the eleventh business day – called by most people the seventeenth day after – I checked my balance online and found the check had still not been credited to my account. I started looking for the bank’s phone number. It took far more effort than it should have to locate the national 800 number for the bank holding company.

I spoke to Rita in customer service. “Rita,” I asked, “what’s the point of requiring me to punch my account number into the phone, if you’re just going to ask me to repeat it when you come on the line?” Rita had no answer, other than their system couldn’t transfer the number with the call.

I asked that she explain why the funds from my former brokerage account had not been credited to my checking account. Rita assured me that the hold up was the fault of the issuing bank. I politely suggested that wasn’t likely, but that I would follow up with the brokerage.

The brokerage house didn’t leave me on hold.

Nor did their system drop my account number when transferring me to a human in account service. Ron looked up the check, and assured me that it had cleared their bank three days after it had been issued (in other words, two days after I deposited the check).

Some serious Google searching for another few minutes and I finally located a number for the local branch, which I dialed. I got the branch manager’s voice mail, hit “zero,” and was transferred to the receptionist. After checking, she told me that my funds would be available the following day.

“Why are those funds not available now?” I wanted to know. I was told that until midnight, they wouldn’t know how much money they’d received in the transfer from the other bank. (No, I am not making this up). “You’re a bank. You don’t know how much money people are sending you?” I asked, incredulously. Again, I was told my funds would be available after midnight.

So, the following morning I logged on to the bank’s on-line banking service to find the deposit had been made into my business account, rather than my personal account. I assumed a trip to the branch was in order.

Picture this layout

Walking through the door puts the tellers on the left, the office cubicles on the right, a waiting area with couches and coffee on the back wall, and the receptionist desk in the middle of the big open area.

I approached the receptionist, who was busy ignoring me and curtly answering questions on the phone. I recognized her voice (and attitude) from the day before. The receptionist explained even though the customer had personally brought a check to the bank yesterday morning, that didn’t immediately put funds into her account. Her deposit wasn’t counted until midnight, and the check she was attempting to cover had been presented for payment yesterday afternoon. (Again, I’m not making this up).

Finally, when she asked how she might help me, I dragged a chair from an adjacent desk and settled in. I showed her both checkbooks. I explained that the deposit had been made in the wrong account, and asked her to make it right.

As she silently whacked the keys on her terminal an older woman, using a cane to steady herself, walked to the desk and asked, “Miss, can you tell me how much longer it will be?” The receptionist stated in a cold, professional voice, “I’ve told them you’re out here.” The older woman said “We’ve been waiting forty minutes. My friend gave me a ride, and she has another appointment soon.”

Without making eye contact the receptionist said “I don’t know what to tell you,” and went back to ignoring the woman.

When my transfer was complete, and the new receipts printed, I left. The older woman was looking at her watch. The receptionist was avoiding eye contact with the gentleman who’d been waiting his turn to speak to her.

I’m trying to decide whether to call the branch manager.

On the one hand, if I was the manager and didn’t know of poor customer service, I’d appreciate having it pointed out. On the other hand, this woman’s desk is in full view (and earshot) of six teller windows and four loan officer cubicles. I suspect all of the other employees have seen this behavior regularly. If that’s the case, why doesn’t the manager already know?

Should I call? Do I care? Will I move my accounts?

Truthfully, I don’t believe that the next bank will be any different.

What’s the difference between Bank of America and Sun Bank? Between Wachovia and Chase? Between Fifth Third and Wells Fargo? Can anyone articulate even a slight difference?

I can’t, and I’m paid to find and exploit those differences.

Bank advertising is so homogeneous we could probably exchange logos and no one would notice. (Except maybe for WaMu. Their ads are much more memorable. They don’t offer anything their competitors don’t, however. In the end they only have more clever advertising).

We can’t find the differences because there aren’t any. They all keep the same hours, pay the same interest rates, charge the same interest rates, offer the same free checking, and have coffee in the lobby. They all have the same automated tellers and charge the same fees for using someone else’s automated teller. All are “big enough to serve me and small enough to care.”

I should hope so. Who’d do business with a bank that can’t even reach the minimum criteria for entering the game. Telling me that you’re just like everyone else in your industry effectively makes you invisible.

I suspect many people choose banks as I did: they pick the one on the closest corner. And if that is the case, the only way any bank will gain market share will be to build on more corners.

Of course, the capital outlay required for this strategy will severely cut into operational profit, and the shareholders will probably revolt.

If I’m right, people don’t change banks because they perceive any advantage in the new bank. They only change when they’re upset enough to refuse to do business with the current institution. Advertising under these circumstances can only try to attract the attention of someone who’s getting ready to abandon her current bank.

That person is likely to choose the next bank based on location and convenience.

Isn’t it time for concierge banking?

Isn’t it time for someone to open a bank that caters to the needs, perhaps even to the whims of the customers? Wouldn’t you be willing to accept a lower interest rate on your savings in order to have a bank call and say “If you can get a deposit to us before midnight tonight, we won’t have to bounce this check?”

That only happens to me a couple of times a decade, but I’d be intensely loyal to a bank that cared that much about me.

Because when all of your competitors are pretty much the same, its not your advertising that drives market share. Its the way you treat customers. The way you do business.

I’ll be reinvesting the funds from my brokerage account. None of my investments will be in bank stocks.

And I still haven’t decided whether to call the branch manager about the receptionist. What’s your opinion? Should I bother?

Can massive amounts of advertising draw in more customers than service drives away? An important decision when you’re fishing for customers.

Your Guide,
Chuck McKay

Your Fishing for Customers guide, Chuck McKay, gets people to buy more of what you sell.

Got questions about differentiating your company from your competitors? Drop Chuck a note at ChuckMcKay@ChuckMcKayOnLine.com. Or call him at 317-2073-0028.


  1. JAMES

    We opened our business bank account in 1987 because the bank was across the street. Within a few years it was bought by a very large bank. Service was neither great nor horrible, just mundane. When our credit line interest rate crossed the 10% line I decided to shop for a better rate.

    I contacted a branch of one of the 3 largest banks in the US. The representative came to my office, spent a full hour discussing our needs, and personally handled setting up the accounts. Great customer service, right? I thought so, but when we still didn’t have checks a full month later, I called our helpful rep. The checks had been misprinted, but I had been charged for them. Another 3 weeks went by, no checks. Then I was contacted by the branch manager. Our helpful rep had some issues and was no longer with the bank. No checks, no credit, but they promised they would do better. I closed the account.

    Going back to my original bank, I met with a new accounts representative. She reviewed my account and got us the best checking account deal, although I could not improve my credit line rate. Now when I go to the bank, they greet me by name and seem interested in our success. Why did they never do this before? Perhaps the same intertia that kept me from inquiring in the first place. They seem to value my business more than they did before, even as our city has more banks than gas stations. So maybe it would be worth talking with your bank’s branch manager. It might get you some service, or confirm that you should change!

  2. Bonnie

    There is no honest reason why a bank has to hold anything for 10 days.
    In this age of instant information, funds should be available right away. They are at USAA where I bank. I have a small business and deposit checks all the time. I have asked USAA if my funds are available right away and they have said yes. I have never had a problem.
    If you can’t be a member of USAA, the next best choice is a credit union. These places take care of their members… not shareholders like the big name banks do.
    This 10 day hold is a lot of BS! They constantly play the “Got Cha” game with people and pile on overdraft fees when they get the chance. The less a person has, and the less savvy they are about money, the most apt they will get taken advantage of by these greedy monsters!

  3. helios

    “…If you can’t be a member of USAA, the next best choice is a credit union.”

    Bonnie, While I am sure it is not intentional, the above statement isn’t true…at least in my case. Here’s the story. Bring tissues…it’s heart-wrenching.

    Two and a half years we have been building this business. The business plan is immaculent, the market research has been exhaustive and if anyone has done his “homework”…I have.

    I finally received the “seed money” check to get things rolling. This is by the way a check for thousands of dollars written against a personal account. BUT…I am willing to bet if 1000 people chosen by whim were shown the name on the check, 700 of them could identify the person immediately…it wasn’t written by just any Joe Schmoe.

    I walked into Heritage Federal Credit Union where I bank and signed in to see a consultant and open a business account. After all the paperwork and questions, I was asked for the check.

    Here it comes.

    “Sir, there will be a 10 day hold on this check while the funds clear.”

    I stood up, held out my hand for the check and explained that I would not be opening my account here. I further explained that I had my first customer and first contract for over 40 thousand dollars and the deposit I was making was needed to cover the costs of materials. A ten day wait on that check would destroy my business before I ever took the first phone call.

    The consultant nodded, fished around his computer for a bit then said that given it was already thursday afternoon, he could get the funds cleared by Monday. I made a phone call and was told that would be ok, but the delay was going to cost us a bunch of money in overtime and other costs. Whatever…just make it happen.

    Given the fact that my consultant wasn’t in on Saturday and no one seemed to have any knowledge of my situation all I could do was wait until the stroke of midnight and see if the funds posted.

    They did not. Single-handedly, this financial institution destroyed a business. Can I recover? probably…but I’m not sure I want to. I am exhausted and angry to the point of being capable of physical reaction. The ten day thing? I am being told by a retired Vice President of a well-known institution that this is simply a way for the banks to gain a 7 day interest hit from our money. The fact that a post above states his check had cleared in a matter of two days bears this out.

    Not a bit of anything accomplished by typing all these words…maybe just to vent…maybe just thinking aloud…I am going to spend inordinate amounts of time figuring out a way to legally slam this institution. Any ideas?