Capital One, What are You Doing?!?

Banks Corporate Responsibility


            New Orleans       I’d read the article in the Times’ “Your Money” column at the end of last year about banks arbitrarily closing customers’ accounts without notice or seemingly rhyme or reason.  As they reported:

…there are many frustrating things about this phenomenon: The account closings often come without warning. There is usually no recourse, appeal or explanation from the bank. Sometimes you find out you have lost banking privileges when you’re buying food at the grocery store and your debit and credit cards no longer work.  But losing your bank account isn’t just inconvenient. It’s scary. If you’re a small business, it disrupts your payroll and can damage your reputation in the community. Given no explanation, you wonder if you’ve been blacklisted or put on some kind of government watch list.

Reading the piece, I had thought, “unbelievable,” even though I knew full well that it was totally believable and not uncommon.  If you ever read the fine print out of boredom or concern, when opening an account at a bank, it’s not hard to read the language that says they can pretty much do anything they want with your account, when, and if they want.

Reading the stories in these articles, while you’re muttering in outrage, there’s still a part of you that says, “it can’t happen to me.”  I don’t like banks or trust them, but I felt pretty secure.  More than fifteen years ago, I had moved all of our accounts to Capital One.  I had a good reason.  ACORN had banking agreements with Citicorp, Bank American, and other big money center banks.  I had sat in on negotiations directly with Richard Fairbank, the longtime CEO of the bank, as it moved from credit cards to full-on banking.  After Katrina hit New Orleans, Fairbank and Capital One donated $500,000 for us to reopen our office in the city and get back in business for our members.  All of the big banks that had sat across the table with us and negotiated Community Reinvestment Act lending agreements donated, but they had led the way.  It was simple for me.  If they had led the way for us, why wouldn’t we put our organizational accounts with Capital One?

In short, this arbitrary account closing thing couldn’t happen to us.  But, then it did.  One of the corporate accounts was in a bank in Little Rock.  Over recent months, we closed that account in order to move it to New Orleans so it aligned with the rest of our accounts at Capital One to make our work a bit easier.  It took time to open, then more time to order and receive checks.  We were trying to squirrel the money away for use in assisting the building of low power radio stations once the FCC acted on the applications AM/FM had helped local communities submit.  We had made a couple of small transfers to support payroll for the hours a guy on our team had worked to built out the “listen live” buttons for streaming on all of the stations we support.  Ten days ago, while making payroll for the various accounts and staff, I went to move a couple of hundred dollars from this corporate account for hours spent on its work.  Looking at the screen, I couldn’t find it at first, but kept scrolling through our more than a dozen Capitol One accounts until I saw something new:  a black box at the bottom of the screen.  The box said:  account closed, followed by four digits.  What the frick?!?  I checked, and darned if they weren’t the last four digits on this new account.

Your first and only thought in this situation is simple:  there must be some mistake.  I called Capital One business accounts and spoke to a very nice woman, who was as confused as I was.  Had we heard from Capital One?  I answered, “Not a word, by letter, phone, or email.”  She thought that was also unusual.  She put me on hold several times, and we went back and forth.  She could tell we had multiple accounts.  Why this new one?  Finally, she came back and said that she was told it was shut down for “lack of activity” and that they had already sent a check closing the account back to us.  Weird, there had been activity every two weeks, and this had never happened to some of our other accounts which sometimes don’t have activity for months?

Ten days pass, and we still haven’t received our money.  My Capital One business liaison made the mistake of calling me, so of course, I asked her, “What’s going on?”  She looked at the accounts.  She said she said that the check went out on April 30th, but couldn’t tell where it was sent.  I told her I assume to the office, which is the address on the account and checkbook.  She blamed the mail.  She tried to tell me a story about someone who didn’t get a letter for three or four weeks.  My temperature was rising, unsurprisingly.  She claimed in her 3 years with Capital One, handling 500 clients, she had only seen this happen perhaps 5 times.  I found that of little comfort.  She said she saw nothing in the record explaining why it was closed, including what I had been told about “little activity.”

I was foolish, it seems.  Before the end of the call, as I was still deluding myself that this was a mistake and could be fixed, I said something like, “Are you saying that I might not get our money for a month, and then have to go in and reopen the account and start this process all over?” I was unsure I heard her response, but she seemed to say, there was no way they would let me reopen the account.  She claimed she would open a ticket and would work with me to fix this.  A subsequent email from her indicated she was unable to “open a case.”  In the middle of the night, it came to me that if they closed it for unknown reasons, they were unlikely to allow this account to be reopened for good reasons or admit their mistake.

I believed somehow that Capital One was different than the other “too big to fail” banks, despite my general view and organizational philosophy that banks are mainly similar to “criminal enterprises.”  What was I thinking?  Had I lost my mind as well as my bearings?

Capital One, what in the world is going on?  What are you doing?!?