There is a different set of rules for in-lobby video tellers and those at the counters who actually touch your money—beware!
New in-lobby automation at Bank of America features the flexible functionality of a video teller with the same operational indifference used to fleece millions from consumers. Plundering more consumers faster with Diebold’s in-lobby-teller-assisted terminal is now part of the modern experience at Bank of America.
Late in December, I stopped into a branch location in Huntington Beach, California, to cash a check issued on a Bank of America account. Soon after stepping to the rear of the walk-up teller line, I was greeted by a polite articulate young man who offered to provide assistance.
After revealing that I was not a Bank of America account holder, Randy Hak a Personal Banker with a professional demeanor responded, “No problem, I can help you with that.” He invited me over to an in-lobby-teller-assisted terminal along the wall. Honestly, I would never have invested the time to explore their in-lobby ATM station—I just wanted the cash and to be on my way.
Step-by-Step Guided Assistance
Having no account or interest in establishing an account, I was delighted to be getting expedited tutored assistance. Mr. Hak began guiding me through the transaction step-by-step. First, he had me place my identification in a windowed tray, endorse and correctly place the check in the proper slot. Then, a woman appeared on a video screen asking if I would require any other transactions and informing me that a five dollar service fee would be charged for processing the transaction.
Like other consumers, I’ve come to expect these fees—which are designed to generate income rather than merely cover the cost of the service. After all, that $1.2 billion Bank of America spent in lobbying and campaign contributions during the last election cycle didn’t just grow on trees.
So, I confirmed the transaction which was to be dispensed in the exact amount including change, less the five dollar service fee. But, that’s not what happened. The machine failed to dispense the change into the tray while collecting the five dollar service fee.
Reporting and Confirming an Error
Witnessing the entire transaction, Randy Hak also informed the on-screen-teller that he had witnessed the error confirming my notice to the person on-screen that the proper amount had not dispensed. The on-screen-teller told us that we would have to contact the claims department and quickly disappeared.
Despite actually being inside the bank where presumably an operations manager should have immediately taken the machine out of service and reconciled the transaction, Randy Hak brought me into his office where he called the claims department as I sat listening. He identified himself as a bank employee and explained that he’d witnessed the failed transaction after which, during the same call, I confirmed.
Still thinking the error would be corrected while in branch, I told Mr. Hak that I was grateful that he had witnessed the error. However, I was soon informed by Sophia—a Bank of America claims person who would not provide her full name—that my claim could not be resolved in the branch and that the bank would have to issue a check for the change—60 cents! I requested that the already assessed five dollar service fee also be refunded in light of the inconvenience.
Just Questions No Explanations
Before leaving, I told Randy Hak that I had come into the branch for cash and didn’t understand how it was that the error couldn’t be reconciled while in branch. What if the machine just dispensed coins and no paper currency? After all, we were inside the bank, why should I have to wait for another check to be mailed and try again to get the same money? What if I was traveling from out of state and needed cash at the time—isn’t there someone in the branch able to reconcile this transaction? If I had used the drive-up window and interacted with a teller, do different rules apply? What if a Bank of America employee hadn’t witnessed the transaction error—does that even matter?
On my own, I would begin to gather explanations to those questions. Teller-assisted terminals are governed by the federal Electronic Fund Transfer Act which regulates the use of automated teller machines (ATM) even in-lobby video assisted machines. I learned that there is a different set of rules, rights and remedies for people using in-lobby video tellers, than for people interacting with tellers standing behind the counter actually touching your money.
Through my own research, I would later learn that the on-screen teller conducting the transaction would have been located either in Newark, New Jersey or Jacksonville, Florida—not in branch.
Erroneous Confirmation and Intentional Omissions
In a written response to my claim, Bank of America purports to have confirmed that I received the proper amount, at the time of the transaction justifying their service fee. The letter begins, “We have concluded our investigation and have determined that no error has occurred in this instance.”
If requested, the Bank of America response offers to provide “the documents we relied on to reach this decision.” Not surprisingly, the letter does not identify an author or anyone claiming to have actually made the confirmation. The letter concludes, “Sincerely, ATM/Debit Card Operations.”
Reported Facts Omitted and Ignored
Nothing was ever mentioned about a need to further investigate the claim by Sophia during the phone conversation, at the time of the report. Since the error had been promptly reported, witnessed and corroborated by a bank employee, the Bank of America response is evidence of either an intentional omission or a designed pattern of operational indifference or both.
Assuming Bank of America’s documentation is as they claim, that would be evidence of an intentional omission by the video teller—a fraud by omission. The remote on-screen teller’s intentional omission—particularly if at her employer’s instruction—may also be a federal crime.
Failure to document notice of the reported error—in this instance, an error also reported by a witnessing employee at the time of the transaction—might also violate both the Bank Secrecy Act and the USA PATRIOT Act which creates a duty to maintain an audit trail.
It also means that Sophia—the claims person who would not disclose her full name—and others higher up, ignored the facts witnessed and reported by both myself and Randy Hak, a Bank of America employee. Given the Bank’s written response to my claim this should be particularly troubling for regulators and federal prosecutors because it smacks of a continuation of indifferent and unscrupulous practices.
Controversy and Diebold’s Pattern of Fraud
As mentioned, the in-lobby ATM equipment used in this transaction was manufactured by Diebold Inc. who claims that their In-Branch Technology “enhances accuracy and adds efficiency to banking operations.”
Diebold Inc. is the same company that has been at the center of numerous electronic voting controversies. In 2010, Diebold Inc. reached a settlement with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) after the U.S. government sued them for $25 million in a fraud case. Diebold Inc. again came under indictment in 2013, by federal prosecutors for a “worldwide pattern of criminal conduct.”
Returning to the Branch
Having received Bank of America’s written response, I made a copy of the letter and the electronic claim receipt for personal banker Randy Hak and returned to the Huntington Beach branch, where the transaction had occurred.
After a brief wait, Mr. Hak came out of his office and immediately remembered me. We greeted and went into his office where I gave him a copy of the letter. He told me that he remembered the transaction and that the bank had discovered that the coins had gotten jammed because people had been “stuffing objects into the machine.”
Really, that’s why? I pointed out that the letter I had just handed him did not reflect that discovery and that no one had offered to reconcile the transaction or return the service fee despite my having to return to the branch. Mr. Hak responded, “Touché.”
After telling Mr. Hak that I planned to write about this experience and wanted his email so that I could forward the piece, he asked if I would wait a few minutes to speak with the branch operations manager. I seated myself in the lobby waiting for Randy Hak to reappear with the branch manager.
Managerial and Operational Indifference
He returned a few minutes later with Jaime Stephenson who introduced herself. Ms. Stephenson presented her business card, which identified her as the Financial Center Operations Manager and asked, “Is there anything else that I can do for you?”
There was no offer to reconcile the transaction. No mention of returning the service fee. No apology for the inconvenience. No inquiry into the process or procedure that allowed the video-teller to omit documentation of the reported dispute. No explanation for why, as an onsite operations manager, she would ignore reconciliation of an in branch transaction gone wrong. No explanation for the erroneous confirmation claimed in the written response. The curtain of Bank of America’s indifference was pulled back—fully!
Reputation and Public Image
After being forced into a 2012 settlement for a pattern of unscrupulous business practices by 49 state attorneys general and the federal government, Bank of America continues to earn its reputation as the worst mega financial services provider in the nation. Don’t be misled by polite front-line workers trying to launder Bank of America’s public image.
In short, the experience confirms that the Bank of America operational structure is designed to enable more of the same indifferent abuses that have already made a deserving case for their title as the Nation’s Most Despised Bank—no small achievement.