This issue’s focus section deals with banking. Normally, it’s not a topic I spend a lot of time thinking about. I’ve been with the same bank for 10 years and things generally run smoothly.
Of course, all that changed a couple weeks ago. (Which in a cosmic/karma kind of way probably had something to do with the fact that I was coming up in the B2B column-writing rotation.)
For some reason, my bank decided that it would be a great idea to upgrade my Visa. I hadn’t asked for an upgrade, but apparently that doesn’t really play into the decision-making process with the lords who oversee credit cards.
Now, if said lords’ decision had simply meant that I’d have to swap out a new little piece of plastic for the old little piece of plastic that I keep in my money clip, you’d likely be reading about something else at this point. However, my “upgrade” was to a card that includes a hefty annual fee.
In the interest of full disclosure, this is the point where I need to admit that I have a journalism degree (which means a lot of liberal arts -type class and not a lot of financial/banking-type classes). But my journalistic endeavors have focused on business for the last 15 years or so, and I do try my best to follow my financial guru’s mantra of “dare to be dull.” (OK, also in the interest of full disclosure, I haven’t quite mastered that, but thankfully Allan Roth is a kind and patient man.)
So, back to my new Visa.
After receiving the obligatory letter from the bank, which profusely congratulated me on the “upgrade,” I was a bit confused. (OK, maybe angry would be a better choice of words — at least if you put any stock in the advice I receive from my therapist, which, in the interest of full disclosure, I don’t.)
What I was having a difficult time grasping was how, at least for me, switching from a no annual fee card to a hefty annual fee card was an upgrade.
So, I called the toll-free number listed on my congratulatory letter — and after what wasn’t an eternity making my way through the minefield of the automatic answering system, eventually was connected with a human being.
She was even more congratulatory than the letter I received. So, it shouldn’t be a big surprise that she was somewhat shocked and dismayed that I, too, wasn’t feeling celebratory.
Our failure to communicate began almost immediately. For some reason, she didn’t have access to the script which could provide the answer to what I thought was a simple question: “How is switching me from no annual fee to a hefty annual fee an upgrade for me?”
I asked several times, and because I’ve watched more than my share of legal-drama type television programming, even did my best to attempt to rephrase the question a time or two. But, alas, we still didn’t appear to be making any progress.
This was the point at which I decided to simply cut to the chase. I said I didn’t want to pay an annual fee for the privilege of carrying a piece of plastic with my bank’s name on it in my money clip, so I’d like to be “downgraded” to my previous card.
That, I was told, was not an option — both by the customer service rep and her supervisor. So, I told the supervisor to cancel the card.
This simple request was met with even greater shock and dismay. Why would I want to cancel my “upgraded” Visa? (Uh, I don’t want to pay an annual fee.) Do I not understand what a great thing the bank has done for me? (Obviously not.)
Finally, the exasperated supervisor told me I’d receive a letter confirming my cancellation.
The next day, I received a letter from my bank (which I thought was an amazingly quick response). However, it wasn’t the confirmation that I had decided to decline the upgrade and close the account.
The letter was congratulating me for qualifying for a no annual fee Visa (the exact same credit card I had before my unwanted upgrade). So, I filled out the online form and got my “old” card back — with a substantially higher credit limit and 15 months of free interest.
Maybe it’s just the naive liberal arts guy in me, but wouldn’t it have been a whole lot easier for the bank just to leave my piddly little account alone?
If not, maybe simply switching me back to our old arrangement when I called would have saved a bit of time and effort.
The truly strange thing is that I still haven’t received my cancellation letter. According to my bank’s website, my upgraded account is still active. (And the annual fee hasn’t been posted.)
I’m, of course, not going to call. That might cause all kinds of crazy financial machinations, which I’m not prepared to deal with.
For now, I’ll just remain blissfully confused. And I’ll wait to see how long it takes before the bank “upgrades” me again.
Mike Boyd is editor of Business Examiner. He can be reached at mboyd@BusinessExaminer.com.