Via Naked Capitalism

Readers may recall that a week and a half ago, we published letters by my now 92 year old mother, Marian Webber, objecting to the appalling conduct of her bank, BBVA Compass,1 which had called out a state agency on her on fabricated grounds.

Two phone calls by a junior BBVA Compass “client care analyst” Holly F failed to address the heavy-handed retaliation of the “Vice President and Branch Retail Executive” Jarred Edwards.2 Mrs. Webber asked me to participate both times and I itemized specific abuses on the second call. Note that the certified letters sent November 27 which precipitated these calls put the misconduct front and center.

Both calls were patronizing, demonstrated a lack of preparation and understanding of Mrs. Webber’s issues applicable law, and also included fundamental misrepresentations.

Also bear in mind that if a bank denies a customer’s written request, it is required to provide a written response citing specific provisions of statute, regulations, and/or customer contracts that demonstrate why the bank is unable to comply with the customer’s request. So by phoning instead of providing the overdue written response, BBVA Compass used a procedurally non-compliant approach to repeatedly push for take action that contradicts the advice of counsel. On top of that, that pressure represents injurious interference in a contract, as explained below.

By not making a serious investigation of Mr. Edwards’ conduct or distancing itself in any way from his actions, BBVA Compass is making itself legally liable for them. The concept in law is “adoptive admission”: when a party remains silent when it would be expected to make a denial if it didn’t engage in the conduct at issue. Even worse, BBVA Compass’ silence could be interpreted that it is the bank’s official policy to make false reports to government agencies against customers that ask for accommodations under the Americans With Disabilities Act.

As a result, Mrs. Webber has found it necessary to send yet another letter to BBVA Compass executives, and a scrubbed version is embedded at the end of the post. You can find the earlier letters here.

The BBVA Compass representative, Ms. F3 , presented her second call last Monday as a summary of a letter that the bank would be sending. If the letter were complete or near complete, which is the impression she conveyed, it should have arrived by now. So we will have a follow-up post if and when we receive this missive.

BBVA Compass Has Neither Disputed Nor Addressed Its Abusive and Reckless Conduct

Bear in mind that these actions were taken by a vice president, which in American banks means he has the authority to act on behalf of the bank. The key elements of the bank’s breathtaking abuses:

Filing a false report with a state protective agency as retaliation.. An officer with the Alabama Human Resources & Civil Rights Department, paid an unscheduled visit to Mrs. Webber, stating a report had been filed by her bank and involved a checking account. The visit was to assess her competence. The officer said after a short conversation that she would be closing the file. She also confirmed that her agency gets many false filings from people seeking revenge.

The report can only have come from Jarred Edwards, the manager of her local, two-teller branch.

In November, Mrs. Webber had had several heated discussions with the new manager Mr. Edwards on the phone about his ending her check-cashing arrangements and offering only recklessly incompetent alternatives (more on that shortly). She did succeed in pressuring him to cash a check one more time.

Mrs. Webber sent a certified letters, first giving written instructions and later documenting Mr. Edwards’ reckless advice. It appear that commemorating Mr. Edwards’ unprofessional conduct and appalling advice was what triggered his campaign to harass and intimidate Mrs. Webber.

Note that BBVA Compass has not denied that as an official act of the bank, it called the state out on Mrs. Webber on utterly fabricated grounds.4 Since the state official also said the examination was about Mrs. Webber checking account. Mr. Edwards also disclosed confidential customer information.

Making incompetent, reckless recommendations and browbeating the customer for correctly rejecting them. Mrs. Webber, who seldom leaves the house because she no longer drives, has great difficulty walking, and is a fall risk, had had home health care aides cash checks that she had made out to herself and then endorsed. Mr. Edwards ended that practice even though the home health care aide urged him to call Mrs. Webber if he was concerned about her authorization.5

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Mr. Edwards made irresponsible suggestions, calling into question his competence:

Putting the home health care aide on Mrs. Webber’s bank account.

Having Mrs. Webber get a debit/ATM card and letting the home health care aide(s) use it. Not only would this expose Mrs. Webber to have her entire account drained, but Mr. Edwards was also violating BBVA Compass’ agreement with Visa. He may also have been trying to induce Mrs. Webber to breach the Visa rules to create a pretext for closing her account.

Having Mrs. Webber make checks out to the home health care aides. This is even more risky than having them cash endorsed checks, since the aide would have the legal right to the funds and could contest any claims of misappropriation. And as Mr. Edwards was repeatedly told, this would violate Mrs. Webber’s contract with home health care aide agency and create IRS issues.

Obtusely refusing to implement a simple and reasonable customer instruction. Mrs. Webber came up with a way to satisfy the bank’s stated concern, that they didn’t want to be handing out money to any Tom, Dick, and Harry (or Holly) that showed up with one of her endorsed checks. Per last week’s call with Ms. F, BBVA Compass has not considered this in a good faith manner, since Ms. F grossly misrepresented the instructions. In addition, it appears that BBVA Compass is unwilling or unable to meet its legal requirement of documenting why it cannot implement her instructions.

Other bankers that we and our readers have contacted about this situation are gobsmacked about the swatting by a manager, since it strongly suggests they have a rogue employee. They are also puzzled at BBVA Compass’ dogged refusal to implement Mrs. Webber’s instructions, since they agree that they are sound and would not be burdensome to implement in a small branch.

BBVA Compass Continues to Behave in an Incompetent and Irresponsible Manner

BBVA Compass swatted Mrs. Webber on Monday, November 25. Early in the morning of Wednesday, November 27, she e-mailed her latest letter about the swatting and Mr. Edwards’ other misdeeds to the head of PR, Ed Bilek, as the only e-mail address she had been able to locate. She alerted him she’d been unable to persuade me not to post on her letters, which went to Mr. Bilek and three other executives, including the general counsel. My post did go up that morning.

BBVA Compass has not covered itself in glory with its responses.

Ms. F called on behalf of the bank midday, the same day the post and e-mail went out. It would be impossible for anyone senior to have considered the case seriously in just a couple of hours.6

Mrs. Webber called by later in the day when I could participate. Ms. F represented herself as the most senior client escalation level at BBVA Compass. Not only is that not consistent with her title, Client Care Analyst, but I called her out on that. Anyone who has any sophistication knows that call center staffers are the first, not the last line of defense.

It was not even clear what Ms. F was attempting to accomplish on the call. She clearly had not read the letters, nor did she do an even remotely competent job of trying to find out what the problem was.7 She kept falling back on junior person blather: “I understand your frustration and we are working toward a resolution.”

She did not once address Edwards’ wide-ranging misconduct. She seemed to regard her job as to tell Mrs. Webber that she could not have endorsed checks cashed in the branch because it violated bank policy.

I told her the bank’s policy was not complaint with the Uniform Commercial Code, which governs because Alabama has adopted the Uniform Commercial Code and her bank is an Alabama state-chartered bank. The bank needed to demonstrate that there was a conflicting statute that overrode the Uniform Commercial Code. Ms. F was incapable of doing anything more than repeating the point that had already been refuted.

I said Mrs. Webber needed an accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Ms. F said BBVA Compass couldn’t do that as if it were an operational issue.

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I said that was nonsense, the branch had been cashing her checks as recently as last month (actually, earlier that month).

She more or less repeated that line.

I said I had worked with large banks all over the world, that banks make customer accommodations all the time.

Mrs. Webber got angry and said, “Why are you defending Jarred? I’m the customer. He’s stupid, rude, and incompetent. I want him fired.” I said it was obvious she had not read the letters Mrs. Webber had sent and that this was disrespectful.

Ms. F insisted she would call back Friday.

Mrs. Webber later left a message on Ms. F’s voicemail instructing her not to call back until she had obtained all the letters from the CEO for the Birmingham market, Andrea Smith, and had read them.

Mrs. Webber called back on Monday. Mrs. Webber returned the call on a recorded line and asked me to participate.

Ms. F claimed she had read all the letters, and I failed to grill her specifically, but as you’ll see, she almost immediately made clear that that was false.

Ms. F also claimed the letters had been reviewed by BBVA Compass management and legal counsel. She then acted as if she was summarizing what BBVA would be saying formally and immediately misrepresented what Mrs. Webber’s letters to the bank clearly stated.

Ms. F said the bank was unwilling to let “individuals” cash checks that Mrs. Webber had made to herself and endorsed. I interjected, stating it was clear she hadn’t read the letters, that they instructed the bank to allow only one designated person to cash her checks who would present government ID with a photo and date of birth so the bank could verify the identity.

I then said:

The letters raised many other issues.

What are you going to do about the fact that Jarred Edwards swatted my mother, called a state agency on her on false pretenses?

What are you going to do about the fact that he gave advice that was reckless, of having her put home health care aides on her checking account?

What are you going to do about the fact that he proposed that they use her Visa card…her ATM card [BBVA Compass uses Visa debit cards as ATM cards], get an ATM card and let them use it, which would be a violation of your Visa agreement and let you cancel her account?

Are you going to do anything about that? She raised a number of issues in her letter.

Ms. F then claimed that BBVA management and legal counsel reviewed “all of this”. So they officially own Mr. Edwards’ appalling conduct and refuse to do anything about it.

The only justification she gave for her assertion that the bank was “not able” to cash the checks was that it represented too much risk to Mrs. Webber and the bank.

I said that was absurd, the bank had been cashing her checks, her proposal was less risky than the bank’s dangerous advice that she put home health care aides on her checking account, and that by giving the bank written instructions, she was clearly and knowingly assuming any risk, ending any exposure by the bank. Ms. F later tried invoking policy, and I said that didn’t cut it, banks had all sorts of policies that had been found to be illegal, like Wells Fargo charging impermissible fees to customers, which got it fined. The Uniform Commercial Code specifically allows for negotiable instruments to be endorsed and transferred. The bank needed to cite either provisions of law or its own Terms and Conditions. She completely ignored that and talked over me.

She then twice tried to press me to exercise the financial power of attorney Mrs. Webber has prepared in my name. I said neither of us was willing to do that. She is still clearly capable of managing her affairs. I am the executor of her estate and I do not want to be in the position of being able to be depicted as looting her assets, and my lawyer has advised me not to do so.

Ms. F kept talking past me. It was clear she had no intention of listening. Even though she’d been told “no” about the power of attorney, she kept nattering on about it. I cut her off, and told her the bank’s position was absurd, she was not “here to assist you” but taking a customer-hostile position, and it was insulting to have such a junior person calling after the bank had swatted Mrs. Webber. I told her we’d be taking this up in the press and with the head office in Spain and ended the call.

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Also note that the bank pressing me to activate a power of attorney for its administrative convenience would be illegal in some jurisdictions. A district attorney is introducing me the elder abuse experts at the Department of Justice, so I should be able to find out how to nail down this question.

At a minimum, my attorney and another legal expert have confirmed that the BBVA’s pressure to exercise the power of attorney constitutes injurious interference in a contract.

Compass was once a decent bank. BBVA appears determined to run it into the ground by hiring incompetents (or worse, in the case of Edwards) and putting them in customer-facing positions where their poor skills are on display.

And if you argue that Mrs. Webber should leave BBVA Compass, theory and practice are two different things. I suggest you read Clive’s comment on captive customers. If more people don’t make a stink about this sort of appalling conduct, it’s going to become the new normal.

____

1 We are referring to the bank as “BBVA Compass” even though BBVA (the parent in Spain) announced its global rebranding of all local operations to “BBVA” because the bank is going about the BBVA Compass rebranding in a very half-hearted manner. Branches in the area still have “BBVA Compass” signs. The caller ID for the self-depicted-as-senior customer escalation representative, Ms. F, is merely “Compass”.

2 We have Mr. Edwards’ first name as “Jarred” as written by by a branch employee and spelled back letter by letter. If we have it wrong, it is because Mr. Edwards’ subordinates are not able to spell his name correctly.

3 IHolly F attended Mesa Community College. She studied Clinical Nutrition/Nutrition. She does not list having attained any degree. However, she have a Certificate in Biblical Studies. Her only work experience is at BBVA Compass, which explains why she knows so little about banking. Her language skills are the worst I have encountered in any US-based financial services firm call center representative.

4 If Mrs. Webber is incompetent, so is Mr. Edwards, since she bested him in an argument. In addition, she also sent three well-written letters by certified mail, at least two of which had arrived before he swatted her.

5 Some readers, like Mr. Edwards and BBVA Compass, have jumped to conclusions and argued Mrs. Webber was taking undue risk with her old arrangement. They failed to make sufficient inquires:

1. Mrs. Webber keeps her checkbook under her control, so only a single check amount at a time is at issue

2. The home health care aides all are employed by an agency and are bonded

3. The aides bring the cash back the same day they receive the check to Mrs. Webber, who counts it when she gets it to make sure the amount and the mix of bills is correct (she also sends a note to the teller listing how much of each denomination she wants, since she uses a lot of $5s and $10s for tips the few times she does go out)

4. If Mrs. Webber were shortchanged, her first call would be to the police and the second to the agency. And Mountain Brook is tiny (this is the sort of place where the police shut most of the streets in one of the shopping areas and redirect traffic on Halloween for Trick or Treat). Rest assured the cops would be there is a half hour max, more likely ten minutes

6 Mind you, a low content-to-reassurance call early on would have been a smart move, making non-committal noises about understanding that these were serious concerns and BBVA Compass was looking into them. But this call was not that.

7 This is my professional opinion based on over 20 years of information-gathering as a consultant. Our best guess is that Mr. Edwards got wind that he was in hot water, either by the PR person or someone internally alerting him, and he is senior enough to get Ms. F on the case with a self-serving and incomplete brief.

00 BBVA Compass December 9 scrubbed

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