September 4, 2017

Thanks for Calling Wells Fargo

Due to one of the (many!) online security breaches, my Simple bank account numbers became compromised and required me to close-and-reopen my bank account. (Why can’t account numbers be re-generated on-demand?) During the process of closing, and re-opening my Simple account, I opened a backup Wells Fargo account.

Together We'll Go FarTogether We'll Go Far

I was able to set up my account by walking into an impressive, original Wells Fargo branch building. About sixty minutes later, I was all set up. This was not my first Wells Fargo account. As a child, I opened a savings account with First Union. First Union merged into Wachovia, which merged into Wells Fargo during the recent financial crisis.

However, as a new customer”  Wells Fargo did not have historical purchasing data for me. The bank was terribly nervous letting me spend my money. Instead, quietly block my debit card and let me find out when I tried to buy something next.

Wells isn’t the only bank that proactively deactivates customers cards when they suspect fraud. Anyone can get their card blocked. Just buy two tanks of gas and some shoes. Most financial institutions have evolved to text customers the minute the anti-fraud algorithms raise a flag.

For Wells Fargo customs, you should receive receive a text message or call to confirm your recent purchases. Unfortunately for me, these alerts never came through. Instead, when I swiped, and my purchase was declined, I called the number on the back of your card. Which goes something like this:

  1. Call 1–800-TO-WELLS, their general line.
  2. Are prompted to say your account or card number. Though, using the keypad does work. Saying your card number out loud in public is incredibly insecure.
  3. Are prompted to say (again, not great if you’re in public) the last four digits of your Social Security Number.
  4. Are prompted to say (seriously?) your debit card PIN.
  5. Reach the main menu. The IVR has no knowledge of your blocked card.
  6. Say representative
  7. The IVR responds: I understand you want to speak to a banker but first, can you tell me a little about what you’re calling about.”

Calling is a last-result option. Relied on only when online options for managing my account have been exhausted. If I use a secret trap-door word like agent,’ representative,’ or operator,’ I mean business.

  1. Sheepishly say my card has been declined.’
  2. Listen as the IVR responds: I think you’re calling about Wells Fargo products, is that right?”
  3. Sigh, exasperatedly, because even though that isn’t technically why I’m calling, I’m not going to correct you. 
  4. Say Yes.
  5. The first 3 seconds of their 30-second-loop song starts playing.
  6. Hear We’re currently experiences unusually high call volumes right now, press 1 to return to the automated system.”

Wells Fargo is always experiencing a huge cal volume, no matter what time of day, day of the week, or financial shitstorm is currently happening. 

Companies who state that they are experiencing a higher than usual call volume are unconsciously expressing two things. First, that their products or services are unreliable, confusing, or in some state that requires their customer to regularly call in. And two, that they are chronically understaffed.

  1. Wait for 15–20 minutes for a banker to answer the phone, unaware of who I am, what my account needs help, or why I’m calling. All of my details are reverified, making my time spent with your lovely IVR a waste.
  2. Explain that I need my card unblocked, as I’m trying to buy dinner, and this half-hour card-declining world I’m in is quite frustrating and embarrassing.
  3. Listens as the banker spends 2–3 minutes looking for the unblock card’ option on their poorly designed backend.
  4. The banker then says, Let me verify some transactions here” At which point they begin to list all the transactions made in the last 3–5 days.
  5. Hear: Okay, Mr. Carlson, you card is in the queue to be unblocked. It should be ready to use within 90 seconds.”
  6. I politely, but quickly hangup while they say Thanks for being a Wells Far—”
  7. I wait with the merchant a minute and a half. Oddly, instead of waiting for the 90 seconds before telling me the card is operational, they offload that delay to me. If I try to use my card in that 90-second window, it resets the block, and I have to call back in. Nightmarish.

Wells Fargo makes an embarrassing, nerve-wracking experience worse by not informing anyone ahead of time that I’m calling about a declined card. They have blocked my card so often; I’m surprised their system doesn’t call to alert you (via text, email or phone call) when it happens. Many Wells Fargo bankers and phone reps have told me that I should receive alerts and ways to allow access without needing to call. Unfortunately, it has never happened.

Forcing customers to wade through 20 minutes hold times to make a purchase is criminal. If you can’t implement an automated system for clearing transactions, have a dedicated queue for those with blocked cards.

Wells Fargo is the largest bank in the world, and with it comes the expectations that they can proactively manage security and fraud concerns. IVR is just as important to design as your online banking experience. It’s another touchpoint, and should be considered carefully.


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