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In the Ongoing Saga of Mergers and Acquisitions, Customers Continue to Be Victims

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Recently, my bank, a small local institution reminiscent of the Bailey Savings & Loan in Frank Capra's immortal film It's a Wonderful Life, "merged" (read that: was assimilated; resistance was futile) with a larger bank. Customers were assured that all their accounts, online banking transactions, direct debits, and electronic payroll transfers would carry over and that they would have access to their online accounts by Sunday (the conversion began on a Friday). Right.

I have just spent several hours trying to unravel the labyrinthine process of reactivating my online services and trying to understand why there is no list of bill payees when I have recurring monthly direct debits and sometimes pay bills one-off online. Moreover, I noticed that the bank, after deducting the amount of a bill I recently paid online before the new system went live, had a duplicate that was pending payment in today's transactions.

I first called the acquiring institution to reactivate my online services. After about 40 minutes of discussions and being put on hold several times, the representative told me that the bank was unable to convert the payees list for about 500 customers. "How does the bank intend to correct that?" I inquired. The representative said that the bank could not correct those errors. "How can that be?" I further inquired. The bank was "sorry." "Yep," thought I (expletives deleted), it is a sorry bank. Fact is those customers will have to re-enter the information. I, however, am still unsure if I am one of those customers. But after 40 minutes and no resolution, I decided to remain ignorant. It was in my best interest to save myself time, avoid further vexation, and prevent provocation that could lead to a possible jail sentence. I decided to just wait and see what happens when my insurance company and car loan financial institution try to debit my account next week. After all, there is certain amount of schadenfreude in seeing if my insurance and car loan companies get their money or not. (Sometimes I like to spread the pain around.)

Since this was a "dead" topic, I now moved on to the duplicate debit. I was looking at my online account transactions and saw a payment that was deducted (via Automated Clearing House, or ACH) on January 18 for $24.04 and the same amount to the same company pending debit. "Why is there a payment pending today to my wireless company when there is a debit in my account history of the same payment being made last week?" I inquired. Incidentally, the representative, who began the conversation in a very upbeat manner, was progressively becoming depressed. "I can't see your account history," she lamented, "only the transactions conducted after the merger." "WHAT?" I said. "That's ridiculous! How can you help customers straighten out problems in the aftermath of a conversion and not be able to see what they see?" Silence. And then, "Perhaps you should contact your wireless company." "OK," I said.

I also thought to contact the local branch of the bank where I do my banking as certainly they would be able to see my account history as well as any transactions before and after the conversion. Before doing that, however, I thought it best to continue my sleuthing by contacting my wireless phone company to determine if anything had gone awry on their end. The representative told me that only one ACH transaction had occurred and that perhaps the bank during the conversion process created the dupe.

Armed with this information, I called my local branch to discover they also cannot see customers' account histories prior to the conversion. "It is a whole new bank," I am told. And what the hell am I, chopped liver?

I end the tirade here as the bank in fact did debit my account again for the same transaction and then reversed it the next day. However, I have a few observations about mergers, acquisitions, conversions, integrations, and their affect on the customer.

Recent press articles have alluded that customer service is once again being touted as "Job 1." I would like to intone and amplify that sentiment. It is outrageous that a debacle such as I have recounted here has occurred in this century, when technology affects virtually everything in our lives. And yet I am convinced that many more and worse debacles are occurring every day. This bank account conversion should have been seamless. In a follow-up call, one of the bank staff informed me that they don't even know how to use the system. Customer service?

I have to think that some degree of assessment, planning, and project management went into this conversion. How is it possible that 500 customers must now re-enter information that they were promised would be migrated into the new system? Further, how is it that the acquiring and the acquired institutions have both been rendered incapable of viewing their customers' transaction histories prior to the merger, yet, through some programming legerdemain, the customers can view their transaction histories for 60 days? Moreover, how is it possible that bank employees received either no training or incredibly abysmal training? This is a bank; it serves customers; it is responsible for handling their MONEY! What part of this simple statement did the architects of this acquisition, conversion, and migration not understand or consider unimportant? In their haste to divide and conquer, did the acquiring institution even look at the business climate and customer culture? Anyone ever hear of requirements?

The acquiring institution faces huge competition from another larger bank that has branch offices on every corner and is open seven days a week. Did anyone think about that?

It appears that "plan" has once again become a four-letter word. "Assessment and due diligence" have become superfluous. And "project management" is some arcane practice that just takes too much time. And what about security? Witness the recent TJX security breach.

If companies, especially brick and mortar institutions, truly wish to retain customers in this day and age of fierce competition, especially in the online arena and in the face of mass customization, exemplary customer service and satisfaction, not mediocre customer service, had better become the premier priority of all the lines of business. Because customers will not just express their dissatisfaction with their feet; they will use the Internet to vent their grievances to millions of their closest friends.

Maria A. DeGiglio is President of, and Principal Analyst for, Maria A. DeGiglio & Associates, an advisory firm that provides clients with accurate and actionable information on business and technology initiatives. You can reach Ms. DeGiglio at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

MARIA DEGIGLIO

Maria DeGiglio is president and principal analyst of Maria A. DeGiglio & Associates. Current clients of Maria A. DeGiglio & Associates include the Visiting Nurse Service of New York ; Experture, LLC; and MC Press. Ms. DeGiglio has more than 20 years of experience as an IT consultant, industry analyst, and executive. From 1997 to 2005, she worked for Andrews Consulting Group and the Robert Frances Group.

 

Ms. DeGiglio received her Masters Degree in Health Advocacy from Sarah Lawrence College and graduated Cum Laude from Cornell University with a Bachelor of Arts Degree.

 

 

Ms. DeGiglio has worked with IT and C-level executives to enable IT alignment with business goals and to implement best practices. She has experience and expertise in both large enterprises and in small- and medium-sized business. Ms. DeGiglio has authored over one hundred articles, reports, and white papers.

 

 

Since 2004, she has worked in the healthcare industry and in health IT investigating the legal, ethical, and regulatory aspects of creating, implementing, and exchanging electronic health records (EHRs). Ms. DeGiglio is an expert in security, privacy, and HIPAA regulatory compliance.

 

 

Ms. DeGiglio may be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

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