Why I Took my Money out of Sovereign Bank

by Dave Atkins on August 18, 2010

in Essay

Thanks to my diligent monitoring of my online banking account, I caught $2700 of errors in the past 30 days. Sovereign Bank (Santander) is still in the process of fixing the last mistake, but two strikes was enough for me to move my business to a local bank.

The first error occurred when David Adkins walked into the Salem, MA branch of Sovereign Bank and withdrew $1500 from my account. When I saw this withdrawal online I was surprised and clicked on the link to pull up an image of the withdrawal slip. That slip–handwritten with a drivers license number for ID verification–gave me a clue as to what had probably happened. He walked into the branch and asked to make a withdrawal. He didn’t know his account number, so the teller looked up his name (misspelling it) and found my account number. After visually verifying his drivers license (still oblivious to the misspelling), the bank handed over the cash.

I called Sovereign’s customer service and was told not to worry about it; they would investigate it and if there was a problem, they’d fix it. They said not to worry–if there was a problem, the would retroactively credit the account for any fees, etc. They did not seem to understand my concern that while they were “investigating” this potential fraud, my checks might be bouncing. Fortunately, I had money to transfer from savings and cover the mistake until it was fixed a few days later.

A few weeks later, a corollary  type of mistake happened. I noticed a $1200 “DEP RET” withdrawal on my account and a $10 fee. When I first called, the transaction was still pending, so I was told “that department isn’t open now–call back in the morning.” So I did. The automaton who handled my call engaged me in the following frustrating dialog:

Me: What does “DEP RET” mean?

Him: That’s a deposit return.

Me: What is a deposit return?

Him: That’s when a deposit is returned.

Me: But what is that?! Is that like a bounced check?

Him: Yes.

Me: But I haven’t even made a deposit recently.

Him: You deposited $1200 from an ATM a week ago. Because you did it at the ATM, I can’t tell anything about it.

Me: So what am I supposed to do here?

Him: We’ll send you a copy of the check…or we might try to cash it again. Maybe it will clear. If not, we’ll send it to you.

Me: So then I can go figure out who I have to track down?

Him: Yes.

Unable to help me with this problem, the agent then informed me of a new policy going into effect immediately that I needed to “opt-in” to. It seems a new law prohibits banks from covering your overdrafts anymore, but if I agree to opt-in, nothing will change and it will be great. So he read me a bunch of legalese and I said, sure, why not? Nice upsell, but I digress…at least I’m not banking with Wells Fargo.

Well it turns out I did deposit a check for $1200–from a relative. Before calling her up and starting the wheels of financial worry turning, I figured, let’s wait and see that returned check.

Well, I didn’t have to wait long–the check arrived on Saturday morning. It was a $1200 check drawn on the metavente.com bank and made out to a woman in Rhode Island. It was marked “Return Reason – Stop Payment.” The key fact (which I spent about an hour trying to explain to 4 different people on the phone) was that the check was NOT made out to me. It had nothing to do with me! I did not deposit the check. The check I had deposited had cleared just fine.

So…4 people? Yes. The first person on the phone asked me if perhaps I had taken cash from someone to deposit their check. No…I can see her endorsement right here on the back. Then I said–I think this Metavente thing is a bill paying service. So she transferred me to Sovereign’s Online Bill Payment department. After about 10 minutes that person said, “wait, you don’t seem to have online bill paying set up with us.” I said–right…I never said I did. I think this check came from some other bank.” OK, transfer back to customer service. By this time, I had a better idea of how to describe my problem and the person I spoke to “got it” and opened a ticket for me–then told me to take the check down to the local branch office on Monday morning. She said, “this is a one in a million type thing”–I said, funny, let me tell you what happened a couple weeks ago…

On Monday morning I got to explain it all again to the branch manager. I’m done.

Here’s what I think happened: When that stop payment hit Sovereign, they looked up the history of transactions on that day and clicked on the wrong one, resulting in the withdrawal and fee to my account instead of the correct payee.

It’s been three days and I’m still waiting for this error to be credited to my account. But in the meantime, I’ve opened an account with a local bank and am in the process of transferring everything out of Sovereign for good.

Monitor your finances. I would have eventually caught the stop payment problem because they mailed me the check, but that $1500 withdrawal could have gone unnoticed until a check or autopayment of mine bounced. These types of errors should NEVER happen with a financial institution. More importantly, my experience with customer service should not be a defensive struggle to justify and explain myself. We all assume competence in these banking transactions (these types of mistakes should literally be inconceivable), but that is an assumption we can no longer take for granted.

In a twist of irony, I received my bank statement today which contained a notice that the returned items fee is increasing to $15.

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