Bank changes tune on iPod

Woman act­ing on Bank of the West of­fer gets static

Los Angeles Times - - Business - DAVID LAZARUS

It used to be that banks gave out toast­ers to at­tract new cus­tomers. Bank of the West brought that idea into the dig­i­tal age with a re­cent of­fer of a free iPod Touch if you opened a check­ing ac­count.

But, as Glas­sell Park res­i­dent Phyl­lis Chiu dis­cov­ered, get­ting that iPod wasn’t al­ways as easy as the bank would have had peo­ple be­lieve.

“It seemed like a won­der­ful of­fer,” Chiu, 58, told me. “I had been in­ter­ested in get­ting an iPod Touch. But it didn’t turn out as I ex­pected.”

Bank of the West an­nounced in July that

For The Times it would give away a $200 iPod Touch — the one that looks like an iPhone but isn’t — to all new cus­tomers who opened check­ing ac­counts with a min­i­mum de­posit of $100.

To qual­ify, the cus­tomers would also have to ei­ther es­tab­lish min­i­mum $500 di­rect de­posits each month, make at least 10 on­line bill pay­ments or make 20 debit card trans­ac­tions by Oct. 31.

Chiu heard about the of­fer from a friend who was a Bank of the West cus­tomer. Since the bank of­fered a $50 bonus to any cus­tomer who re­ferred some­one new to the com­pany, Chiu was glad to be able to do her friend a good turn while also get­ting an iPod.

But when she went to the bank’s web­site to es­tab­lish her new check­ing ac­count, she couldn’t find any place to in­clude the re­fer­ral form for her friend’s bonus. So she

went to a Glen­dale branch Aug. 14 to open the ac­count in per­son.

Here’s where things start get­ting hinky.

Chiu said she was told by a bank worker, Bar­bara Wright, that to qual­ify for the free iPod, she’d not only have to meet the cri­te­ria in the ad but also open up a sav­ings ac­count along with a check­ing ac­count.

“I said that’s not in the of­fer,” Chiu re­called. “She said, ‘Well, that’s how we do it at this branch.’ ”

Chiu said she then took it up with branch man­ager Simon Markar­ian, who also re­fused to let her qual­ify for an iPod with­out open­ing both a check­ing and a sav­ings ac­count.

“You should just go to the Ap­ple store and buy an iPod,” Chiu quoted the man­ager as say­ing. “You don’t want a re­la­tion­ship with our bank. You only want an iPod. A check­ing ac­count is not a re­la­tion­ship with our bank.”

Nei­ther Markar­ian nor Wright could be reached for com­ment.

Back at home, Chiu said she went on­line and opened her check­ing ac­count. But now it was her friend who got squeezed be­cause she wouldn’t get her $50 bonus, even thought she’d done ex­actly what the bank wanted her to do — bring new busi­ness to Bank of the West.

Chiu also wrote an e-mail to the bank de­tail­ing her ex­pe­ri­ence. But she said no one at the com­pany re­sponded — at least not un­til I got in­volved.

Su­san Fro­man, a Bank of the West spokes­woman, ac­knowl­edged to me that Chiu had lodged a com­plaint by e-mail.

“The com­plaint we re­ceived con­cerns us be­cause it de­scribes in­ter­ac­tions which are com­pletely in­con­sis­tent with our cor­po­rate cul­ture and the bank’s rep­u­ta­tion for ex­cel­lent ser­vice,” Fro­man said.

She said the bank would in­ves­ti­gate the mat­ter.

As it hap­pens, just three days af­ter Chiu said she was shown the door by the Glen­dale branch, Bank of the West an­nounced that it was cut­ting short its iPod give­away.

The pro­mo­tion was sup­posed to last un­til Sept. 3. Now it would end Aug. 20.

Ba­si­cally, the bank ran out of iPods.

“Our re­cent iPod Touch cam­paign proved to be one of our most pop­u­lar of­fers ever,” Fro­man said. “Thou­sands of new cus­tomers were in­tro­duced to Bank of the West. We are con­fi­dent that the vast ma­jor­ity of those cus­tomers are happy and will have deep, last­ing re­la­tion­ships with us.”

Be that as it may, the bank is now tak­ing Chiu’s sit­u­a­tion se­ri­ously. She said a se­nior Bank of the West ex­ec­u­tive called her Wed­nes­day to apol­o­gize for what hap­pened. He also in­vited her to send in the form so her friend could get her re­fer­ral bonus.

While I’m glad it all worked out this time, there are some lessons here for all con­sumers:

Keep a copy of any of­fers you re­ceive. If you think a busi­ness has pulled a bait and switch, you’ll want some proof.

Keep records of your deal­ings with the busi­ness. In Chiu’s case, she said she wrote down the bank man­ager’s com­ments right away and even read them back to him. She also e-mailed the bank with a de­tailed de­scrip­tion of her ex­pe­ri­ence.

Be per­sis­tent. If you don’t get any­where with cus­tomer ser­vice, keep try­ing to es­ca­late to a higher level of man­age­ment. And if that doesn’t work, you know where to find me.

As for Bank of the West, points for (fi­nally) do­ing the right thing. But maybe next time it should stick with toast­ers. David Lazarus’ col­umn runs Tues­days and Fri­days. Send your tips or feed­back to

Katie Falken­berg

GIVE­AWAY: Phyl­lis Chiu ran into trou­ble when she went to a Glen­dale branch of Bank of the West to open an ac­count so she could qual­ify for an iPod Touch.

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