Bank changes tune on iPod
Woman acting on Bank of the West offer gets static
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 email@example.com
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.