Back in April, I wrote about the horrible management of Bank of America payroll protection loans. I wrote about a case that I knew – mine. After my column appeared, I received email after email from business owners who had the same nightmare. I then wrote a column by copying some of these emails, and calling on BofA President Brian Monyihan to listen to the truly horrible way he and his colleagues treated his clients, many of whom, like me, had been clients for decades.
Last week I received the following from Jim Thiele.
Dr Kotlikoff, I read your Forbes article on P3 Lending Problems – specifically the experience with Bank of America. I have a similar story but this is really another case of “bad behavior” and I was wondering if you had heard of this new wrinkle recently. On June 26, Bank of America closed my two deposit accounts on suspicion of fraudulent activity. It turns out they were dead wrong and have since apologized. The problem is, the two printed letters I received in the mail were threatening, insulting, and just an outright slap. Full Disclosure – I’ve been to West Point and have always tried to live above the line when it comes to integrity so you can imagine that was quite a shock.
But what makes it less funny is the letter I received last night (after battling this with their pitiful customer support last week) where there was the line “… any remaining balance will not be yours. not returned “. There is over $ 10,000 in funds received from an SBA loan (not PPP) but for farmers like me (130 acre farm with Black Angus cattle) and now I am told it has been “seized?” ” In fact, BofA admitted they made a mistake – but only because I calmly yelled about it since I got the first letter on July 1. I asked (and got them to agree) to put in writing that it was a mistake on their part. We’ll see what their lawyers say, but hopefully this will protect me from their threat in the first letter suggesting they might report me to ChexSystems and it might affect my ability to get an account at any financial institution. up to five years.
A few days later Jim wrote,
Dr Kotlikoff, It’s unreal. I did an interview with a local consumer investigator from our TV station today. He will let me know if the story is resumed. He said it’s probably because it ties into another story he made where the stakes were much higher – some $ 90,000 “impounded” under similar circumstances. I discovered that the CFPB is the right agency for this kind of complaint. Filed today and seen that there is a complaints database that gives this information. If you want to try to access it directly it’s from the official site, then the third tab: Data & Research: https://www.consumerfinance.gov/
This shows that since March 1, 2020, there have been 147 complaints about Bank of America’s “current account closures”.
I then asked Jim to describe in detail exactly his experience. See his response below. Jim was able to get his money back. I wonder if the Bank returned the money it apparently confiscated from the 147 other plaintiffs. Jim, as he writes, is leaving Bank of America as soon as possible. A mass exodus may be the only thing that makes Brian Monyihan and his colleagues realize that they cannot continue to treat their clients with utter contempt and indifference and expect to stay in business.
Dear Larry, Knowing that you have shared your own horrific experiences with obtaining a PPP loan through Bank of America, I wanted to share my own story regarding the other side of the financing machine.
My name is Jim Thiele and we own a small 130 acre farm an hour south of Atlanta, Georgia where we raise Black Angus cattle. For the past six years, my son-in-law and I have worked hard to reclaim forest soil by digging stumps, smoothing and plowing the soil, and planting pasture. It is backbreaking and very expensive work, but the goal was to create a working farm that will serve as our legacy.
Originally, I was a “city boy from Chicago,” but after graduating from West Point in 1985 and serving five years in the military at Fort Stewart, Ga., I decided that in order to for the sake of my family, I would leave the service. We moved to the outskirts of Atlanta and my wife and I raised our daughter while I was working in and around the restaurant industry on the tech side.
Fast forward 30 years and still happily working to support the restaurant industry, but saw that we needed a way to keep the family connected and get back to a simpler way of life. The farm was that way and we have been blessed ever since. But, with the COVID pandemic and a general economic downturn, we needed help to keep our business going, and we were delighted to qualify for a small SBA loan. But… this is where the rest of the story begins. It’s my heart-wrenching saga of getting the loan financing and then having it illegally seized by the bank without due process, explanation or cause.
It wasn’t that long ago that there were issues getting SBA loans to those who really needed help given the COVID pandemic. Today we see financial institutions reaping billions of dollars in fees for processing loans only to their “best” clients. But to add insult to injury, for small business owners like me who have been funded, there is another trap looming just around the corner.
On June 10, my SBA loan application was funded by direct deposit from the Treasury into my Bank of America deposit account. On June 26, Bank of America sent a letter stating that they had closed my account without any explanation and that “Our decision to close your account is final and may affect your ability to open an account with us in the future.” Even worse was the literal threat that “It may affect your ability to open an account at other financial institutions for a period of up to five years.”
Knowing that it must be an error, I called Bank of America and was faced with the challenge of options without customer service with a variety of messages saying “We are experiencing high call volumes” .
When the first “real” employee responded, I was gruffly told my accounts were closed… And? The rep struggled to explain why – reading cryptic notes on the screen saying there was “a data inconsistency” on my account and it was flagged. “What does it mean?” I asked. There was no response so I asked to speak to a supervisor who also treated me like a likely criminal. Finally, she agreed to submit my account to the analyst for “further consideration”.
Of course I expected someone to call me back and tell me it was just a mistake but when I asked about it the supervisor laughed and said no and I had to just call back tomorrow. Is that so? And wait once again to continue this abusive treatment?
But I called back 24 hours later and again waited on hold to be told my account was closed and still under review. Once again, I asked to speak to a supervisor who told me that the investigation was still ongoing and that my funds were “held in the back office” pending this review. Obviously I didn’t find this answer acceptable so I asked to climb it further.
After a very tense conversation, I was told that I could climb it to the president’s office and I was transferred. But it was the generic customer service line that “required” me to provide an account number. But wait… My account was closed and the system did not recognize this number. I was able to press enough buttons to get through that layer of security and have someone answer the phone. When I asked for the “executive relations department” I was then transferred to a black hole. In other words, instead of dealing with the problem, the agent who responded simply referred me elsewhere in the Bank of America universe. Three tries later and I was able to speak with someone who listened long enough to help me. I received an email address where I could capture and share my rants. By now I had a lot to share and I did so in several carefully crafted emails to make the case.
I jumped at the chance to make my case, knowing this was my chance to tell my story and be listened to by someone. Perhaps? I emphasized that I take a deliberate four-pronged approach: 1) escalation of leadership including letters to CEO and investor relations 2) communication with Congressman Jody Hice, GA 10th District 3) formal complaints to banking regulators and 4) public forums and news outlets to raise public awareness.
I have also requested an official release letter to ensure that their ability to interfere with my future banking capabilities is removed. I have been told that this letter has been drafted and is under legal review. As soon as I receive this letter, I will withdraw my funds, close my accounts and go to a local bank where I can see where my money is going.
In short, the Byzantine system that protects companies like Bank of America has been corrupted and perverted. This experience worries me enough to want to tell others to be wary and encourage our elected officials to probe their harmful intentions a little more. I’ll get my money back and end my relationship with them, but what about the “common man?”
Update: Even after stepping up this and getting the response that this was all a huge mistake and “we’re back to normal”, I received a follow-up letter dated June 30, 2020 which in boldface read “We” have closed the above account “and that”[a]At this time, any remaining balance will not be returned to you. “