Slaying the Wrong Cows

FRAMINGHAM (07/31/2000) - I realized I was in trouble when Fleet Bank sent me three new ATM cards after taking over my bank, BankBoston, and each card had a different account number. Obviously the IT groups were having some fun merging their systems.

The card thing was resolved with a phone call. The customer rep was surprised but told me to simply tear up two of the cards. No big deal. I filed the inconvenience in with the resentment I felt about the new minimum balances and transaction fees Fleet was imposing.

But then I started rubbing up against other merger-related "improvements."

The most egregious was swapping out an elegant ATM system and replacing it with a less intuitive interface that requires more input. Any idiot that ever stuck a piece of plastic in a machine could appreciate the thought that went into BankBoston's ATM design.

It took me weeks to even find Fleet's replacement for my favorite ATM feature, Fast Cash, and many of the ATMs simply don't seem to support it yet, even though they did when they were run by BankBoston.

There was a while there that I had to hit 15 buttons to achieve on Fleet's kludge what BankBoston enabled me to do by hitting seven. A huge step backward.

Fleet also "improved" the telephone banking system. I called to transfer some money to another account - a simple transaction using BankBoston's system - but I was denied. When I got a representative on the line she said that while I could access either account from an ATM, the accounts were no longer linked via the telephone system. Nor could she link them for me. That would have to be done by a different department.

Exasperated, I asked the woman how she would compare the Fleet systems to the former BankBoston systems, and without missing a beat she said the BankBoston systems were easier to use and more capable.

As a customer, I come away from this thinking the bank doing the acquiring simply standardized on the systems it built instead of going with the best systems for the job. Pure hubris.

This kind of shortsighted decision-making will cost this bank business. If you're going through a merger of your own, I urge you to stand up for the rights of the customer, even if it means slaying one of your sacred cows.

- John Dix

Editor in chief

jdix@nww.com

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