Credit: Timothy R. Butler/Stable Diffusion

The Bank Scrooge at Christmas

By Timothy R. Butler | Posted at 9:46 PM

One week before Christmas 2021, I went out my front door to find an unexpected UPS envelope from my church’s bank tucked under my door mat. Unbeknownst to me as I picked it up, that envelope was about to make the leadup to the busiest week in the church year a lot more “interesting.” US Bank had closed our only account and with it, cut us off from funds and the ability to receive donations.

In my hands, I realized, was the entire savings of the church issued as a cashier’s check. We don’t have much as a tiny, brand new church, but all we did have was now locked up in a piece of paper I couldn’t do anything with given our new found lack of a bank account.

Regular readers know the church I pastor, Little Hills Church, was still entirely online due to the pandemic last Christmas season. That meant all the donations that operate the church were given electronically and, with nowhere to go, it meant not only did we have no way to use the funds we did have, but amid the Christmas season, all income to the church had stopped.

(Non-profits, and churches in particular, often receive much of their support that allows them to operate year around in those last few weeks of the year, making the timing of the account closure extremely inopportune even if a pastor’s efforts weren’t already meant to be focused elsewhere than fighting with a bank on Christmas week.)

I tried to call US Bank that evening but discovered the business banking department was closed for the weekend, unlike the 24-hour line they have for personal banking. I turned off our donation system, panicked a bit and started opening another bank account elsewhere in hopes that maybe in the online era I could get us back up that day. (That didn’t turn out to be possible.)

On Monday morning, I reached out to US Bank thinking at least the solution would be relatively straightforward. After waiting for 45 or so minutes to speak with someone, I learned that this all started with a missing bit of information in our account that they had requested the month before in an inconspicuous letter. When the information they asked for didn’t seem to fit our account, I wrote to the contact address I was given in that letter, noted the discrepancy and asked if any further information was needed.

The request had seemed so routine that when US Bank failed to say anything more, I forgot entirely about that incident until the agent I was on the phone with, in an accusatory tone, stated I had failed to keep the account’s file up-to-date and thus our account had been closed.

I noted I had, in fact, responded, and the bank had never followed up with any request for further information (both facts the bank ultimately acknowledged), but it was no use. The best the agent said US Bank could do in response was to try to marginally expedite reactivating our account through a lengthy, multiday process that they promised would finish before the end of the week… right before Christmas.

That didn’t happen and continued calls and attempts to move up the corporate ladder did little. It wasn’t until Christmas Eve, when in a desperate hope that maybe someone in the social media realms could help, I posted a Twitter thread about what already felt like a long ordeal, that anything happened.

One of my favorite talk radio hosts, Ryan Wrecker, then a broadcaster on St. Louis’s legendary KMOX, had for some reason decided my eclectic Twitter posts were worth following and had followed me a few years prior. He saw the thread and tweeted at US Bank. They had ignored me, but with the amplification of a notable influencer in one of the bank’s major markets, suddenly a brand crisis representative — “Ambassador Chris” — was in touch with me.

Like someone straight out of the world of a Christmas story, he was jolly and optimistic, promising to get our account back on that very day. Even when he called back, a bit deflated, after discovering everyone with the ability to reactivate us had left early for the holiday, he promised to get us back in business early the next business day.

By then, the situation had started to grow more complicated. The big push by Facebook to promote charitable giving on “Giving Tuesday” had been a few weeks prior and the deposit from donors who had supported us through Facebook’s initiative had bounced when it hit the non-existent bank account. (A mess in its own right since support at Facebook is just about as non-existent as our account.)

As Christmas gave way to the bleak midwinter, Ambassador Chris’s cheerful demeanor could barely mask his growing frustration over his employer’s perpetual bungling. Meanwhile, I had to start paying the church’s bills out of my own pocket while I went a month, then two and ultimately three without being able to receive a paycheck.

By mid-January, with a Bank of America account opened and several very positive encounters with the new bank’s support, I was finally eligible to at least deposit the cashier’s check into the new bank, if not the original one. Only, it turned out the cashier’s check had not been issued properly (what a shock!) and Bank of America could not get US Bank to honor it.

The banking nightmare before Christmas would continue until just before St. Patrick’s Day, when, after much finagling, the new check arrived and Bank of America accepted it. Even then, like some ghost of Christmas Future, US Bank was not quite done with us. After months of tortuously keeping us from our meager account’s funds, in a flourish of irony, they notified me about a series of fines for not keeping enough money in our account.

(Chris also tried to help resolve an earlier, unresolved series of mistakes on his bank’s part that resulted in us losing eligibility for a PPP loan. That never did get resolved at all, costing us thousands.)

I tremble to think how things would have gone if Wrecker had not helped us connect with someone whose job is to help smooth out a situation like this. Thanks to his calling attention to our predicament, we got to experience the best US Bank had to offer — I can only presume an even longer, more agonizing process would have otherwise been ours. US Bank simply had not empowered anyone to have enough authority to fix things if they got really messed up.

We made it through the bumps, the good news of Christmas (and beyond) was still preached and sung about, but unlike Ebenezer Scrooge, there never was a change of heart at US Bank.

The moral of this story? I’m not entirely sure there is one, but it might be to say this: whatever businesses you patronize, be wary of any that fail to give even their highest-level problem solvers the power to solve things.

Because if no one can solve problems, you can take a rightful expectation of things going wrong all the way to the bank. Just don’t count on your account being open when you get there.

Timothy R. Butler is Editor-in-Chief of Open for Business. He also serves as a pastor at Little Hills Church and FaithTree Christian Fellowship.

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