Saturday, February 25, 2012

Just sign here

Getting serviced by the financial sector

Most junk mail is pretty easy to ignore. Of course, when it comes bearing the label of your bank, it's important to give it a quick scan to ensure the “Important Information About Your Account!” is something significant (“We are pleased to inform you that we are raising our fees to serve you better!”) and not just another gimmick to sell you something you don't want (“And our protection service comes with valuable premium points that you can redeem for free gifts and services!”). This particular letter from Bank of America offered a streamlined mortgage refinance option. I had to consider it seriously.

As a fortunate survivor of the housing bubble, I'm in a home that hasn't lost value and isn't even close to being “under water.” (Hurrah.) A few years ago I did a refinance with BofA that shaved a point off my interest rate and took my monthly payment down a notch. Was BofA's offer an opportunity to do it again? I pondered awhile, but eventually called the 800 number.

“Barbara” was delighted to receive my call. She pulled up the information on my current mortgage, asked a few questions, and then gave me a tentative quote that would have a very nice positive impact on my bottom line. I could get my mortgage rate lowered by another full point. Since I used to have a two-digit interest rate in the “good” old days, I was duly impressed that my already-low rate could go even lower. Furthermore, it looked like the streamlined process was genuinely streamlined. My previous refinance had been recent enough that BofA was waiving the appraisal and a bunch of other potentially costly (and time-consuming) hurdles in the mortgage process.

I said “looked like.” Isn't it cute how na├»ve I can still be, despite my advanced years and allegedly keen intellect? The first detour from the refinance superhighway seemed innocent enough, as Barbara explained that she was not a BofA employee: “I'm an independent mortgage broker who does the initial processing on each account and then turns it over to an account manager at the bank. I'm a contractor rather than a bank employee.”

“Okay, I understand,” I said. “BofA doesn't have to provide you with any benefits since you're an independent contractor.”

Barbara laughed.

“That's right, but it also frees me from the bank's schedule and it's up to me how much time I put in and how many mortgage applications I process.”

Sort of like a piece rate in a sweat-shop. But I didn't say that.

Barbara told me I would receive a couple of application forms in my e-mail. I was to fill them out and return them to Barbara's account manager. The account manager, as an actual bank employee, would take the next steps.

And that's what “Deborah” did. She sent me a nice follow-up e-mail confirming that she had received the initial refinance information from Barbara and would appreciate receiving my responses to the information forms within a week, so as to expedite the process.

It still sounded good to me.

I quickly sent in the forms and then got a second message from Deborah: Could I please submit a notarized certification of my living trust and a letter of explanation concerning some confusion over my residence address? I didn't know what a “trust cert” was, but it didn't take long to get that straightened out and obtain one. The address matter was even simpler. I sent a letter explaining that my home was in the same neighborhood as the apartment complex where I had once lived. Thus I had resided in two different locations with very similar street addresses. The confusion in my address was apparent rather than real. Please disregard the earlier (but similar) address.


Then silence. I sent Deborah a message after a few weeks. What's up with my refinance application? She wrote back that she would find out for me. But then I heard from “Liu” instead. While Deborah was on the West Coast, Liu was calling me from the East Coast. She now had my refinance application and wanted me to know it was in good shape. However, she needed me to provide a “trust cert” and a letter of explanation about a supposed ambiguity in my residence address. I explained that these had already been submitted to Deborah. Weeks ago, in fact. Liu explained in return that she did not have these documents in her Florida office and would I please send them again? It seemed the course of least resistance, so I resubmitted the information.

More waiting. We were not simply off the refinance superhighway, we were chugging along on the local bus, stopping over and over again. I finally got another message from BofA: Had I renewed my homeowner's insurance policy? Was BofA the beneficiary?

They were concerned that I had less than 90 days before my policy would lapse, so the renewal was a matter of interest to the bank. I wrote back:

“While the existing policy is less than 90 days from its expiration (though I will not let it lapse), this is not my fault. I began this refinance process in December 2011, over 50 days ago.”

So there!

I had, of course, no idea what the bank's next response would be. As it turned out, it wasn't from the bank.

“Hello, Mr. Ferox. My name is Brenda and I'm following up on your application to refinance your Bank of America home mortgage. I need to ask you just a few questions before moving your application to the next step.”

“Yes, Brenda. Thank you. What are your questions?”

“First of all, I need to know if you have a notarized certification of trust and, second, I need to get some clarification about your residential address.”

I heaved a loud sigh into the phone.

“Brenda, I have already submitted both of those things. Twice.

There was a short pause at the other end.

“Well, that figures,” she said.

“It does?”

“Oh, yes. Happens all the time. Where did you send the information?”

“First I sent it to a BofA office in San Jose and then I sent it to a BofA office in Florida.”

“Okay,” she said. “They're passing your application along, but they're not passing along the accompanying information. I suppose it's just simpler to keep asking you to send it each time. My company works for BofA in processing loan applications and I see this all the time. Sorry.”

“So what do I do?”

“If you give me your e-mail address, I'll send you a message that you can reply to. Attach the documents again and I'll get them directly.”

“So it's just simpler if I send them again?”

“Sorry, but yes. Exactly.”

I sent them again. Three times now. And counting. The financial “services” sector seems to bear an inappropriate name.

I hope that they keep using my phone number and my e-mail address. I'm afraid that if they mail anything they'll send it to my old address. (I should probably send them an explanation!)


Gene O'Pedia said...

One possibility is that the folks at Bank of America have a sense of humor. "Hey Barb, Debbie, I've got this Ferox guy going for a third attempt! I'll alert 'Louise' to be ready for a fourth."

And then there's this great line from Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath:

When I was a kid my ol' man give me a haltered heifer an' says take her down an' git her serviced. I done it, an' ever' time since then when I hear a business man talkin' about service, I wonder who's gettin' screwed.

Karen said...

Ah, another satisfied BofA customer. I went through a similar routine -- though not quite as agonizing -- to close out an account that had been in the name of my father's trust. I will never, ever, ever do business with BofA again.

Ray said...

You have to admit, though, that it's comforting to know they won't now give money to just anyone who asks. They're being very responsible.

Seriously though, one has to wonder, if all those various people are getting paid to do essentially nothing, where does that money come from? It's a strange old world.