The announcement that National City was being acquired by PNC Bank happened towards the end of October, 2008. It was many months before the signs on the local branches where I live changed, and not until the third weekend in February, 2010 that the online banking system switched to PNC. So basically, PNC had about 16 months to get ready for the switchover. Since then, it’s hard to believe or explain how many ways they have failed. (Admittedly, this is only person’s experience, but you can’t have this many problems just by accident.)
I had multiple accounts with the bank, including savings, personal checking, my small business account and a business credit card. Right out of the box, PNC merged all of the accounts into one online space, therefore also merging and scrambling the online payees for the personal and business accounts in their website. It seems like that should have been an easy fix. Six months later, apparently it’s not. More importantly, the hidden problems behind this were more than I could have guessed.
The first set of transactions from PNC’s online system sent three payments to American Electric Power. One of those was for the electric bill, as was scheduled. The second was for our water and sewer bill, which should have gone to the city utilities. The third was a fairly large credit card payment. By the time I discovered the error, of course, the credit card payment was overdue, creating problems there.
I contacted the local head of the bank to explain the problem. The first thing that I discovered was that he had no clue as to how the online banking system worked. In fact, he admitted, his wife paid their bills at home. He did try to help, but it took three weeks to get this first problem resolved. AEP understood the problem (sort of) but their accounting system was not set up to give money back to customers. That required certified letters from the bank, and time to process.
Long story made short, it required many phone calls over a couple of months before I finally found someone who could even explain the different actors involved.
I use Quicken for our personal accounts and Quickbooks for the business. What I learned, though, was that when I set up a payment in Quicken or Quickbooks it was separate from the online payment website. My payment instructions went first to Intuit (the maker of Quicken and Quickbooks) and was sent in batch to PNC the next day. The important point is that the list of payees in Quicken and Quickbooks is also separate from PNC’s online system. I could manage the payee information in PNC’s system. I could not, though, even see the payee information that PNC received from Intuit. So in this case, I could verify that my payee information in my copy of Quicken was correct for the credit card company, but I could not see what PNC received from Intuit (wrong address, wrong account numbers, etc.), much less correct the information. Nor, apparently, could PNC’s online assistants.
The next piece of information was that PNC does not directly transmit money from my accounts to the vendors I am trying to pay. That is done by third-party called Fiserv (http://www.fiserv.com/). (Fiserv acquired Checkfree, which was an electronic bill payment service that I used in the early 1990s, before banks had their own online systems.) So it was actually Fiserv that transmitted my credit card payment to the power company, based on information or reasoning that I did not have access to. (PNC online banking would not give me a direct number to talk to them, though at one point they did conference a representative in on a call in yet another failed attempt to resolve one of the problems.)
Since I could not access or correct any information from Intuit (if that was the problem) inside PNC’s system, the solution seemed to be to quit using both Quicken and Quickbooks and work directly through PNC’s website, entering my intended payments there. That would have been OK, except for the original problem of merging all of my accounts together. When I went to the Pay Bills tab in PNC’s site, the only account linked there was my business checking. I was unable to schedule payments from our personal checking account for our personal bills. Without the gory details, it took until the end of August to get the personal account linked.
In the mean time, payments continued to get misdirected. I got up one morning to find no water coming from the faucets in the house. I eventually discovered that the city had turned it off for non-payment, for which I had to drive to the city offices to pay by check, including a reconnection fee. This time, the local bank head didn’t even bother to return my call.
The latest episode involved yet another payment made from the wrong account while I was traveling on business, overdrawing the account and locking me out of the electronic payment system. This time, the number that showed up in the message was directly to Fiserv. The representative there explained that Fiserv actually makes payments from its own accounts, then recoups the money from my accounts at PNC. In this case, they had been unable to get the money for some of my payments because PNC said that they did not recognize my account numbers. They were within moments of bouncing yet another payment, asking the vendor for their money back since they could not get it from my account at PNC.
The Fiserv rep guessed that there was a problem with the account numbers (though many payments in the past had gone through, obviously). He advised me to go to PNC’s system and correct the account numbers, which I explained was absolutely impossible. He seemed unable to believe this, and took the extra effort to conference in a PNC online banking rep. The woman there verified that not only could I not correct the account numbers, neither could she. She had no idea who Fiserv was, nor what the problems might be with the payments. She forwarded the call to a higher level tech office for PNC, who is also not accessible from outside lines. The rep there verified that he could see the entire log of problems and calls over the last six months, and apologized – but with no resolution. When the Fiserv rep said that he had done all he could, he hung up, disconnecting the call with PNC as well – and needless to say, there was no call back from them.
If there was an easy banking alternative where I live, I would obviously have switched months ago. Living in small, rural areas comes at price, though. Bank of America gets great reviews, but does not operate in Kentucky. No other large, national bank is close by, either. Since I travel internationally with some frequency, I need to have dependable access there as well.
I have just set up an account at USAA (http://www.usaa.com), an online banking system originally set up for US military personnel, which now allows other members as well – for some services. Unfortunately, you really need a local bank account as well for making deposits, etc., so this is only an interim solution. More as the saga unfolds…