Quien Es Mas Stupido? Volume Dos

It’s been a while since we last played Quien Es Mas Stupido? Here are today’s contestants:

Contestante Numero Uno: A large, diversified financial services firm.

I have a 401(k) account from a previous employer with this FI, and I decided to roll it over into an IRA (and rollover another old 401(k) into it as well). I went online to do the rollover and everything worked smoothly until I got to the XYZ screen which led me to believe that all the funds in the account were going to be moved into a money market fund.

Which I didn’t want to do. I wanted to keep the money in the same funds they’re already in (for now). I opened up a chat window and the rep asked me “are you looking at the ABC screen?” I said no, the XYZ screen.” He then asked “you’re not looking at the ABC screen?”. And I replied “no, I’m looking at the XYZ screen. There is no ABC screen in this process.”

He then told me this: “You shouldn’t do the rollover online. There are 401(k) benefit reps available at the toll-free number until midnight.”

I said “Um, ok. I work near a [branch/investor center/physical location], I’ll go there tomorrow at lunch.” He said “They won’t be able to help you. You’ll have to call a 401(k) benefits rep.”

So I called the toll-free number, only to find out that the kind of rep I needed was only available until 8PM, not midnight.

The next morning, on my way to the office, I stopped at the physical location, and was told that they could help me — it would just involve a 10 minute call with the benefits department. I said I would come back later, and was advised to come in after 2PM when they got slow. Which I did.

The guy who told me in the morning that he could help was still there, remembered me, and began to help me. After calling up my account, he brought me over to a phone bank to call Benefits. The fact that it took them 20 minutes to verify that I was who I said I was (despite the fact that I was sitting NEXT to the rep and showed him ID) isn’t the worse of the story.

When we finally got down to actually creating the rollover IRA, the rep on the phone says “we can keep all the money in the existing account, except for the XXX fund.”

Needless to say, that was the ONE FUND I WANTED TO KEEP THE MONEY in. The branch rep says “we can do a partial rollover, and move everything except that account.” He then picks up the phone and tells that to the Benefits rep on the phone, only to find out that plan rules prohibit a partial rollover.

I said “screw it” and left. When I got home that night, there was a direct mail offer from this firm waiting for me, signed by the LOB president, urging me to rollover my old 401(k)s using their easy process. I wanted to wad up the piece of paper and make the president eat it.

Why is this firm a candidate for the Mas Stupido award? Not just because it didn’t live up to its promise of an easy rollover process. But also because of this: This firm invested only-God-knows how much to develop an online process for rolling over a 401(k), only to have some online rep tell a customer in the middle of the online process to NOT use the online process!!!!

Contestante Numero Dos:
A large bank.

I have a bunch of accounts with this firm, including two brokerage accounts: One self-directed, the other advisor-based (an advisor, by the way, whom I’ve never talked to, and have never needed to talk to since there’s no real activity in this account). In fact, what kicks off this story is the notification I received that the firm was going to hit me with an inactivity fee (stop and think for a moment how incredibly stupid the idea of an inactivity fee is).

So my wife goes down to the bank and completes all the paperwork to consolidate the advisor-based account with the self-directed account. Two different people tell her that everything is place. She leaves the bank.

Fast forward to last week, when the account(s) statement arrives, and there are still two separate brokerage accounts listed. Not only did the account consolidation not take place, but the advisor-based account got hit with not one, but TWO fees — an inactivity fee AND an advisory fee. Calls to the branch where the paperwork was submitted revealed that certain forms needed to be notarized — but no one at the bank notified my wife or myself of this, and just let things sit. Calls to my advisor have gone unanswered to date.

Why is this firm a candidate for the Mas Stupido award? Mistakes happen, but there’s no excuse for this. On top of the mistake, how can you hit an account with an “inactivity” fee at the same time as you hit it with an “advisory” fee? Doesn’t the second fee imply that something happened with the account, even if a trade wasn’t executed?

If all this wasn’t enough, the simple notion of an inactivity fee is one of the stupidest ideas around (granted, this bank is hardly the only FI to levy an inactivity fee). It’s one thing to pay a bank for doing NOTHING for me, but I ended paying this bank for not doing what I asked them to do which led them to think I was doing nothing, and they charged me that and for advising me (i.e, doing something). Is that confusing? I hope so, because it’s confusing.

So…. Quien Es Mas Stupido?

Yo soy el mas stupido. The sad thing here is that I haven’t even told you about the troubles I’m having with a third financial services provider I do business with. I have two full-time jobs (which is ironic, because not too long ago I didn’t have any). I go to work each morning to Aite Group, and then I come home to my second full-time job: Fixing problems with my financial services providers.

And to think they all want me to consolidate my accounts with them. They have got to be smoking something illegal.

There’s a lesson here for financial services firms. And it isn’t about “customer service”. When I actually get through to someone, they’re generally sincerely helpful, and service-oriented.

The key to winning my business (and I know I am not alone in this) is gaining my CONFIDENCE. I need to feel confident in the firm’s ability to do what they’re supposed to do, and what they say they’re going to do. I have no confidence in the three firms I’ve alluded to above. I have no confidence in other financial services firms that I’ve talked when looking for a new home for my financial accounts (which is why my money is still with the losers I’ve talked about here).

All this talk about using Facebook and Web 2.0 to reach Gen Yers or helping Baby Boomers develop a retirement plan and “achieve their dreams” is a complete and total waste of breath if FIs can’t DELIVER on their promises.

Unfortunately, I have yet to find one that can. (There is one that’s come close, but I need more experience with it before I can claim that it passes the test).

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