CitiBank (The Horror!)

I usually just post programming-related updates to this blog, but I can’t resist deviating a little bit from that for this post.

GSOC is nearly over, and I’ve enjoyed it greatly. I feel like it has been the best possible summer job I could have hoped for, and I feel like I made a difference to Thousand Parsec.

However, Google is paying its students this year through a CitiBank prepaid credit card. I don’t blame them for this, since it was the only option available to them at the time. I put all my blame on Citi for the following:

1. The card can only be used at ATMs or to buy things. This would be fine, except that I just want to transfer my money to a real bank account, which requires going to ATMs, withdrawing cash, and then depositing it into my account. Why don’t Citi let us transfer money through a cash advance or wire transfer? Makes no sense.

2. There is a fee on ANY ATM transaction, even on the ones Citi claims to have no fees on its website and when I call their support hotline. This fee is anywhere from $2.00, on the really low limit ATMs that it claims are fee-less, to $5.00 or so on the ones it doesn’t claim to be fee-less but that have higher per-transaction limits.

This means that I had the following choice: an ATM that charges $2.00 per $200.00, for 1% of my money in total (it’s my money – why do they get 1% of all of it?) or $5.00 per $800.00, which is a little better, but not great.

3. There is, by default, at $1000.00 per day limit on ATM withdrawals, so I would have to go 5 separate days to withdraw money on top of the huge fees.

4. Fortunately, I was able to get them to raise the limit to $2500 per day for a short time, but it’s still a huge hassle, because:

5. Their customer service line. Where do I begin?

5. a. It takes 10 minutes to go through the menu, because it reads everything slowly and you have to listen to a large amount of info before it gives you any real options.

5. b. When you go all the way through the menu to the very last option in the very last nested set of menus, it finally says, “To speak with an agent, press 0.” When you press 0, finally expecting to get through to a person, it kicks you right back to the same menu. You can’t ever get through to a person that way. Ever.

5. c. To actually talk to a person on Citi’s system, you have to choose the inaccurately named “Change your address” option, which took me about 6-10 tries (that’s like… 5-10 minutes per call, too) to figure out. Then it sends you to the actual help line, where you actually talk to a person (who, if you’re really lucky, might have an accent that doesn’t make them impossible to understand).

6. Finding every possible ATM and calling all these times and trying every possible option to get around this took me many hours (I would guess about 8-10, total) of my time, which could all have been saved if Citi just allowed fee-less money transfers to other bank accounts. Is it really that hard? Other banks do it.

7. I finally found an ATM that would do $1000.00 per transaction for $4.00 in fees, and Citi denied the withdrawal. I had to go back to the one that did $800.00 for $5.00 in fees. Argh.

I have never encountered customer service this bad, except when I tried to get an online store (they turned out to be a lot shadier than I first thought) to refund my headphones that had arrived non-functional. That’s another story, though.

The point is that Citi is going to force me to pay a total fee of about $27, if my calculations are correct, to withdraw my own money from my own account, which they had no real hand in other than to allow access to the money to be placed on a piece of plastic. I also hear they charged Google for these cards, so they’re getting money on both ends that they don’t deserve. Especially given their impenetrable customer service.

I will never bank with Citi. That’s the end of this story. The agents at Wells Fargo who did everything they could to help me get through this mess were just as appalled as I was. I very much hope Google can find a better solution for next year.


~ by greywhind on August 18, 2009.

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