CT Attorney General demands answers from M&T Bank

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The state attorney general’s office is reviewing concerns over the conversion of People’s United bank accounts to M&T Bank, calling the groundwork a ‘serious lack of preparation’ that has left Connecticut customers scrambling to pay their invoices on time thanks to automation. accounts receivable.

Attorney General William Tong wrote to M&T Bank to “express deep concern over the complaints my office has received from numerous consumers and employees” regarding the conversion. Complaints filed by his office ranged from clients’ inability to access bank records and their own money to terminated employees being “denied access to timely information regarding COBRA health benefits, severance pay, holiday payments” and more.

“Connecticut customers lost hours of time on hold and in branches trying to resolve issues that should have been resolved before conversion,” M&T wrote Wednesday. “If Connecticut consumers continue to experience prolonged gaps in customer service, my office will not hesitate to use the full extent of our authority to protect families and businesses.”

Tong also wants to know whether M&T kept People’s United employees at pay rates in line with what they were doing before the merger, and whether it transferred employees to fill positions at People’s United’s former headquarters. in Bridgeport, which is now a regional center for M&T. .

“We totally agree that we need to stay laser focused to serve customers and improve their experience when interacting with a new financial institution for the first time. That’s why we were open with our customers before and during the conversion process,” M&T spokesperson Max Reiss said in an email response to a CTInsider request for comment on Tong’s letter. “While the vast majority of customers have had a successful onboarding and connection experience, we know that others’ experiences have not lived up to our expectations, and we’re not going to rest until not every customer will be satisfied.”

After acquiring Bridgeport-based People’s United Financial last April, M&T Bank converted People’s United systems to its own systems over Labor Day weekend. Since then, customers have posted hundreds of complaints about problems accessing their accounts through online channels and long waits for help through call centers and at branches. One issue involved those who were having trouble accessing their account in part due to a technical issue resulting from the use of special characters in account names.

“We no longer have access to our accounts since last Wednesday and I am told that our ‘profile’ has completely disappeared, and we will have to open new accounts which may take a week or more,” said Adrienne Farrar Houël, CEO of Greater Bridgeport Community Enterprises, in an email to CTInsider. “The manager calls the back office and has to wait over an hour to be told he will call back or she should call back. I’m still angry and still don’t have our company accounts open and run.”

Since last year, People’s United was the fourth largest retail bank in New England ranked by customer deposits behind Bank of America, Citizens Bank and TD Bank, with a market share of approximately 5%. That’s ahead of M&T’s market share in New York, where the Buffalo-based company ranked seventh in its home turf last year.

M&T’s last major acquisition was in 2015, when the Buffalo, NY-based bank acquired Hudson City Bancorp, picking up a small number of branches in Connecticut. At the time, CEO Rene Jones served as chief financial officer before being promoted to the top job in December 2017.

M&T’s current chief financial officer, Darren King, briefly addressed the integration on Wednesday at a Barclays-sponsored investor conference, saying the company was “pleased with the way things are going”.

“We are in what I would call a stabilization mode – when you take a franchise that has 700,000 customers and you change their online banking and you change their mobile access, there is always change and it creates challenges for people and we’re working on it right now,” King said Wednesday morning. “Everything we have and works, there are no technical issues – it’s just about dealing with this change and getting it in place and making it work.”

M&T did not provide an immediate tally of the number of customers experiencing issues, as tracked through its call center and other channels, including social media. The company has acknowledged that some customers have encountered prolonged wait times on the phone or at bank branches trying to get a resolution, although the company has had its employees work overtime to try to restore access. of the account.

“Logging into the system, accessing their mobile apps, making sure their passcodes are working — these are common issues,” said Mike Keegan, an M&T executive in Albany who heads up community markets, and before that, a regional framework for the New England Region. “We spent a lot of time communicating with our customers, and I think upon closer inspection, we sent them a ton of information. What we’ve learned along the way is that we could have made it a little easier.”

Keegan said many people were able to access their accounts without needing assistance, but said the company had received feedback about elements of its instructions and interfaces that confused customers. In response to a question about whether the company would provide some form of reward to customers who have been financially impacted by prolonged difficulty accessing accounts, Keegan said M&T would assess such cases on a case-by-case basis.

“You can expect us to honor those relationships and do the right thing,” Keegan said.

A number of people have taken to social media to express their frustration, including accessing all the services available to them through People’s United and contacting live representatives for help.

One customer commented on M&T’s Facebook page: “We’re not dumb, we know how to download apps and follow login instructions.” The person updated their post later to note the help they received from an M&T employee, after finally being connected.

M&T falls under the regulatory oversight of the New York State Department of Financial Services, which as of Wednesday had received more than 20 complaints from M&T customers in Connecticut and another 10 in other states.

The federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau lists only five complaints from M&T customers in Connecticut since the beginning of August. One described a ‘very strong and friendly relationship’ with People’s United for 16 years until he received a letter that month saying M&T would close the family’s accounts without explanation, visits repeated in the branches obtaining no resolution. The individual told the CFPB that his credit rating had been damaged because automatic bills linked to the accounts had not been paid, calling the incident a “fiasco”.

Not all had difficulty, including Manchester resident Tom Breen, who described the conversion as “pretty smooth” to gain access to accounts.

“I couldn’t log into my accounts on the M&T website on day one, but I had no problem logging in on day two,” Breen told CTInsider via email. “They managed to transfer all the information I had on my accounts, including the various companies whose bills I pay through the website.”

For M&T, the key question will be how many customers who have struggled to decide whether to stay with the bank after restoring access and resuming business as usual, and as competitors turn to customers with offers of checking accounts or lines of credit.

Last April, M&T ranked in the top third of New York-area banks in JD Power’s annual retail customer satisfaction survey, with New York Community Bank leading and People’s United ranked ahead. -last when he last appeared in the survey before becoming part of M&T.

“Right now, going through this conversion, that’s why we’re so focused on getting it right and not leaving any customers behind,” Keegan said.

[email protected]; @casoulman

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