With all the recent news about poor bank practices (I’m looking at you, Wells Fargo), I thought you might be interested in hearing about my experience of working at the phone bank for a large regional bank during the late 1990’s, while I was in college. Since almost 20 years has passed, some things may be different but I’m guessing not much has changed.
As a phone banker, my responsibilities were similar to the bankers at each branch: I could open and close various types of accounts and credit cards, process loan applications, and help people with general banking questions. Most of my calls were balance inquiries. This was before online banking was commonplace, after all. My favorite day to work was Sunday. Being in school, I’d bring homework or the Sunday paper since calls were few and far between.
During my training sessions, we’re taught to look at customers’ accounts when they call and identify ways to save them money. Sometimes this meant moving them to a no-fee checking account or suggesting they invest in CDs, rather than keep the money in an interest-free checking account. That said, CD rates were much higher back then — around 4% APR. This was definitely my favorite part of the job. I felt like I was really doing something to help people.
A hard part of my job was explaining to people how the overdraft fees worked: The bank pays items from largest to smallest, which means more overdraft fees and they’re on small checks. The bank’s reasoning was that large payments are usually the most important (e.g. mortgage, car, etc.) so the bank is ensuring these get paid first.
By far the worst part of my job was the sales aspect. We were required to sell things like lines of credit and credit cards, although we were paid no commission for doing so. In the year I worked there, I never had a good month. I just couldn’t sell these products to people who didn’t need them. Each month, a few of our calls were recorded and someone would review them. They’d then sit with us to tell us what we did wrong and could have done better. Luckily, sales was my only issue.
On numerous occasions, I had customers threaten me. For real. They were upset about overdraft fees or something else the bank had done. I got the brunt of their frustration via luck of the draw. It was brutal. It was also tough to hear people cry over something like overdraft fees. And it was especially sad to get the calls from lonely people who would keep us on the line just to have someone to talk to.
Since I was thinking about going into banking after graduating from college, this was a great experience. But I only lasted a year and ended up leaving before I had another job lined up because the stress had taken its toll. To this day, I still don’t like talking on the phone and I feel like I’ve spent enough time on the phone to last a lifetime. And I totally relate to the pressure that those Wells Fargo employees felt, regarding meeting sales quotas. I don’t agree with how they handled it but I understand where they’re coming from.
Have you ever worked for a bank? How was your experience?