so i have had my checking account for a long time. it used to be at wingspan bank, which was one of the all-electronic banks back 8 years ago or whatever, which was nice because i pretty much never have to go to an actual bank to do anything. i could transact whatever i needed to via ATM, they had nice rates, and (what caused me to switch to them) they weren’t complete bastards like bank one (who had acquired first chicago and made everything far more sucktastic). imagine my disgust when a couple of years later wingspan bank was acquired, naturally enough, by bank one.

then: imagine my corresponding glee a few years ago when bank one was purchased by chase. finally! i thought; finally bank one can be on the receiving end of some acquisition pain and suffering. it’s really only just sad that my analysis of the situation was limited to joyful, joyful schadenfreude about nameless, faceless hordes of evil bank one employees suffering under the merciless rule of jp morgan chase, and did not include any insight about the corresponding suffering of customers: i.e., me. however, my will had been broken; i didn’t see any point in jumping ship again as certainly whatever institution i chose would be bought out and subsequently made hateful. deregulation, centralisation, consolidation, hoo-frickin’-ray. i didn’t see a point in trying to get a better deal: sure, the customer service was crap, the fees were crap, but i had quicken all set up and stuff… .

and then my new debit card was lost in the mail.

i like to think that however incompetent my local post office is, mostly they’re just slow. so, i waited until tuesday, the 22nd of march to call chase and request a replacement-replacement for my going-to-expire-on-the-31st-of-march debit card. probably a strategic error on my part, but, you know, if they mailed it last month, it could have shown up even if a month late. but it never did, so thursday afternoon i called the main chase customer service number to request that they send a replacement debit card to my local branch office, at the intersection of Ashland and Milwaukee avenues, for pickup (thus bypassing the USPS — how clever of me!). no problem, they said. well, actually they said a lot more: that their policy is to send cards out in the last week of the month of expiration (cutting it a bit close, i’d think!), but that mine had already been sent out (an apparant violation of policy!), and it should arrive shortly (though, no, they couldn’t tell me on what date it was sent) — was there anything else they could help me out with today? well, yes, said i, as my request had not actually been addressed in any way. upon consideration and much hold time to consult with supervisors, they discovered that they could indeed ship one to my local branch; they’d have to transfer my call to the branch office and the branch could take care of it.

enter angel, the branch manager. angel understood. angel knows all about 60622. angel got where i was coming from. angel was perfectly happy to fulfill my request — at least until he discovered that my account was marked as being in ohio.

now, apparently bank one had two chief regions of operation due to the original merger of the First Chicago/Banc One operations: illinois and ohio/west virginia. my account, which had been eaten up along with wingspan bank, somehow was classified as an ohio account, despite the fact that my address had never once left the chicagoland area. well, okay, that’s fine, i understand that, in acquisition situations, shit happens. let’s just toggle that little switch, then i can have a new debit card.

sadly, as angel explained to me, it’s not that easy. it was in fact impossible for him to change the region of an account. however, since my account is “housed” at the stony island branch (the chase location on the northwest corner of Stony Island and 67th Street in Chicago, Illinois, serves ohio? really? folks in cleveland must be really annoyed about the drive.) and if i talk to bobbie at stony island she can maybe help me out.

okay, well. if i have to, i can drive down to woodlawn and take an electric bill to prove my location. and hey, if not, worst case scenario, the First Chicago Bank One Chase Tower is like three blocks away from work; surely they could help me there since that’s the retail operations headquarters and all. with an insouciant shrug i called the local number for the stony island branch, and hit the menu option for a representative.

whereupon i was apparently transferred to the corporate call center. cute.

the nice call center person transferred me back to stony island, and i got oscar on the phone. bobbie had gone home for the day and oscar was pinch-hitting. now, oscar was very kind to me. i think that there is a chance he might have heard a bit of desperation underlying the reasonable tone in every statement issuing forth from my mouth, and he took the necessary steps to keep me from completely losing my shit — namely, acknowledging the situation as somewhat ridiculous (remember: there is no actual problem with my account in any way, i just need a new debit card and they cannot seem to issue me one manually although they did issue one automatically). after some research he confirms that indeed, there is no way to change the account’s location from ohio to illinois, and without changing the account’s home location illinois branches have no authority to perform manual operations such as have new debit cards issued on it. there appears to be no way at all to change the account to illinois — which, seriously, guys? you there in the chase IT department, designing the user interfaces for your bankers? radio buttons, NOT SO HARD. i’m just sayin’.

i suggest visiting Ye Olde Tower of Headquarteredness. oscar thinks that while i am sweet to offer, it would be a waste of my time. oscar is certain that the only way to resolve this issue is to — wait for it — open a new checking account.

visions of days spent on the phone patiently sitting on hold, trying to get my mortgage company to stop auto-debiting my old checking account danced through my head. changing my workplace direct deposit, that’s easy. but what about the bazillion other things i have auto-debiting my checking account? oh, auto insurance, who needs it anyways. not like it’s up for renewal 1 April or anything. hey, speaking of 1 April, it’s about time to pay the rent. which account should i have the check drawn on? how ’bout those online bill payments i’ve already arranged for? gosh, this is going to be a super fun way to spend the next three weeks of my life, isn’t it? i’m going to be able to make all kinds of new friends on the phone. however, seeing no alternative, i acquiesced, and authorized the opening of a new checking account with a $25 transfer of funds. oscar set it up for me and promised it’d be online by the time i got home from work. which it was — and so that’s how i knew he set up the wrong kind of checking account.

i accept that the terms of my current account are grandfathered in and that chase does not offer an account with the same terms of the account bank one forced wingspan customers into. that’s fine. i’m not really asking for them to keep every account type ever offered by every bank they’ve ever snarfed up and barfed back out like cat kibble eaten too fast acquired on offer for new customers. but i don’t really think it’s too much to ask for a long-term (if only via acquisition) customer to be able to keep her old account type when it’s not even her own fault that it had to be changed. it was at the point when i stared and realized i had been given the low-budget “free checking” non-interest-bearing account, and contemplated calling chase again on friday to straighten that out, that the merits of “just going along with it; it doesn’t matter anyways because they’ll just buy out whatever bank i go to” began to falter in the face of “it might not matter, but if i’m going to have to spend days ringing people to tell them to change my bank information, i might as well be giving them information about a bank that is not ruled by bullshit policies designed to inconvenience customers as much as possible.”

friday, i called the main customer service number again and explained the situation again. (“Hiya. I have kind of a long story to tell you. Hope you’ve got some coffee!”) i have to give mad props to my therapist, who, no joke, recently advocated for the adoption of “fuck it” as my mantra when encountering stupid bullshit (which was certainly out in force for this farce), as i somehow managed to remain in a genuinely good mood while muddling through all this. without the ability to say “meh, whatever” to every new pain in my ass, no doubt i would have been smashing everything breakable in sight after the first half-hour. i’ll repeat once again: all i actually need is a new debit card. everything else is secondary. i’ll accept having an account in ohio, meaning i can never visit a teller in person (although, now that i think of it, i got a cashier’s check for my security deposit on this apartment not 12 months ago, and that meant going to a bank teller. so much for that reasoning.), or what have you if they will just issue me a debit card. such a little thing… so easily accomplished.

the phone service agent listens to my saga, explains that they can issue me a new debit card on the old account (you can? how ’bout that.) but that if i want to cancel the new account that oscar created for me, since it was done in person (whaaaa?? trust me, i’d be a lot more annoyed if y’all had had me out there driving all over the city; just ask cingular), there would be a fee. and, upon inquiry, she could not waive this fee.

okay, now you’re just fucking with my head. i believe i actually stared at the phone handset in disbelief for a second.

feeling weakened in my ability to retain my friendly, reasonable tone, it was at this point where i explained that i know it’s not her fault that this is a huge mess, and i don’t want to be cranky at her, so if she could go get me a supervisor who can waive fees for things like this, i’d really appreciate it.

five or eight minutes of hold time later, enter tiffany. tiffany is calm, friendly and reasonable. tiffany has obviously been filled in on the situation. tiffany still cannot change my original account designation from ohio to illinois, but she can send me a debit card. second day UPS at no charge, even, if it’s okay for me to take a day off work to wait for it. (i actually really appreciated that she acknowledged that inconvenience.) she apologized for everyone having different stories, and in the end i ended up not getting cranky at all because she is obviously very talented at talking customers down from the ledge. i feel certain that tiffany is not paid nearly enough. after talking to the retention people about waiving the bullshit cancellation fee, she talked me into not cancelling the second account but instead changing it to a basic interest-bearing account, because transferring everything out of the ohio account was the best course of action for me (if i intended to remain with chase). no longer in a bad mood and lacking the interest to continue screwing around with this disaster — it was a friday; i was at work; presumably, i had to do some actual work for my employer at some point during the day — i agreed with her reasoning and let her do what she recommended. (she is totally not paid enough. i seriously hope she got a commission for saving the account.) despite that, i had no intent of remaining a chase checking customer, and most of the time we were on the phone i was looking at other chicago community banks’ account offerings, and checking crain’s and for information.

seriously. all i needed was a new debit card. why was that so difficult? i spent hours on the phone with people, spoke with two local branch managers at length, with several call centre agents at length, and again for some time with a call centre supervisor. at various points during the entire mess, people were offering to waive fees and send me checks and UPS me things and so on and so forth, jumping through no doubt a hundred hoops for each waiver: but it was all completely unnecessary. what i needed was for someone to change the account designation from “ohio” (wrong, has always been wrong, will always be wrong) to “illinois,” and then send my new debit card to angel at the Ashland/Milwaukee branch office. i accept that it might have taken several transfers to different departments to figure out who had the magic power to change my account region, but i do not accept that it should be impossible to do so. in the end, that is a single datum in a database table somewhere, and if it means someone has to transfer me to someone who has to type in something like UPDATE accounts.wingspan SET region = 0 WHERE customer = 'sabrinadownard' AND account_type = 'checking', i am okay with that. i would probably enjoy talking to a bank one DBA; i bet we’d have lots of things to comisserate about. hell, maybe he works three blocks away from me and i could take him out for lunch afterwards.

in the end, i just don’t see why i should have to send absolutely everything concerned with my checking account into complete upheaval just because the post office lost my new debit card and i need a new one. i don’t understand why it was such a dreadful saga. why have i had the opportunity (and motivation) to write over 2800 words about this? it is a debit card. such a tiny thing. and the only change actually necessary to my account in any way was that the tiny plastic rectangle had a date later than 03/07 embossed on it.

but: fuck it. if i accept the recommendation from chase that the only — only! — possible way to resolve this problem with my account, this problem i in no way created or am responsible for, is to open a new checking account… well, i obviously don’t have a choice in the matter, so what’s left is for me to make the best of a bad situation (to spout a cliché). and i’m choosing to take my checking account away from chase. i may end up, as i have long figured would be the unavoidable outcome, moving to a bank that will, in the end, only be eaten by heartless, incompetent corporate overlords like bank one. (Fifth Third looks like they could use a snack.) hey, it might be eaten up by chase and then i could give up again on ever getting away from them. but at this point, even a year’s vacation from their ridiculous fees, their online banking’s repetitive unavailability due to maintenance, and their apparent inability to handle what must be a fairly routine customer request is a win. this morning, i walked over and talked to chito at Ravenswood Bank and in about 20 minutes, we opened a new checking account for me. their terms are far favorable to chase’s basic interest-bearing account (such as, they pay interest on balances as low as $200, vs. chase’s $1500 minimum). they only have two offices, and their online banking suite doesn’t offer a quicken download API. you know, i’ll really miss the quicken downloads … but the office is about 2 blocks from me, the banker was nice, and he actually offered to have my new checks (in my choice of colors!) sent directly to the office in order to avoid using the post office, without me even having to ask. now, that’s Chase Freedom.

i will say this for chase customer service, though. everyone i spoke to was uniformly very courteous, and they managed to deal with me in such a way that being in this patently ridiculous situation did not make me angry with them. so, obviously chase has invested some money in training their customer service agents on how to handle customer angst, woe, and gnashings of teeth. it’s just a pity they can’t invest in not creating the angst and woe in the first place.