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Delayed April Fools' day

My patience with my bank ran out today.
Vladimír Záhradník
June 17th, 2020 · 16 min read

Foreword to my English readers

I wrote this post out of frustration. After I had one too many bad experiences with my bank, writing about it was my way of coping with that. When I published this post in Slovak, I was very surprised by the positive reception. What was a painful experience for me, many of my readers found amusing.

If you read this post, you’ll hear the story of leaving my bank. Most likely, you never heard of them. However, I believe that you experienced some of these situations, too. Just somewhere else. The firms don’t differ that much in the core if you think about it. Perhaps you’ll find some of the anecdotes funny too. Happy reading!

Introduction

After many years, I decided to leave my bank, Slovenská sporiteľňa. For a long time, I felt that I am a rag for them; they don’t respect me as a client and don’t meet me until I threaten to terminate the contract or cancel the account. This time, however, they will not convince me in any way. I am leaving. Here is my story.

Like many college students, I had set up an account with them as a first-year university student. I must say that the students are very well intercepted. I remember a lady doing a promo directly at the Technical University of Košice.

When I started my first job, I was naturally paid to their account. You can say that I have a very long history with this bank. As a student, I had an account for free. But I guess since my 27th birthday, my well-being has come to an end — they have exchanged my student account for a regular one, and I started paying fees. To reduce them, I paid with a card, made turnovers (in layman’s terms, I poured money between accounts), and gradually got deeper into the never-ending spiral of confusing fees and services.

Sometime in February 2015, when I was still working in Bratislava, I once talked to my mom, and we discussed favorable condo prices. It didn’t take long, and I decided it was time to buy a flat, even though I wouldn’t live in it yet. I asked myself the question: where do I want to live? Bratislava did not prevail. I chose a condominium in Prešov because I have a family there, and I know that even if my business draws me abroad, I already have a place where I can put things down, and there will always be someone else living there.

I always approach finances with a cool head. I made an overview of mortgages, including the conditions that must be met. I had nothing saved, and if the banks offered a 100% mortgage, it was disadvantageous. Regarding the mortgage, I finally turned to Slovenská sporiteľňa. The whole affair went by quickly, and in a few weeks, I already owned an apartment. An 80 percent mortgage financed it. I had to borrow the remaining twenty percent in a consumer loan at the same bank. The mortgage with a three-year fixation at that time had an interest rate of 3.2% per annum, but the bank offered me the option of reducing interest rates if I bought other products from them that I don’t even need.

Deal with the Devil

I like transparency, and I want to know what I pay for. Suddenly, however, I paid some €250 a month, and I didn’t even know what for. The mortgage was about €210, and the remaining €40 was used for various investment products, service fees, account management, and I took it as a necessary evil. I was glad to finally have an apartment.

Even at that time, I considered this bank to be a dinosaur that stays on top only out of inertia. Their services were worthless. At that time, I also had accounts in three other banks, and I arranged everything online, while the fees for maintaining the account were zero. I paid €4 a month after a discount in this bank, and I had to deal with everything in person at the branch, probably so that the trained staff could personally convince me to rethink my decision.

An embarassment called George

Although it was too late, Slovenská sporiteľňa nevertheless launched modern internet banking, as the competition had for a few years.

George
George Internet Banking

Since I’m a technology enthusiast, I tried it as soon as I had the opportunity to do so. Little did I know that it would no longer be possible to go back. George lacked the basic things that still existed in the old system. It looked nice, but it didn’t work. The bank poured money into advertising but launched a premature product that should’ve been in development for another year. It took about that long for George to become usable.

Messed up George was the first nail in the coffin.

The competition is not sleeping

However, as the years went by, I noticed how the banks are starting to fight for the clients and attract them with lower interest rates. However, I paid happily further. Due to the saved tens of euros a year, I still don’t want to go through that torture with expert opinions, office wheels, and administrative fees. However, when interest rates fell below one percent at the end of 2019, I started having a beetle in my head. At the same time, I finally decided to get an overview of what I was paying for. I went to the bank and started canceling products and services that I didn’t need. After all, they will notify me when I want to cancel a product to which I have another link. Oh, how wrong I was.

The bank pissed me off and shouldn’t have done it.

The staff at the counter willingly complied with all my requests. They canceled everything I wanted, and the system didn’t throw any error. I no longer had a credit card, and I also canceled my investment savings. I leave for home satisfied; everything went well. In a few days, however, I receive a half-threatening registered letter from the bank:

“Dear client, the contract for your mortgage loan requires that you have both an active and a savings account. If you do not re-establish it within thirty days, we will cancel your interest discount, and then you will pay for a mortgage with an interest rate of 2.7 percent. Sincerely, your bank.”

So far, I have tolerated all their mistakes, albeit with clenched teeth. But at a time when other banks were giving out mortgages with interest rates below one percent, my bank decided to threaten me with a rate of 2.7 percent. Me, a loyal paying customer. That’s enough! I sat down at the computer at home and studied competing banks’ offers for a few hours and what I have to do to refinance my mortgage. I was interested in the offer from Prima Bank. They offered refinancing at an interest rate of 0.6 percent per annum for a three-year commitment or 0.8 percent for a five-year commitment. However, the offer was valid only until the end of February. I discovered it at the end of December, but I spent two weeks in January working in the Czech Republic. After returning to Slovakia, I had to hurry up; there was no time to lose.

At first, my mom didn’t even want to believe that the bank offered such favorable conditions. “Vladko, you must have missed something or misunderstood something. I’ll go there with you.” And so, I took my mom to the nearest branch. There are thousands of euros at stake, and two pairs of eyes are better than one. After a short conversation with a bank employee, when my mother also saw that everything was as I had studied, we were almost determined that it was time to change the bank.

I contacted my original bank to see if they were willing to call, but I only received a dinosaur’s response that it would take a few weeks to consider your request. I don’t have a few weeks; the offer ends in February. So I decided to leave.

Financial Valentine’s Day

It was February 14th, 2020, and instead of flowers or a box of chocolates, I dealt with finances. It turned out that a year of entrepreneurship had a positive effect on me. I handled everything myself — promptly and efficiently. They were amazed at me in the new bank. They gave me a list of things they needed from me, and I brought them the papers back in a few hours. “Mr. Záhradník, are you on vacation? No, I’m an entrepreneur. Now I need to deal with this, so I’m dealing with it. There’s no point in doing anything else.”

Valentine's Day
Image by Bianca Mentil from Pixabay

Despite the complications, the whole process went very quickly, and in a week, I went to sign the approved application. All done. Now I will pay smaller installments, the bank will give me an additional two thousand euros for personal use, and they will shorten my repayment period by a whole year. And I explicitly called for a bond for five years. I didn’t know about the corona crisis, but I was expecting a financial crisis. Now at least I’m secured with a mortgage. It was worth it, not to mention that I no longer pay any hidden fees. Just what’s in the contract. Clear and transparent.

Of course, they were not ecstatic at Slovenská sporiteľňa, but they saw that it was already a done deal. They had no choice but to cooperate. In the bank, I gradually began to cancel all the products that I still had left there. And I canceled all collections. However, when I asked to cancel my account the next day, a lady from Bratislava called me and offered me an under the table deal — keeping my account for half a year for free, and if I use a debit card, three percent of the purchase will be returned to me. Personally, it’s not worth it, but I offered my account to my mom to save some money. I had my debit card deactivated a long time ago, so I asked for a new one.

The card arrived, PIN code nowhere

It took about three weeks since applying for a card. However, when it finally arrived, the PIN code didn’t. I checked the letter several times but in vain. Again, I had to visit the nearest branch. When I explained to the lady what my problem was, she stared at me incomprehensibly for a few minutes. She called someone a few times, went away a few times, and finally closed it by saying that I had to send a special text message and that the instructions came in a letter with a card. I ask, “Since I’m here, and you know it’s really me, can’t you set a new PIN for me right now?” She replies, “Yes, I can, for a fee of two euros.” The card was supposed to return money to me, and now I should pay them? I thanked her politely, said goodbye, and left. However, I looked at the letter at home and didn’t find any SMS instructions.

I decided: I’m tired of wasting time. Let them keep that account for free and a card I can’t use. I’m going to cancel the account for sure.

My insurance company says hello

Unfortunately, before I managed to cancel my account, another greeting came to my home, this time from the Kooperativa insurance company. It turned out that I had some “funeral insurance” with them, and I had not paid for two months.

“If the outstanding premium is not credited to our account in time, your Insurance Contract may terminate. At the same time, we would like to inform you that per § 803 par. 1 of the Civil Code, the insurer has the right to premiums for the entire period until the insurance termination.”

Remember how I canceled collections? They didn’t care. I didn’t remember signing anything with Kooperativa. That’s because Slovenská sporiteľňa cooperates with them. When I took unnecessary products to have a slightly cheaper mortgage years ago, I also took out this insurance. But who is supposed to remember that? I would expect my smart internet banking called George but in vain.

I had no choice but to pay what I owed, and that day I went to the bank to terminate the contract with the insurance company. It’s a circus — instead of dealing with someone directly, I have to go through an intermediary.

The first of April, the day of fools

I went to terminate the contract with the insurance company on April 1, the day of fools. Those magical dates somehow accompany me.

April Fools' Day
Image by annca from Pixabay

I come inside, wait for the next free worker, and describe the problem. After a while, I receive a notice of termination of the contract. “Yes, Mr. Záhradník, here is a copy of the documents. We will send the originals to Bratislava tomorrow.” It went smoothly, I thought. Just get rid of this boulder, and I’m free. However, the lady stated in her notice the number of my account in Slovenská sporiteľňa. So I couldn’t cancel the account yet, because the insurance company would have nowhere to send me money if I were going to see any at all.

Day after day, week after week passed, and I paid honestly. After two and a half months, when I still didn’t get anything from the insurance company, I went to the bank to check up on my application’s condition.

There is nothing worse than not knowing if you still have to pay and for how long.

It’s Wednesday morning, June 17, 2020. Termination contract checked and ready, and I enter the bank. “Hello, I terminated my insurance contract with you two months ago. So far, I have not received any documents. I want to ask what is the status of my request.” The lady went to call the insurance company, and I wait patiently. “Ah, I see… He tells me he paid the installments regularly… Active? Yes, I understand… Paid by August… Thank you, goodbye.”

— Mr. Záhradník, that contract is active.

— Excuse me? I went to cancel it in February. Here you have it on paper.

— Yes, I see, but the insurance company didn’t get the document. Are you sure you signed two documents?

— Yes, the worker kept one and said she would send it tomorrow. I had the second one.

The lady scuttles away to consult with colleagues; I’m waiting. Later, she also calls the lady I was dealing with about the contract’s termination at the time. She apologized, “Mr. Záhradník, I’m sorry, but I inadvertently lost the document.” I say to myself, “Are you kidding me? After two months, I find out that the contract has not even been terminated yet? I can’t even trust the bank to attend to the papers I signed at the bank? Unbelievable.”

I tell them, “It is not my fault that you lost my request. So why should I continue to pay for insurance that should have been terminated? How much longer do I have to pay?” The lady replies: “You don’t have to pay anything anymore; the lady at the headquarters assured me that you had paid the fees by the end of August.”

The worker who made the mistake apologizes to me once again and leaves. But I’m the one with the harm. For each additional day, when the contract is active, I pay fees. However, I decided to leave it at that. It is a damage of about 24 euros, and I no longer want to run around the branches for them. I will earn them faster elsewhere.

The lady is signing a new notice agreement with today’s date, and I make sure that the account number where they will pay me any balance will already be in my other bank. I sign and hope that this chapter will close soon. But I’ll keep an eye on it — word of mouth on their part is no longer enough for me.

I say, “Well, we’ve solved this part. I would now like to cancel my account, complete with everything. I don’t use it.” The lady tells me, “Sir, but it’s not just like that. The request goes to this department, and they will offer you a beneficial product, a free account.”

— They’ve already called me. I don’t pay for the account, but I don’t use it. I want to cancel it.

— I see that the offer is valid until August 31. Until then, it cannot be canceled just like that.

— Are you telling me that I can’t cancel my account before this deadline?

— Of course, you can. But you know, I’m going to have to call headquarters again.

It seems to me as if the lady is complaining about having to do her job. Eventually, however, she calls there. “Yes, the gentleman wants to cancel the account. He has a promo deal now, but he has already decided…”

— So, Mr. Záhradník, we can cancel the account, but I have noticed that you still have an active investment account.

— Excuse me? It was paid a long time ago.

— Yes, but it’s still active on the system. We need to deactivate it before we can cancel your personal account. It will take two or three days.

I’m giving up.

— All right, so I’m supposed to watch it in George, and if I don’t see it on the product list, I’ll have to come over again, right?

— I don’t know if it’ll show it in George. What matters is what we have in the system. Come sometime during the next week. And say straight away at the counter that you want to continue canceling your account.

— I thank them, say goodbye, and leave. Despite being disgusted with the bank for a long time, I keep my anger to myself. I can’t blame a worker for that the bank’s left hand does not know what the right hand is doing. Next week I will visit the branch again, and I firmly hope for the last time.

Lessons learned at the end

There are several, but I will mention at least some:

  • The customer needs to be taken care of. Don’t take them for granted. Even a long-term customer can go elsewhere after some time.
  • The competition never sleeps. If you built your business when you didn’t have competition, your sense of godhood could prove dangerous.
  • Build your business on digital services. Keep physical branches where you try to convince people of their fallacy for the few people who come to you. I know what I’m doing, even without you.
  • Over time, you may find that you pay too many branch employees. By transforming into an online environment, you can significantly reduce the number of employees. Their competitor, Fio Bank, may suffice with one-hundredth of employees of Slovenská sporiteľňa, and nevertheless, I prefer to use their services much more.
  • Beware of over employment. Have only as many people as you need to cover the customer’s needs plus some reserve. And over time, try to be even more efficient. Automation is your friend in this.

Slovenská sporiteľňa spends a lot of money on advertising. They convince us what the most popular bank in Slovakia is and they have no problem paying for one of the most creative advertising agencies in Slovakia, Zaraguza. The more significant is the discrepancy between their creative advertising and sluggish reality. However, this bank has apparently forgotten one thing, while it’s the main rule of a successful business.

Word of mouth spreads about the company.

That’s right. If I like something, I will recommend it to others, and if I don’t like something, I will write a post like this. Some time ago, I praised the new mobile application of Fio Bank. After a long time, they had an app that could be used, and they did it well. I publicly praised them for that. However, Slovenská sporiteľňa rests on its laurels, does not innovate, and lives only from a kind of past glory. It is also one of the largest banks in Slovakia, in addition to having a foreign owner. I would like to hear people’s experiences with Česká spořitelna or the Austrian Erste Bank. They use George too. But are their other services of the same (poor) quality? I can’t judge.

Our country needs a bank that trusts people

I am writing this post when the whole thing is still active. But I needed to share it with you. If you have an account with this bank, you should be interested in who’s taking care of your money. The whole situation disgusted me so much that I don’t know if people are incompetent only in the lowest positions or extends across the entire corporate structure. But I’ll never know.

Update June 23, 2020

A few days passed, and I saw in George that my investment account was no longer among the products. I went to the bank again to cancel my personal account. I enter the store and look for a free advisory spot. Coincidentally, I came to the lady who lost my original contract.

— Weren’t you here to deal with terminating that contract last time?

— Yes, it was me.

— I apologize once again.

— That’s OK.

— What do you need?

— Last time, I started canceling my personal account, but it was not possible because I still had an activated investment account. Now I can see that it’s been canceled, and I would like to continue to cancel the rest.

— Alright. However, we need to call the retention department. I’ll give you a phone lady who will offer you a great deal.

— Do you mean keeping an account for free? They’ve already called me, and I’ve already activated it. However, I do not use the account and want to cancel it.

— Oh well. You know what? I’ll call there and say straight away that they’ve already approached you with an offer. So you don’t have to go to the phone anymore.

— Okay, thanks.

Branch of my bank
A branch of the bank that I hopefully visited for the last time today

After a while, the lady agreed on everything and asked for permission to cancel the account. Subsequently, I signed two documents, one for them and one for me, and just waited. They could not cancel the account immediately because it takes eight days for the bank to deactivate the debit card. Although I roll my eyes over it incomprehensibly, I can handle eight days. And I firmly hope that this was my last personal visit to a branch of this bank. We will find out on July 1, 2020.

Update July 13, 2020

After the publication of the last update, one of the readers warned me that even after the cancellation of my personal account, my internet banking will still remain active, and so it was. Today, I came to the branch again and pulled out the right to be forgotten within the GDPR. At first, the bank employee did not understand what I wanted, but he called a colleague, and it worked.

We argued for a while about what is and what cannot be erased, and we finally reached a compromise. The bank deleted everything from the system except for my permanent address and ID card number. They said that they could delete this data only after my death. I could probably continue to dig into this matter, but I am already satisfied with the current situation. They no longer have my email, phone, and internet banking account. George is deleted as well.

If you ask why I haven’t left this matter earlier, I’ll give you a brief answer. I try to control my digital identity. I have an overview of all the accounts I’ve ever created. I have a different password on each one, and at the same time, I delete accounts that I don’t use. Doing this diminishes the potential attack vector on me. If I didn’t cancel the account, a hacker could potentially extract certain personal information from there that he could misuse on another site, and so on. It will no longer be possible after today.

I perceive GDPR from two perspectives — as a person and as an entrepreneur. As an individual, it is one of the most useful tools that the European Union has given me. Still, at the same time, as an entrepreneur, I see how difficult it is to comply with regulations when I am on the other side of the wall. Therefore, I understand that the bank has certain obligations to archive data about me, which may conflict with the personal data deletion clause. If I continued to act in this matter, it would be only after consulting a lawyer, and it would not pay off financially.

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