Wednesday, December 12, 2012

I Was A Capital One Employee: A True Horror Story

No personal names are used save for mine.

I was an employee of Capital One Bank since their first day as a bank. I was an employee of North Fork Bank, which was swallowed whole by Capital One a few months after I started. While the re-branding and official re-opening took more than a year, it was clear from day one that Capital One had a different way of doing things. 

I'd like to tell you a little about myself, to help you better understand why I'm telling this story.

I went to school for Fine Arts, and had been working in the Graphic Design field for almost a decade, but fate and coincidence led me out of the field. I found myself working at a shoe outlet working for a salesman's wage with no tips and no advancement potential, and was fed up. A dear friend suggested I take the teller test for North Fork Bank, a local small town bank on Long Island. I did, because as much as I didn't ever envision myself as a bank teller, I certainly had never envisioned trying to cram a woman's size ten foot into a size six shoe to spare her own hubris for a living. I passed, aced it and the interview, and was offered the job on the spot. I became a bank teller at age 32.

My father died shortly thereafter, and it was a trying time for me. Despite the distraction, the depression, and the random virus that I somehow contracted (FACT: bank teller is the second germiest job, behind only elementary school teacher) I was doing well enough that I was offered the Lead Teller position after only three months, half the required amount of time needed on the job to be considered for a promotion. In a fit of self-awareness and risking my future job prospects, I regretfully declined, citing my health and the death of my father as factors in preventing me from tackling the challenge at that time. It turned out to be the correct decision, not only for me, but the bank as well; the stress factors that prevented me from taking the new job began to effect my current one, and I brought it to my boss' attention. After a few weeks of vacation, I was ready to go back to work refreshed when a car accident threw my life into a tailspin.

My stationary car was the third car in a three car accident, and I was the only one hurt. Muscular back injury of an indeterminate nature, they said, likely a sprain, no broken bones, no ruptured discs. I was out of work for four months, and it took me another seven to be able to work full time. I still had occasional pain, but nothing beyond a dull ache when lifting things or standing too long.

By the time I was back to 100%, I had transferred to another branch. After only two months, I was offered a promotion to become a Relationship Banker. I worked at that position for two and a half years. I excelled at every facet of the job save for one; sales goals. I had built a following of loyal customers who insisted on dealing with only me. I had streamlined the process to become the fastest and most efficient account opener in the branch. I had created several tracking sheets and processes to help streamline operations in my branch. I had been placed in charge of monitoring things like teller differences, even though that was not part of the job description; I simply demonstrated my superior ability to solve problems, and took on many tasks beyond the scope of my charter. But I had one fatal flaw; if a client said "no," I took that as a "no." Therefore, I did not "sell" as many checking accounts, savings accounts, CDs, IRAs, etc. as the bank needed me to. If a client said they didn't want an overdraft line of credit, I didn't push it. That wasn't satisfactory for Capital One, though, and hey, it's their ball game. If they insist I should offer someone with $300,000 in their account a line of credit to protect against overdrawing their account, then it's to my detriment if I don't badger them into taking it, despite how ridiculous the concept seemed to the customer. It was part of my job to convince customers of what they needed, rather than allow them to make that determination. Sales just was not for me. As a man who considers himself too old to go dancing around issues, I made no secret of that. That was the crack in my armor (some would say my penchant for not editing myself was a second one, but when I see a lump of shit, I don't call it a Tootsie Roll). 

When the opportunity came to join the management team and become the branch's Lead Teller, I saw myself as the perfect fit. So did my boss, and her boss, who both claim simultaneous epiphany concerning the idea.

And I was the perfect fit. The staff responded to me. The clients responded to me. I led by example, and our Branch Annual Review score went from almost failing 87% to 95.4% in one year. I ran a tight ship, and received many compliments from the customers. I received high marks on my annual evaluation, as I had repeatedly throughout my tenure. I rapidly became a leader among my peers; several times I was told by my fellow lead tellers that on every conference call, when there was an issue that needed to be addressed, or a boss that needed to hear a negative opinion, everyone was just waiting for me to speak up. I felt valued. I felt like a leader. I felt in command. I felt like I had found my place in the organization, and my stride as a professional in a profession I could have never predicted I would fall into.

On February 29, 2012, I was downstairs in our break room speaking to my assistant manager. As I was going back upstairs, the handrail in the stairwell pulled out of the concrete wall, and I fell forward onto the stairs. The jolt I received re-injured my back, and excruciatingly so, to the point where even drawing a normal breath sent a hot knife of agony through my back and chest. I was taken to the hospital where the doctors once again determined that there were no broken bones, no ruptured discs. Yet the pain persisted. I couldn't stand up straight, lift even the lightest weight, achieve any kind of comfortable sitting position. I once again began physical therapy, acupuncture, chiropractic, steroid injections, muscle relaxers, and massage therapy (my doctor is at a loss to explain why, even ten months later, that the muscle in my back is still in a state of near constant spasm beyond inflamation from possible micro-tears that are not healing properly). I was told that I would lose one fo the five weeks I had earned as a five-year employee during my extended absence, but that the remainder would be waiting for me when I got back.

In the mean time, I began collecting worker's compensation. Although my medical bills from the accident and my treatment thereafter was covered, an unexpected hospital visit for a pre-existing esophagial condition wiped out my savings. The amount I was receiving was far less than the bills that were mounting up from the everyday living of life; I began to fall behind on my rent, my phone bill, my home equity payments, my loans, my utilities, insurance for my jeep. I was forced to cut back on more and more entertainment expenses, hobbies, social activities. I began to borrow money from people I already owed money to.

Despite still being in pain, I requested my doctor clear me to work with restrictions so I could attempt to gauge if I would be able to handle the physical demands of the position, such as lifting cash boxes, coin, currency bags, and the constant standing that being a manager of a teller line demands. I had already been informed that my position had been backfilled after the requisite twelve weeks following my injury, but that I could apply to any available position of my standing or lower, and that I had sixty days to find a position within the company or I would be terminated. I also was now being paid by Capital One Bank, and my worker's compensation payments had stopped.

I applied to every lead teller position I could find within 30 miles, as well as a few regular teller positions, to demonstrate my willingness to work as soon as possible. I then learned that our job posting system only allows a prospective employee to be considered for one position at a time. Given the tight time frame I was facing, I contacted our area's corporate recruiter to let her know how many positions I applied for. She assured me that she would make sure my resume reached as many managers as she could contact.

None of the original nine or so branches I applied to on my first day's attempt even gave me the chance to interview. I requested my doctor clear me to work without restriction, foolishly thinking that maybe it was the restrictions that were the reason I was getting passed up, despite the fact that I was still in almost constant pain. I then applied to another round, and grew hopeful as several of them were right around the corner from my home, were in areas I was very familiar with, or were staffed by former co-workers and associates whom I knew well (some even met all three criteria). 


It was later revealed to me (quite off the record) that I was NEVER in consideration for these positions, that they were filled with internal transfers by our ambitious new District Manager, and that the positions HAD to be posted by law.

In desperation, I began to email not only the recruiter, but HR, my former boss, my former district manager, my original boss (now a district manager herself). Finally, four days before my sixty day stay of execution expired, I was invited to interview at a branch in my college town. Even though the manager is a former co-worker, I demonstrated a working knowledge of the businesses int he area, and I feel the interveiw went swimmingly, I was turned down. I was given one last interview in my home town branch three scant days before my sixty day period expired, and I waited.

After the sixty day period expired, I was told I was still under consideration, but the manager was still interviewing prospects. I was put on "unpaid leave," and told that, although I was still technically an employee until a decision was made, that I was free to apply for unemployment benefits, as the bank was no longer paying me. I applied, and looked for other jobs. And I waited.

One week later, I emailed my recruiter just to check in. I was told that the branch was still closed because of Hurricane Sandy, but the manager should be making her decision by the middle of next week. And I waited some more.

One week after that, I again emailed my recruiter. I was told the manager was on vacation, but that she would be making her decision by the middle of that week (the day before Thanksgiving). So I waited some more.

One week after that, I again emailed my recruiter. I received a one line response stating that the manager was going with a different candidate. No explanation of what came next, no spark of human empathy that my employment had ended so unceremoniously. As none of my dozens of job applications have yet to bear any fruit, I was now fully unemployed with no change in sight.

The next morning, as I was emailing HR to find out what the next step was, I received a letter from the Department of Labor. According to information they received from Capital One Bank, I had quit my job on March 30, 2012, and as a result, I would not be receiving further unemployment benefits. When I called them to explain it was a mistake, they told me that even had I faxed them the appropriate documentation the next business day (which I did) it would still likely take up to four weeks for the situation to be resolved.

Merry Fucking Christmas.

Livid, I emailed HR. I was told to fax the Department of Labor's letter and form to them, which I did. They told me that they would look into it. I have yet to hear why such false information was supplied to a government agency, but my HR contact assures me she will do her best (and she has thus far, I truly believe that). So, desperate for finances and out of resources, I went to my last resort, and attempted to close my 401K and use the funds to pay off my debts, taxation be damned.

Except apparently while Capital One Bank was busy misinforming the government that I had terminated my own employment, they were not as quick to tell their investment firm that handles my 401K that I was no longer an employee, so that option was not available to me. Now, today, I have been informed that despite what I had been told, the vacation time that I was owed, the four remaining weeks after the one taken up by my leave, were gone, that ALL BUT one of the weeks would be taken by my leave, and that that remaining week had been used already. That the only option for me now was to close my 401K and be done. All parties assure me that they are working as quickly as possible to resolve the situation. Not that that will save my phone from being disconnected, my gas tank from being empty, and my home equity payment from possibly being late or even missed. 

I'm grateful that it isn't as bad as it could be; I could have cancer, or AIDS, or leukemia, rather than just a constant back spasm, stress related insomnia, and seething, blood-boiling rage. I am alive, and have a family that loves me. I am grateful that I have a family that will not let me be thrown out on the street, or I'd be living in that Jeep with the empty gas tank right now. 

But that doesn't change that this has been a horrific, humiliating, humbling, terrifying, situation, and it's all thanks to Capital One Bank, who continues their tradition of fucking up in every conceivable way in everything they do, starting with maintenance people who do not know how to properly repair a handrail all the way up to not knowing how to properly treat an employee who has given six dedicated years of service to a company that has shit on him at every opportunity available.

In case you're wondering, this IS indicative of how they do business. They were what they were when they were a credit card company (I had no previous experience with that end of the company, so I can't offer an informed opinion as to how good they were), but as a bank, they are the absolute dregs. I liken them to a child who has found a power tool they have no knowledge of. They'll examine it, wonder what it is, ask how it works, and bang it on the table a few times. They'll look around at how other people are using it, and try to imitate it. But they certainly will not be able to use it to it's utmost potential, and they'll only use it correctly occasionally and by pure accident.

So here are some things you might not know, that I am now at liberty to share with you;

Capital One Bank does not care about your convenience. Go into any branch and ask a banker why their managers call things like online banking, lines of credit, and direct deposit "sticky services." Watch them squirm as they struggle not to tell you that it's because the more of them the company gets you to commit to, the harder it is to break your connection to them once you realize how poorly they are treating you. They are COUNTING on your apathy and laziness. You'd rather deal with a few hassles now and then than go through the trouble of changing over your direct deposit. I've been told by my job trainers that they are comparable to sandbags on a hot air balloon, weighing you down, preventing you from flying to another bank for a more favorable rate or better customer service.

Have you ever sat or stood in a branch and waited patiently as the banker or teller or manager chats endlessly with whatever customer is sitting at their desk? Have you heard a ten minute conversation about the customer's dogs and gritted your teeth, silently wishing the customer would stop and get up and leave so you could just get your address change done and be on your way? Blame the bank. The bankers are encouraged to (and even evaluated on their ability to) make small talk with customers, regardless of how many people are waiting to be helped. Not because they care about your dogs, mind you. But because in your conversation you may say something about having to kennel them while you go on vacation, and that opens up an avenue to sell you a credit card for your trip, or direct deposit so you don't have to worry about bringing your check to the bank while you're gone, or a seperate checking account for your vacation travel account, complete with a whole new check book, and another potential account to overdraw and generate fees with, because fees feed the Beast. If you tell a teller that you have to make a cash withdrawal for a contractor who is waiting for you at your home to be paid before he is putting your sink in, they are required by the company to attempt to convince you to sit with a banker and open a home equity line of credit to help pay for your remodeling, even though they likely know you only want to go home to make sure that contractor isn't housing your good silver.

Yeah, the tellers know you don't want to be there. They know you don't want to hear about the great CD rates that the bank is offering, because if you wanted to hear them, you'd likely be asking. They also know that there are some customers that honestly don't know there are better options and might need information, and they wish they could be trusted to identify them and help them as needed. They are not allowed. They are required to ask every customer the same stupid questions every time, even if they know that customer has heard them a hundred times before, even when the customer has angrily demonstrated that they do not like being asked the same questions over and over. The teller can do nothing except continue on like a terrified robot, or else they'll be judged negatively.

Seven out of ten times, the employee you're speaking to likely hates Capital One Bank just as much if not more than you. They hate the things they are forced to do to you, say to you, and impose on you. They hate the fact that their computers track their transaction numbers, which determines how many employees are needed, and feeds that information to the district managers, who then demand that the managers pull someone off the teller line or the service desk to stand in the lobby like a traffic cop and greet you at the door, guaranteeing that the bank is always staffed with one less person helping you than their own system says it needs, and that's on the good days, where the managers aren't being pulled out of their branches for district-wide team-building meetings and conferences where they are brow-beat about how many checking accounts they are not opening every month and given the task of answering questions with no possible answer.

Actual question asked of the Lead Tellers by a higher up on a weekly conference call: "what are you going to do differently to make sure your branch opens four checking accounts today?" Taking into account that I already had been asking every customer if they were interested in speaking to a banker about opening a new account and delaying their departure by checking our offer delivery system rather than finishing up their transaction promptly (more on that in a minute), and faced with thirty seconds of deafening silence broken only by the highier up chuckling and saying "anybody," I came out with "I have bear traps out on the sidewalk, and I offer a crowbar to anyone who steps in one, provided they open a checking account. If they get direct deposit I offer a bandage and ointment as well."

My point being, even when they are doing their jobs to their utmost ability, if the results are not there, then the fault must lie with the tellers for not directing the traffic. Or the bankers for not generating it. I have been told on the same conference call that we are not product driven AND that my branch needed three more checking accounts to reach our quota. Bankers have been, at times, instructed to NOT offer savings accounts, because the rate was favorable and savings accounts don't generate fees, whereas checking accounts do, unless you're very careful, or very rich.

Oh, yeah, our offer system; we're required to delay your transaction by checking a database to see if there are any special offers for you, like cash incentives for opening up a savings account, or for getting direct deposit. Usually, there are no offers that benefit the customer, more often than not there are "offers" like "inform customer of the benefits of direct deposit."

Capital One Bank does not give a shit about you, I am sorry to report. If it makes you feel any better, they give even less of a shit about me. All they care about is the fees you generate when you bounce a check.

The good news is that now that I am free to bash the living shit out of the soulless bastards, I've launched a new blog containing all my misadventures there! Check out I'm Laughing All The Way!