Friday, March 16

Being Wrong: Banco Popular Customers

When banks sell loans, you really never know what to expect. And with some banks, you never know what to expect from month to month. Popular Mortgage a.k.a. Banco Popular is much like that.

About a year ago, our small home improvement second was sold by Bank of America to Popular Mortgage, a subsidiary of Banco Popular, which is a subsidiary of Popular Inc. Ever since, the experience has been a comedy of errors, apparently ours.

The customer is always wrong with Banco Popular.

The first time it was our fault was because we received a statement two days before the due date. We sent the payment straight away. But their processing department is slow. So the payment didn't post until the day after their collection department called, two weeks after the due date (but still within their grace period).

Not wanting to take any chances with our credit rating, we made a payment over the phone (you can't pay via the Internet as they don't accept online payments). Meanwhile, the missing check posted the next day. They had it for more than a week, but didn't know it. No big deal. The extra payment was applied to the principal, and we offered remedies that they rebuffed.

The second time it was our fault started out as a mystery. The collection department called on Sunday but didn't leave a message. When we called to find out why they had called, we were greeted by a message that said their offices were closed. (They can call out, but you can't call in.)

In the interim, we checked with our bank. We had sent the check the same day that we received the payment (Feb. 21), they processed it on March 2 (the day after the due date), and it cleared our bank on March 5. This time, their collection department called even earlier within their grace period (March 11).

When they returned our call on the next day, "David" said he would open a ticket and research it. The practice is pretty standard in the banking business so I thanked him. What isn't standard is that he called back a few minutes later and told us to research it and send evidence of payment, with urgency.

We sent a copy of the check the same night, but found out it wasn't so urgent. After I didn't receive confirmation that the email was received, I called. He had the day off.

He never did confirm receipt of the email, but he did call the next day. He called to say we were wrong.

"The issue they had was because you didn't put your loan account number on it," said David, much less accommodating than in our previous conversation.

What happened was that they received the check (which carries the address of the home with the second) and statement coupon, but they were confused which account to apply it to (even though we only have one account with them). So, they cashed the check and set the money aside until someone claimed it.

I didn't know what to say. Apparently, I was wrong again. All I could do was chuckle and accept it.

You can learn a lot about investments by working with prospect companies. 

While we do business with several banks — various business and personal accounts — I have only ever invested in one. And I would never invest or willfully do business with Banco Popular. Why?

Three reasons. 

• Its operational structure is lopsided to account for the deficiencies it creates (e.g., its payment processing is overburdened or incompetent, which slows down their process and gives their overstaffed collection department more cause to be zealous, calling high credit score customers on days that they are closed even if the customers are well within grace periods).

• It violates its own stated values and creed (e.g., it claims to obtain customers' satisfaction and loyalty by adding value to each transaction but places the burden of research and evidence on the customer).

• It works too hard to prove itself right and the customer wrong (e.g., interactions frequently seem to bear it out, given the emphasis is always about discovering what the customer did wrong rather than addressing how they can fix their shortcomings).

I'm happy to admit I'm wrong with Banco Popular. But every now and again it pays for a company to work harder to make their customer right, at least as hard as the customer works to make them right.

The first time we experienced a problem, we had requested they send their statements out earlier (25 days out is relatively standard, but they said it wasn't their policy). We requested a payment book if they could not send them earlier (they refused because our account was an acquisition). And we asked about making payments online (they said they offer no such service).

They did suggest direct withdrawals from our bank account, but I don't believe in giving deficient companies that kind of access. Instead, we feel crummy every time they send a statement, paying it as quickly as possible and hoping for the best. It usually arrives between two and seven working days before the due date, which gives them a chance to prove us wrong every month. Go figure. It's their policy.

The policy seems to be working for them too. Here is an analysis of investor recommendations. Yikes.
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