Conquering the little guy

67

“Same Friendly Attitude, Way More Muscle.”

J.P.Morgan Chase’s slogan is boldly plastered across the homepage of Washington Mutual’s Web site. But what does it really mean?

Basically, Chase’s marketers recognize that banking customers are scared. Larger banks often gobble small banks up, but when the government seizes financial giants like WaMu, people begin to panic about their money. They begin to picture the last few rounds of the Monopoly board game where the last few players must fork over their fortunes to one triumphant winner.

First of all, it would behoove anyone who has an account at any bank to be familiar with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). Most banks, including Chase, have this insurance that typically protects banking customers up to $100,000 in the case that the bank goes bankrupt. Not only is this more money than most students have, but on Oct. 3 of this year, FDIC deposit insurance temporarily increased from $100,000 to $250,000 per depositor through Dec. 31 of next year.

Secondly, don’t panic if you’re a Washington Mutual customer. Chase has fully taken responsibility for your accounts so that you don’t even have to worry about FDIC getting involved.

Lastly, ensure that you are an informed customer. The “same friendly attitude” portion of the slogan is intended to assuage WaMu customers’ fear of change. It implies that nothing will change except for the name on the outside of the branch. Yet, this is false.

With the U.S. going into the biggest financial crisis it has ever been through, things will and should change. Each bank has their own set of terms and conditions that customers follow. These affect how fees are calculated and how much they cost. For now, everything has stayed the same, but don’t expect that to last.

Mergers happen slowly but steadily, over the next year Washington Mutual accounts will be converted over to Chase accounts.

Right now customers can continue using the same account number, checks, debit cards, credit cards, deposit slips, online banking Web sites, branches and ATMs. What is Chase’s estimate for these items to transfer over to the new brand name?

“Soon.”

This uncertain timeframe is why it’s vitally important to take steps to ensure you are not as greatly affected by the current events of the day. Make sure that you have the correct mailing address on your account.

That way you get the information expediently rather than having to wait for your parents to forward your account information to your school address.

It’s also important to read the new terms and conditions so that you understand how to avoid fees and can make an educated decision whether you want to stay with Chase. The first few times that you call customer service asking for fee reversals, they might oblige you because they want to retain WaMu customers.

Never count on fees being waived. Banks are businesses and their main goal is to make money. Actively try to prevent incurring any fees by staying informed. If you have any questions, call customer service. They may not have all the answers because it’s so early in the process, but keep checking back with them.

Big corporations will sometimes forgive fees for good customers but they’re not interested in excuses. Banks don’t care that you’re a student or you’ve lost your job. Sending out notices on the change of terms and conditions is their method of telling you. Yes, they do expect you to read the fine print.

Bankers hear these phrases all day long. Even though they may feel compassion toward your particular predicament, they have to follow the bank’s policies and procedures in order to retain consistency within the company, and their own job. Each company treats their employees differently, directly impacting their friendliness and ability to help customers. That’s another reason why the “same friendly attitude” isn’t really accurate.

The second half of the slogan “way more muscle” certainly doesn’t sound as friendly. Instead it invokes the image of loan sharks breaking limbs in order to extract repayment their borrowers.

Of course, this is not what Chase intended. They’re trying to console WaMu customers that they do not have to fear that Chase will also collapse and their accounts will be transferred to yet another institution. Chase proudly boasts it’s strength on the WaMu Web site:

“WaMu customer deposits–including checking accounts, savings accounts and certificates of deposit–are now backed by the strength and security of J.P.Morgan Chase. J.P.Morgan Chase has more than $2 trillion in assets and is the largest depository bank in America.”

Stay with Chase or transfer your account to another bank or community credit union. Either of these options can be the right choice for you. Just make sure that you make an educated decision that best suits your banking needs.

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