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These Customers Satisfied? Uh, No

July 25, 1999

Editor's note: The Times has received scores of letters and e-mails in response to its July 11 story on the difficulties Washington Mutual has experienced since its takeover of H.F. Ahmanson & Co., the parent of Home Savings of America. Most of the letters, from Washington Mutual customers from throughout Southern California, describe problems experienced after the merger.


* As a 20-year customer of Coast Federal, then Home Savings and now Washington Mutual, I can testify firsthand about the smoking train wreck that was once one of Southern California's finest banks ["Washington Mutual: 1 Merger Too Many?"].

I sent instructions via computer to pay my two mortgages on the 7th of the month. Washington Mutual ignored the instructions because they do not support banking via Quicken, as Home Savings did. Rather than inform me of the change, they ignored the instructions. The mortgages were not paid, and I am left to sort it out.

I have decided to close my accounts and move to another bank.

Washington Mutual Chairman Kerry Killinger would do well to put on jeans and a T-shirt and visit one of the Southern California branches as a regular customer. The long lines, added security (to control the crowds) and exasperated tellers will give him a small dose of what we have all had to deal with during this mega-merger.


Los Angeles

* We paid off our home mortgage in March of this year to Home Savings, received the recorded deed of reconveyance. Then in May we received a Washington Mutual notice with our new loan number. We do not have a loan with them.

We visited several branches and made several calls, each call answer prefaced with a canned "due to high volume of calls, there will be a 15-minute wait."

Our insurance company was notified by Washington Mutual to list them as the main beneficiary on our homeowners, flood and quake policy, which they did. We do not have a loan with them.

We sent a certified letter with a copy of our reconveyance, and it was signed for, but never the courtesy of a reply. Instead, we got a packet for us to complete to take loan payments out of our checking account. We do not have a loan with them.

The loan we paid off was just under $200,000, not a small amount.

No one at any of the branches had an address in Seattle for us to write. Even with the help of a docent at the library and searching the Internet, we couldn't find an address.

Where are you hiding, Chairman Kerry Killinger? I hope your "thrift" doesn't file foreclosure on us--we do not have a loan with you.

If you--or anyone else who can resolve this mess--are out there, just call loan servicing and after a 15-minute wait--at least--they can tell you how to find us. Maybe. We're the people in default on a nonexistent loan.



Los Osos

* I received little comfort from the statement by Killinger that he feels that customer service is beginning to improve.

Since my banking experience with Washington Mutual suggests to me that the company can't even get the basic tenets of banking done (deposits and withdrawals), I'm certain it has no clue how to measure customer satisfaction.

I guess the only recourse a consumer has is to get their money out of a bank as soon as a merger is announced. Unfortunately, there are so few banks left, this action won't work for very long.



* In its thirst for expansion, the newest acquisition by Washington Mutual has resulted in customer abuse of titanic proportions. This company acquired several banks in my area, and obviously customers receive little or no consideration either by this giant or by government agencies.

An assistant attorney general, in discussing a planned merger between two large supermarket chains, noted that the problem was that it might adversely affect competition and control pricing. Yet banks are permitted leeway.

On Monday, June 14, I traveled to a Washington Mutual branch (formerly a Home Savings branch) in Oxnard. I entered at 9:25 a.m. and was 12th in line. Three cashiers' windows were open--one for merchants, two serving customers for over half an hour each.

In the meantime, the line increased across the bank and into the street. Then one window closed. The manager walked through several times. Zilch!

At about 10:35, another cashier opened; a woman just entering went to that window and was served.

11 a.m., finally my turn. Total transaction time: three minutes. The wait: one hour and 25 minutes.

This combination of two institutions did not have additional employees; to the contrary, there were fewer cashiers than had ever been present at each individual branch. Instead of double assistance, we have less.

I called several branches to make inquiry and was told they did not know the name of the CEO or the address of their main office in Seattle. Why the secrecy?


Port Hueneme

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