Citibank – A Grimm Fairy Tale (update)

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    Citibank – A Grimm Fairy Tale

    by Jonathan Bernstein

    Once upon a time there were two young bankers. We shall call them Mut and Geoff.

    Mut and Geoff were employed by — yea, verily — a bank. We shall call it Citibank. They worked in the towne of Pasadena, in the shire of Los Angeles.

    In the latter half of March, in the year 2012, banker Mut contacted me, quite excited.

    “Sire, as you know, Citimortgage currently holds the deed on your faire property. We thought you might be interested in refinancing now, because rates will rise as surely as scones contain currants.”

    Now, dear readers, this possibility seemed to be a fairy tale, although young Mut claimed that it was one of the Hans Christian Anderson variety. In our reality, we had acquired said home in 2006, when the real estate market was at its very peak and, of course, soon became piqued. Thus, our residence lost 20% of its value (our down payment) in the subsequent two years. We believed, from what the Shire Assessor told us, that values had come back up perhaps 10%. But there was no way that our home could meet the magical 80/20 Loan-to-Value ratio required by lenders today.

    “Nay nay,” sayeth Mut. “A home very comparable to yours, and barely more than a stone’s throw away from your abode, just sold for a price almost 20% HIGHER than what you PAID for yours.” Yes, he actually spoke in capital letters.

    Thus encouraged, we said, “Yes, let’s proceed.” Mut inquired after and received information on our not-inconsiderable resources in order for his employer to be comfortable that we were unlikely to default on any agreement. As we had already been faithfully paying for the deed they already held in their vaults over the past six years, we were not surprised when they expressed the belief that we were unlikely to default on any agreement. An even more exhilarated young Mut then scheduled an appointment at our abode to begin the inevitable paperwork.

    On the day of our appointment, Mut arrived in the company of Geoff who, we were told, did for the banking side of Citibank what Mut did for the mortgage side – recruited and served new customers as their “personal banker.”

    The intrepid duo arrived bearing gifts, no less. A cup, although our cup cupboard already floweth over. A golf umbrella, should we want traffic helicopters and military spy satellites to be able to read the Citibank logo when it was in use. A zip-up money pouch with which to ferry our fortune to Citibank’s branches. A soft ball suitable for choking children and small pets. And a padded notebook computer case that was missing a handle.

    Geoff took this opportunity to portray the many sundry benefits associated with becoming a “Citibank Gold” customer. “What!” exclaimed I. “We get more than this bountiful display of specialty product largesse just foisted upon us? Capital, just capital!”

    Apparently, if we were willing to transfer every farthing we had saved and all immediately available monies to their safekeeping, Citibank would countenance a slight reduction in the lending rate and would assign a senior bank clerk to personally assist us with transferring our wealth and even increasing their assets…no, perhaps that was increasing our assets…ah well, I digress.

    “How much do I need to transfer into a Citigold Account to receive these benefits,” I asked Geoff.

    “Well,” he said, “If you transferred $250,000 we could…….”

    At that point, Geoff thought it prudent to stop, as my fingers were involuntarily starting to clench as if around a man’s throat.

    “Young sir, what is the MINIMUM that I need to transfer at this time for such benefits?” I said, prudently restraining myself.

    “Sire, that would be only $100.”

    “Make it so,” said I, fulfilling a long-time ambition to sound like the dashing adventurer Jean-Luc Picard.

    With papers signed, Mut and Geoff departed our home. A few days later, as we expected, a private appraiser and her nervous-looking assistant wandered about our property, making notes and looking secretive. At one point, she spoke aloud about the number of bathrooms in our home, requiring my wife to note that somehow this skilled professional had missed one bathroom. We bid her farewell, and continued to wait.

    Then, the electronic post delivered the appraisal report, which caused us, upon perusal, to feel shocked, dismayed, agitated, disheartened and completely out of sorts of all sort.

    Readers, hark ye back to the beginning of this story, when Mut told us that a comparable commorancy had sold recently for a price “20% HIGHER than what you paid for YOURS.” The appraiser’s appraisal agreed that said property was physically comparable to ours — and noted that it had sold for exactly the same price as we paid for ours. Other comparable properties sold for even less. In short, the bank’s loan-to-value requirements could not be met and our entire experience had been for naught.

    Then began a lengthy series of calls and emails between myself and Mut in which I noted, repeatedly, that whether by error or intent, he had enticed our participation in this lengthy process by using false information — and in which, repeatedly, he COMPLETELY ignored that assertion in favor of gobbledegook, gibberish and falderal.

    His motive? Dear readers, I cannot read his mind. Maybe he was being lauded for simply bringing borrowers into their system, hoping to at least retain our banking business. Maybe he, a “home lending specialist,” couldn’t read a real estate listing. Maybe bank training and supervision had underserved Mut. I know not.

    Imagine our amusement, then, when we received a form-missive from Citibank which read as follows:

    “Pursuant to your request, we have withdrawn your mortgage loan, for the above referenced application, as of today’s date.”

    Unable to restrain myself, I wrote to Mut one more time, asking him to inform his superiors that their letter was grossly inaccurate, that it should have said:

    “Pursuant to our misrepresentation of home closing prices in your area and the subsequent appraisal that did not meet our LTV requirements, we have denied the mortgage refinance loan that we shouldn’t have approached you for in the first place.”

    Admirer that I am of Don Quixote, Rambo and others who take on often fruitless quests, I felt compelled to continue the dialogue with “anyone other than Mut” at Citibank in the hopes of, perhaps, preventing another homeowner from being similarly victimized.

    As I ready to publish this tale, I have been engaged in a thus-far-futile multi-day set of communications in and out of the land of Twitter, attempting to find a lending supervisor to contact me. Many have promised, none have done so to date. How utterly…Citibank.

    [Jonathan Bernstein is president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc., author of Keeping the Wolves at Bay – Media Training and Manager’s Guide to Crisis Management.]

    POSTSCRIPT – The above was published on 4-21-12. Below I will append the story with updates based on new contact from Citibank.

    4-22-12 — This evening I received email from Friar Tuck, who has the daunting task of supervising young Mut. In the email, he claimed to have called my cellphone number several times, only to get someone with a Spanish accent telling him I wasn’t home. As neither I nor my wife have such an accent, and as no one else is ever in possession of said phone, this bizarre communication only added further dark comedy to my tale.

    HOWEVER, dear readers, when I called the good Friar at his email invitation, for the first time I heard words appropriate to the situation — although, apparently, he had not read most of the emails I had exchanged with Mut, nor had he yet seen the story printed herein. He agreed that Mut’s nonsensical denial of reality had been inappropriate, and pledged to find out what happened and get back to me. He wisely “connected” with me by asking me questions about my interests and profession (smart work, Friar). And he hinted at the possibility that his bank might be able to do something to improve our mortgage situation in some way.

    4-23-12 — Just when I thought I couldn’t be more astonished than I had been to date by the behavior of Citibank reps, I received this email from Friar Tuck, printed here verbatim:

    Mr. Bernstein,

    Can you please provide me with your complete address and loan number currently with Citibank? Yes, I do have access to the information, but to be honest it will be most accurate coming from you and since I am fairly new, it would take me more time than you would find acceptable. If you’d like however, I can get the information myself…you choose 🙂 I need to get it to my modification team to see if there is anything I can do.

    Yes, you read that correctly. The bank officer came to ME to provide him with information on my mortgage with Citibank because it would be “most accurate” coming from me than from the bank’s own records! Not to mention that it’s inappropriate for banking officers to ask for that type of confidential information by email.

    Additionally, I had neglected to mention earlier in this tale that young Geoff contributed further to our unhappiness, in that when we received the checks for our Citigold account, they were neither the design nor the number series we had requested. I called that to his attention a fortnight ago and he promised to remedy the error. He has not.

    5-1-12 — In the week past, more rascalism ensued at the bank. My credit card invoice revealed that the aborted loan-related charges, which Mut said were being reversed, had not been. Tuck says he’s “on it” – but apparently “it” is a turtle. And Tuck’s emails make it clear that there is very little chance that any of this will be resolved in our favor.

    END OF THE STORY – No resolution at all. Friar Tuck thought I should be impressed with the EFFORT they put into producing no resolution at all, however. Really! A direct quote:

    “What I hope you take out of this is the amount of time we at Citibank have spent trying to resolve this to your 100% satisfaction.”

    ..and then he must have been eating some funny mushrooms he found in Sherwood Forest, because he added,”

    “I hope that you choose to continue to do business with a bank that will dedicate this much time to making you happy.”

    This situation has long since passed the “you couldn’t pay me to….” level. And so I must, sadly, bid Citibank adieu, and hope that they enjoy their petard hoisting party.

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