Monday, June 2, 2014

Bank of America

I AM from IRAN.
Iran, very well has been going through a hell lot of challenges in the past decade and is still enduring the burden of injustice. Six years ago, I started to pull myself together and try to seek a better place to live, which is very unfortunate for me and my country, the "land" I truly love. At the time, very naively, I thought Iran was a place that my rights were not given to me and I was not being respected. Even if I tried to reach out to what my legal rights were, I was somehow enforced to give it up. Laziness, little aristocracies in every administrations, the rule of the power, bribery, and disrespect was only some of the unfavorable social traits that I used to observe every here and there in my daily life, which was pretty frustrating for me. I used to think that maybe European countries, or United States are much better and maybe people can say what they want and do what they like there. That was of course just a mindset, and could have been much different comparatively.
Long story short, I finally came to the US and began my new "beautiful, respectful, and righteous" life here in Rolla, Missouri. We all new students opened accounts at the big Bank of America which had a banking center in our town at the time. People were very lovely and sociable, approachable and respectful. Every executive person in any administrative office was very kind and tried to help. Their greetings always started with "Hello, welcome to ..., my name is ..., how can I help you today." The way you are treated here is so graceful you can't name a little flaw in it. I don't want nor plan to brag about all the nice and kind societal behaviors in this western land. This was just a prologue to my experience with the bank of america after five years living in the states. Here is the story.

Chapter One.
On April 23rd, I noticed that I cannot use either my debit or credit card issued by the bank of america. Access denied and authorization declined. Luckily, I was carrying another credit card with me. Later on, I logged into my account and realized that I am not able to do any online financial transactions, no kind of fund transferring was possible. I called the customer service and was informed that there is a note on my account saying that the customer has to go to a banking center in person and verify his identity and all the other credential information, no other way to reopen the account. But there is no banking center in my town sir! Alright, I'll figure something out.

Chapter Two.
I had to attend a conference in Nashville, Tennessee on April 26-29th. I decided to take my documents with me so I can visit a banking center. I did so on the morning of April 29th. This is what I heard entering the building: Good morning sir, welcome to bank of america, my name is .., how can I be of assistance to you this morning. Well, I explained the situation and presented my passport, I-20, Missouri driving license, student ID, enrollment letter, and my debit and credit card. Apparently, what she could do was to double check my credentials and send an email to whatever the organization in charge was, describing that I am real and need to be freed from this not-so-great situation. It was raining so nice outside and I, as always, hopeful, happy and thankful for the kindness I observe everyday.

Chapter Three.
I thought there is nothing else to worry about and it will go through. After a week of patience, I had a feeling that I needed to get this problem resolved at the earliest. I had to pay for my apartment's rent, utility bill, internet bill, and the other credit card pay back was due too. I couldn't even transfer money from my checking account to my credit account in bank of america. Such a crazy situation. I called the closest baking center located in Pacific, Missouri. A nice lady, as always, answered: bank of america, my name is ... Alright I need to get this done as soon as possible please. Ok, I see a note in your account saying you must come to the bank in person and ... I know I know I have already done that in Nashville, I need another way to get around. I am sorry sir, you should come over here and ... Ok madam, Thank you I will. Have a good evening.

Chapter Four.
Before I head  to Pacific's branch of banking center I thought I give a call to the head of the customer service and do what I can over the phone. So I did and asking the little novice operators to transfer me to their supervisors or managers or whatever above their head of responsibilities. I talked to this apparently-in-charge guy, the "big" guy, and after a very long conversation describing all the three past chapters, very politely he said that he is going to send an email to the "big big" guy in bank of america doing the same things as the lady in Nashville did. He told me that I don't need to go to a banking center again and that all the centers call them in this regard as well, and I am good to wait and see. A little relief finally came to me as I thought I talked to a "big" person in charge.
He also mentioned that all this issue is coming from the global relationships of bank of america and somehow related to my country and all the sanctions imposed over its national banks and governmental organizations, etc. He advised me to call the department of treasury, sector of the sanctions compliance providing me with the phone number.
I called that treasury thingy and interestingly the only way to connect to a real person was to leave my name and phone number with a brief description of the reason for calling so they could get back to me! Security considerations I guess! That's OK I don't mind, not my business. So I left my info and about an hour later a "no caller id" called me and I realized that the issue is not that deep into the treasury thingy and only the bank is investigating such and such stuff. And I should not be worried about it! It will be resolved by the bank!

Chapter Five.
It was more than 20 days after my account was closed, or as they say, was frozen. Already all my automatic payments checks were returned and two late payments were in the history of my credit cards and I did not have access to any real crash! Only some frozen numbers in the bank account visible through the computer monitor. My stipend for the month of April was directly deposited into my bank of america account and another conference expense reimbursement money was also directly deposited into my checking account and the digital money was showing off to me while I had no access to use them!! My right!
Totally frustrated I headed to the Pacific banking center so I won't regret it in the future because of not taking this possible remedial chance to rehab my poor account. Screw the gas price to and fro. I needed my account to breathe! Therefore, I visited the Pacific center: Good afternoon, welcome to bank of ... I explained again, blah blah blah like a fool with no other options. The old lady saying sorry for the situation blah blah... that I lost grip of my kindness and maybe politeness too, started to question them top to bottom, telling her please stop apologizing, it's not your fault; there is nothing you can do for me except doing the same routine as others did, taking pictures of my documents and attaching it to an email sending it to the department of global sanctions; I have already lost the credits that I was struggling to save in my financial reputation; your apologies will not solve anything, please do not apologize and direct me to your supervisor; I am tired of talking to people who thank me and apologize me for over two weeks and not resolving the real problem, I don't need to hear these words anymore, I need to get rid of the obstacle. Again, I am sorry for.. blah blah, let me go to my manager and will let you talk to her.
The manager was a younger lady (I wonder where do men of business work in America, I often see men only constructing wooden houses and concrete bridges!) Well, I switched my seat to another cozy colorful seat in the manager's office and started describing the story blah blah ... She only repeated the words of the other people saying we do not have any control on this issue, and the only thing we can do to help you is to send an email to the sanction compliance sector of the bank and asking them to... I was steadily becoming more furious about the problem, losing my control on the words talking more harshly about the situation. The poor lady manager didn't say a thing and every once in while, a smile, a nod to confirm my words: It has been more than two weeks now that the employees in bank of america are apologizing from me and there is nothing they can do; how is it possible that my account was frozen on April 18th, and money can get inside, my salary, other direct deposits but I as the legal owner of my account am not able to withdraw money even if I prove it at one of your real banking centers; if the account is closed then there should not be any way for the money to get in either; or, let's say if the account was closed at that date, - okay I am fine with it let it be closed and I won't touch it until it is resolved - but I am hereby proving you that I am the owner of this money which has been deposited into the account "after" it got frozen; I need it to pay for my other bills, and yet you cannot even provide me that either!! I have been a loyal customer of bank of america for about five years and after all these years with an excellent reputation this is what I receive and no one can help me!! What's more interesting is that even you as a bank manager, the highest rank in this center do not have any control on my account, and those people in charge, those who are in the sanction compliance office do not provide any way for me to contact them, and even you cannot call them, only a one direction email and then maybe you be contacted later with a most likely no-caller-id! What do you think Ms. Manager of the bank, say I was a millionaire and even so, I was still from Iran undergoing the tough sanctions, would my account be still frozen for more than 20 days? Wouldn't bank of america try to keep me satisfied best in that case? what do you think? It's money that talks here; that's what comes to mind so naturally. One more word before I say goodbye Ms. Manager of the bank; Five years ago, I left my country because of the sole reason that I could not get what my right was; many times I had a hard time to get only maybe half of what I deserved. I came here, to your country, everything sounded so nice in the beginning, but I gradually realized that it's the well known materialism that flows underneath the skin of this fancy society, the richer you are the more respect you get; all the fake smiles on people's faces in their greetings every now and then is only the cultural attitude and the societal cliches. Well, I will have to say that after five years living in this prosperous country, bank of america proved me wrong: that even here I am not able to get my rights all the time.
Have a good evening, and I truly mean it.

She gave me company to the exit and left the door wishing me relief from the situation. After a few days maybe four days, my bank account was OK and I could play with the digital money again.

P.S.1. I have to say that this was an extreme experience of dissatisfaction in the states that I had with an organization, and such a thing was not to be unexpected in Iran. The only reason it made me so uncomfortable about it was that it was unexpected. What I learn is to expect anything might happen anywhere, or better to say that I learned to never expect everything to be ok all the time, it's only a matter of probability. Giving this, I could say still living in a place wherein you will have a more comfortable life is worth it, though there are always some trade-offs.

P.S.2. I have had and still have friends who hide in their hard shells whenever there is something higher and bigger is bothering them. They don't counteract, they don't resist, they don't protest what's against their will and what's right. I have friends who fear from speaking up, all and all because of their past experiences, their culture, their alienation. Those are who never write something like this, and that's what I detest and I will detest for the rest. I say what I think is right and has to be said if it can be heard. That's what it means to be free to speak out and speak up.

P.S.3. Here is where the picture of this post is coming from.
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