BENNINGTON — The transition of People’s United Bank to M&T Bank is getting mixed customer reviews — with some expressing frustration with the changeover and a few saying they closed their accounts.
The Buffalo, N.Y.-based ownership group of M&T Bank has said little publicly on whether progress has been made on the transition, which began over Labor Day weekend. While the bank acknowledged problems shortly after customer accounts were transferred into the combined system, officials at the Buffalo headquarters did not return calls this week seeking an update.
M&T Bank’s parent corporation and People’s United Financial Inc., based in Bridgeport, Conn., merged in April under the M&T Bank name in an $8.3 billion transaction agreement.
Following the acquisition of People’s United Bank by M&T Bank, the company now operates a reported 1,100 branches in 12 states from Maine to Virginia and the District of Columbia. There are 38 branches in Vermont.
The change-over for customers officially occurred on Sept. 6, with new banking cards issued and other changes taking effect. Although some customers reported a smooth transition, others took to social media to complain about confusion by banking staff, long waits for calls to the company to be returned, and more.
“Horrible doesn’t even begin to describe what my family has experienced,” Louise McClay posted on the Bennington Banner Facebook page, responding to an inquiry by the paper about people’s experiences. “I am in the process of a slow closure of my account of more then 20 years. Only reason it’s a slow closure is I have stuff that is automatic and therefore I have to be 100% certain everything is switched before I just close it out.”
“Worst experience ever and will be switching to Bank of Bennington!” commented Melissa Foucher.
“Closed my accounts after 33 years before the transition,” commented Karen Curran. “Horrible experience with staff known to me for years … Management was less than useless.”
Ed Woods, treasurer of the Southwest Vermont Union Elementary School District, said Wednesday he had some unsettling moments during the transition for six bank accounts he oversees involving payroll and general funding for the regional district’s schools.
At one point, he said, “I’m transferring hundreds of thousands of dollars and there is no one to help me.”
Woods added that he was on hold for two hours trying to connect with people at the bank.
He eventually did connect with Lori Terrien, in the bank’s Burlington office. She’s the bank’s government banking manager, with whom he worked in the past.
Woods said he’s now assured “all [the district’s] money is in the right place.”
Reto Pieth, of Grafton, who contacted the Brattleboro Reformer after the weekend of the accounts changeover, said his issues have now been resolved.
“The whole thing was just so confusing,” he said Wednesday, referring to instructions and information sent to customers prior to the changeover. “And you could never get through to anyone [by phone].”
Pieth said a message on the bank’s phone system continually said they were “receiving a high volume of calls” but that someone would get back to him, but no one did.
He had trouble learning whether or when he should be using a new bank debit card sent to customers or his old one from People’s United, and whether an expected new bank routing number for transfers was activated or the old one should be used.
A teller he initially talked to also seemed confused about the debit card issue, he said.
CALLS TO DFR
Kevin Gaffney, Vermont’s commissioner of the Department of Financial Regulation, said he has spoken to a top M&T Bank official in Vermont, attempting to “get more clarity” on the situation.
While M&T Bank is regulated on the state level by a similar New York entity, Gaffney said his department has fielded complaints from Vermonters and has been in communication with both New York regulators and M&T Bank officials.
Gaffney said he could not speak for the bank, but that it was his understanding M&T’s newly combined banking platform and system had issues with consumer accounts after information on thousands of accounts was entered.
Many customers apparently were able to access their new accounts, Gaffney said he learned, but “many others needed sort of hand-holding, and this has taken time … I think this is something they just have to work through.”
The Department of Financial Regulation intends to post notices if they are received from the bank relating to the changeover, Gaffney said. One notice he believes is likely is that bank customers will be reimbursed for any late fees incurred while an M&T Bank account can’t be accessed.
Not all of the comments received by the Reformer and Banner were negative.
“No transition is without glitches, however getting upset at the workers, is just not a solution,” said Banner Facebook commenter Andrew J. Tarantino. “Take a breath and think about how difficult, it is for the people working, at all these new branches. They are having to deal with a new banking system, as well as every customer, who has a problem with their online banking.”
“I have to say that I just had an unexpectedly pleasant experience on the phone with someone at M&T,” a woman commented recently on a Brattleboro Facebook discussion page. “I had an ATM card not show up during their turnover, and called to get it replaced (rather than stand in line at the bank with every other angry customer yesterday). The human I spoke to on the phone was incredibly understanding and helpful … Replaced card & expedited (and waived that fee) within minutes. They divulged to me that they had also been transferred over from People’s and were learning pretty much on the fly. They (like us) are navigating a new system; but unlike us, they’re not being met with much patience and understanding.”