October 1, 1986. Ronald Reagan was president, Huey Lewis and the News were riding high with "Stuck With You," I survived a tumultuous first month in a new city, new school, and new career. My 22nd birthday was still in front of me. And I opened my savings and checking accounts at School's Federal Credit Union. That financial institution was renamed Schools Financial Credit Union.
August 9, 2016. Barack Obama was finishing his final year in office. Sia's "Cheap Thrills" topped the charts, and I had just returned from a trip to Brazil. And I began closing down my Schools accounts.
Instead of packing bundles of US Dollars (like a drug dealer) to exchange for Brazilian Reais at the airport, I intended to get Brazilian cash from the ATM at my fist hotel in Iguaçu.
Unfortunately, my Schools card was rejected by the ATM. Twice, at different times of the day. Prior to departing, I notified Schools that I would be traveling to Brazil. A travel note was apparently added to my account. Immediately before departing, I received a new debit card. I re-PINned the new card the day before leaving so that I wouldn't have to remember yet another new code.
I called Schools from the hotel to find out why my card was being rejected. I was assured that not only would my debit card not work, my Schools Visa would not work, either. Schools had preemptively blacklisted any transactions in Brazil because there was too much fraud in Brazil. That was simply that. There was no offer of a means to help me out. I was on my own. Stranded by my bank who was vigilantly protecting my money from me as I was now in a fraud-riddled nation.
Imagine the magnitude of my disappointment (and rage) finding this out while cashless in Brazil rather than being told this when notifying Schools I would be traveling to Brazil. Mind you, I've been to France, Canada, Ecuador, Iceland, Botswana, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. Schools didn't strand me cashless / credit less in any of those countries.
Luckily, I had secured a Chase Visa targeted toward travelers a few weeks prior to the trip. Otherwise I could not have paid my hotel bill at Belmond's Hotel das Cataratas at Iguassu. Or for any other thing in Brazil. My profound disappointment with Schools followed me throughout the trip, as I remained without local currency which was the only means to pay for things in most of the western wilds of the Pantanal, where credit cards are not accepted!
My resolve to dissolve my relationship with Schools achieved newfound solidity when the tour guide had to cover my incidentals at Hotel Porto Jofre Norte. Thoroughly mortifying. I couldn't prevent Schools from doing that to me once, but I knew the single solution to ensure that Schools couldn't do that to me twice.
Upon returning, I wasted little time in proceeding to my Schools branch for a corrective discussion with the manager. He was duly apologetic and baffled by my tale. After I calmly described the magnitude of my disappointment and intent to prevent Schools from ever repeating such a performance of ineptitude, he dug around a bit and shared his findings with me.
The Schools customer service representative I spoke with when I phoned from Brazil was mistaken. Brazil was in no way, shape, or form blacklisted by Schools. The ATM was rejecting my debit card due to a "wrong PIN". Piecing this together in hindsight, it must be that the re-PINning I did the day before departure somehow failed.
Of course, had I known this in Iguaçu, I might have tried the card's original PIN. There's a chance that wouldn't have worked, either. But being told by Schools to give up now because nothing will work in Brazil set me on a different path.
A Schools phone rep also called to relay the tale of how I was misinformed about the Brazilian blacklist. I sensed they both considered my solution of closing my accounts at Schools to be extreme. They did apologize for their error/ What more could I expect?
What I expect is that this fiasco of financial institution failures will never befall me again. Schools lost my trust. Short of them building a time machine and correcting the past, there's no way for them to get that trust back.
They can do that to me once. But I will make certain that they can't do that to me twice.
Is it a hassle to switch banks on the spot? Oh, yes. And it could be that the new bank could someday botch things as badly as Schools did. But they are granted that chance.
Schools burned that chance:
• Their re-PINning appears to have failed (my crime was not trying the re-PINned card while still in the states, I suppose)
• Their customer service representative provided completely erroneous information. Was this done to clear my call in as few seconds as possible. No workaround was offered. Schools was entirely comfortable leaving a member stranded in a foreign country with no access to cash or credit.
• I can't help but feel that Schools' personnel reserve some blame for me for accepting the Schools phone rep's ridiculous tale of a Brazilian blacklist. Had I escalated that service call, they could have discovered that it was a bad PIN at work. And a bad PIN entry can only be chalked up to user error (except when it's not).
I can usually accept "single-layer" failures. It's when the institutional failure goes to multiple levels that I lose forgiveness. Schools had a nearly 30-year run with my business. I hope the new bank will be able to do better.