Merrill Lynch Bank of America fail!

I just wasted over an hour trying to transfer funds from my checking account to my investment account at Merrill Lynch. This used to be easy before Bank of America took over Merrill Lynch. I could go on the Merrill website where I had already set up a relationship between the two accounts. The checking account is at Bank of the West, not Bank of America and pre-existed the B of A takeover.

Now I go through the same steps and get to a page where I fill in the information: i.e. into or out of the Merrill account, the amount, the date (next day). The only other option at that point is to click the button labeled “Continue Transfer.” I click that and get a big red error message saying:

You have exceeded the number of attempts allowed to enter a PIN. For assistance please call contact (sic) the Merrill Lynch Help desk.

At this point a new box appears where the “Continue Transfer” button had been. This box is labeled PIN in bold red. I try to click in it, but the web site has disabled it. This box wasn’t there the first time and I don’t even have a PIN for this. I’m already signed into my account with my regular password.

So I call my Financial Advisor at Merrill and only get voice mail. No one picks up. In the old days, an assistant would pick up if the advisor wasn’t available. I leave a voice mail. No one calls back right away, so I decide to call the Merrill 800 number showing on the web page for assistance. It took four calls. They went like this:

  1. A recorded message tells me I’m being recorded and says they have a special offer and asks if I am over 50 (press 1) or not (press 2). I don’t want to hear an offer so I press 0 repeatedly. It hangs up on me.
  2. I call again. Same message. This time I press 1. A woman’s voice comes on telling me there’s a special offer of health insurance for seniors. I tell her I’m not interested and I need help with my account, but she keeps talking as I’m trying to talk. Probably a recording, although it didn’t sound like it. This time I hung up.
  3. I call again intending to press 2, but a different message comes up, one recorded menu asking what I want to do. I say “transfer funds” and it understands and puts me in a queue for an associate. That takes a few minutes and a very polite woman comes on the phone and I explain all of the above. I’ll skip all the grisly detail, but she clearly didn’t understand what the web page was like or what the problem was; after 27 minutes she finally puts me into an automated system to create a PIN for funds transfer. It asks me to enter my 10-digit account number. The problem with that is I have two account numbers. One is an 8-digit Cash Management Account (CMA) number and the other is the account number on the Bank of America checking account associated with the CMA account. That’s 12 digits. I start entering that number and the system disconnects me.
  4. I call again and eventually get through to another polite young lady. I go through the same thing again. This time she gets the point faster and tells me she will set up the PIN so I can transfer directly. First, though, she has to verify me through my phone and texts me a one-time PIN (not something to use for the deposit). I recite it back to her over the phone. Think about how stupid this is. She didn’t simply text it to the number associated with account as shown in her records, but asked me what phone number to text it to. Obviously it was the phone I was talking to her on; that could be anyone giving whatever phone they were calling on. All it proved is that the person calling was on a phone capable of receiving a text. But it turns out she also has to verify my identity through the branch office. At least she had the foresight to ask for my phone number so that if I get cut off, she’ll call me back, which the first woman didn’t do. She tells me she tried two different numbers at my branch and couldn’t get through. She says someone from my branch office will have to call me later and verify my identity. Why not ask me information like my address, routing and account numbers, etc.? I’m calling from the phone associated with the account. I can verify on the phone with a fingerprint. Why not use that? No, the branch has to do it in person. She ends the call. I try again on my computer and notice that this time the website produces a PIN box for me to use on the first try, but of course I still don’t have one. I tried using the one-time PIN she sent me earlier, but it doesn’t work. She had mentioned at some point in the call that they’ve had trouble with some browsers not displaying the web page correctly.

At this point I’d been on the phone for over an hour and the transfer still hasn’t happened. I realize I could have just written a check on the other account and used my Merrill phone app to deposit it in my Merrill account via photographic image. That app has always worked well. One problem with that is I have bad arthritis in my hands and really dislike having to write checks because it is painful. I don’t even like endorsing them because Merrill requires a rather wordy sentence on the back in addition to my signature. Also, that doesn’t work going the other way. My wife is the main user of the Bank of the West account and doesn’t have an app for it and ability to deposit over the phone. The bank may have one, but she refuses to get such a thing. She’s not a fan of tech. Most transfers are from Merrill to Bank of the West, so this transfer system needs to be fixed so I can do it both directions on my desktop computer.

I sit down at my computer and start to write this blog post when I get a phone call from my Merrill Advisor. I should mention at this point that he has always been very responsive and quick to meet my needs. I like him and his service. The problem is with the website and the whole design of the system to allow transfer but fails to give the ladies at the 800 number power and training to take care of things like this. If Merrill Lynch could do it, Bank of America should be able to. There isn’t even a need for a password. I’ve already had to sign in with username and password.

My advisor was unhappy and asked how he could help. I told him in brief form what I’d just gone through and he immediately took whatever steps were necessary to make the transfer happen. As I said, he’s always been responsive. He explained that when I’d called earlier he’d been out of the office driving his assistant to the airport, which is why neither he nor his assistant answered. I take him at his word, but I know that my previous advisor (both pre- and post-B of A takeover) always had someone to take any call that came in. That phone number was never left unmanned. He also said that the “back office” had sent him a message that I’d complained which counts against him as a client complaint. I agreed it was a client complaint but it was really with the website design and the bureaucracy with the back office system. He tells me there is always someone there at the branch and that the back office could have gotten through easily if they’d tried. My advisor was not familiar with what he called the FTS(?) PIN system. Neither am I, and apparently the back office people aren’t either. He said he will have someone see that I get a PIN. By the end of the phone call, it had been over 90 minutes of effort to complete this, and I still don’t have a PIN.

The whole point of associating the other bank account was so that the client can seamlessly make such transfers without the need to contact anyone at the branch or back office. My advisor assures me that he will always take care of me for such things, and I’m sure he will, but I shouldn’t have to call him, not for this. It is inevitable that he will not be available at times, being on vacation or having other clients to take care of, and apparently, his assistant isn’t always, either. That’s the whole reason for a computerized system. Why create it and then make it impossible to use without going through your advisor?

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