Thursday, June 10, 2010

Ameriprise Bank: Not Worth Your Trouble

Years ago, a relative who was trying to take control of her retirement finally expressed willingness to have her state retirement plan's funds rolled into an IRA account she would be able to invest at her discretion. The State was not easy to deal with, but at last we had a rollover check for a six-figure sum (excluding decimals) that was more than anyone in their right mind wanted to lose.

I had her send it to Ameriprise Bank. Ameriprise has a dizzying array of account types – bank accounts, IRA accounts, brokerage accounts, Simple Employee Retirement accounts, who knows what else – and the cover letter spelled out very clearly what account type the check needed to get into, what account number, and the name on the account. It was all quite straightforward. We watched the account for a while, waiting to see the money show up so she could begin buying things she'd become interested in (like Apple, which has done damn well in the last five years).

After a while, we called for an update: when would the check be in?

Amerprise's answer: "What check?"

Ameriprise lost a six-figure check sent by a state retiree from a state retirement fund from which obtaining a subsequent check would be like pulling teeth from an angry tiger. After some lengthy "discussion" about the check (we were told we might have forgotten to send it, etc.), it turned out that the department with the check was not the department that handled IRA accounts at all, and that it was a department that used an entirely different mailing address than the one to which we sent the check. It also had its own phone number. And that department didn't have any accounts with the tax characteristics required by my retiring relative.

Not an auspicious start.

I am here to tell you that in the intervening years, Ameriprise hasn't gotten any more organized. I've had an Ameriprise Bank account since the company was part of American Express. I used the exact same userID to log into the bank account as I did to log into my American Express credit card accounts. I used the same password. American Express still recognizes them. Ameriprise? Ha. Ameriprise has undergone repeated website infrastructure reorganizations – based on the error messages I get from Amerprise's site, all of which involve Microsoft products – and with each, I get new headaches. Features that stop working, features that are re-implemented with new third-party partners, features that are obsoleted ... and when I call for support on any of these I get the same level of service Amerprise has always delivered.

Service at Amerprise works like this:
Amerirpise: I can reset your password for you and you'll be ready to go.
JadedConsumer: Great!
A: Write this down: y-e-j --
JC: Uppercase or lowercase?
A: It doesn't matter. y-e-j-m-3-#. Can you read that back to me? Good. Now log in and it will let you change your password!
JC: Well, stick with me for a minute to see if this works. I've been through something like this before, and it was a bust. Yeah. Like this. Using the window where I normally log in, it doesn't log me in. It just gives me the same window again. No error message, or anything.
A: What web site are you using?
JC: The one I bookmarked when I opened the account.
A: Try w-w-w-dot-amerprise-dot-com.
JC: Okay ... now it's asking me to enter a password ... and now it's giving me an error, saying it doesn't like the password.
A: What password are you using?
JC: The same one I used for years.
A: But you wanted to reset it.
JC: No I didn't. I wanted to log in. You said you could fix my problem by resetting it. And now it won't take the password that it used to take.
A: You need to use a new password.
JC: What's wrong with my old password? I could remember my old password. That way I didn't need to call for resets.
A: If you want to reset your password, you need to use a new password.
JC: I didn't want to reset my password. I said I wanted to log in. You said you could solve the problem with a password reset. I still can't log in.
Next the new password failed with the exact same Error 500 Internal Server Error courtesy of Microsoft Internet Information Server's Active Server Pages technology. Eventually A said I needed to call back the next day and talk to a web support team. I explained that it wasn't me who forgot the pasword, and it wasn't my browser that was generating pages that said "Error 500: Internal Server Error", and that the last time I had this it took days to sort out. I suggested that he pass mu number to the web support team so they could call me when they figured out how to get my account accessible. Alas, A would not. A pretended that the web support team was somehow cloistered away from public access and unable to phone anyone no matter what they learned. I pointed out that he'd just ordered me to contact them by phone, so they clearly had phones. And since the problem was clearly within Ameriprise's control and not mine – I can't generate Ameriprise server errors, for example – it made sense that the web team be alerted to the problem so it could be fixed.

Although A kept insisting that only Web Support could fix the problem and that I had to call Web Support the next day, it still took about 15 minutes to talk him out of the number I was supposed to call to reach Web Support. He preferred to win an argument with me first regarding the necessity of speaking with them at all.

When I called the number the next day, it wasn't Web Support's number. The people there put me through a series of identification-verifying questions that didn't seem irritating as a precondition to transfering me to Web Support, until after they transferred me to Web Support I was made to answer all the exact same questions all over again. I mean, there's only so many hours in the day. A2 told me to log in, and I reminded him that as I'd just explained, my password had been reset the previous day from the one I had used for years. He told me he'd reset it again. "Write this down. It's not case-sensitive ...."

The exact same failure repeated. What kind of computer system was I using, he asked?

A: That Safari browser is not ... they changed some settings with that browser.
JC: Safari is one of the most standards-compliant browsers on the planet. What is wrong with your server configuration that it is having trouble serving Safari the same content it serves anyone else?
A: Don't be so quick to blame our server, they changed some settings in Safari and we're trying to figure out how to handle it. Did you download Firefox?

In Firefox, the login was made to work. However, when I clicked the "bill pay" option, I got this:

We cannot process your request at this time. Please contact customer service at (800) 297-7378.

Instead of risking this new number, I asked A2 what we should do. He put me in touch with the integrated services department, which (he said) handled bill pay. The discussion with A3 didn't go well.
A: How much are you trying to pay?
JC: I have no idea. Just trying to set up a bill payment leads to an error message.

After explaining where I was on their site (the top-level account summary window you get on login) and what caused the error (clicking the button to look at the bill pay options), A3 began to clue in – or so I thought.

"Oh!" she said. "Bill pay is listed as inactive in your account." Bollocks. I'd used it for years, in the past. Just not recently. Some new back-end change, apparently, that blenderized everyone's existing settings. "I'll activate it for you. Close your browser and try again."

I wasn't about to close every window – including the one in which I was writing this – at the suggestion of the recorded message she'd been taught in 1999. So I logged out and back in, and got the same results.
A: You may have to clear your cookies in your browser.
JC: The last guy said that if I used a different browser, then everything would work fine, and it's not. Why don't you tell me exactly what it is you want me to do and I will try to do it.
A: First, open Internet Explorer.
JC: That is going to be a problem.
A: Well, you need to open Internet Explorer to clear your cookies.
JC: I don't have Internet Explorer and have never needed it to access any of your site's online banking features. If you think the solution to this problem is that I begin using a Microsoft product famous for its insecurity and for not working properly, I'll suggest that we need to get someone on the line who actually understands what is wrong here so we can get it fixed.
Eventually, I was put on hold (for about the 10th time) and then informed that the people who run bill pay said that it would take 24h from her re-activation for it to have any chance of working.

"Is there anything else I can do to help you?"
"Well, it doesn't look like it."
"Thank you for calling Ameriprise Bank."

So ... sign up for an account -- today!

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