This page was originally titled "Happy Thanksgiving from Wells Fargo", because I started it around November 24th, 2021. I didn't expect the story of the incompetence of a US bank to last until Christmas, but on December 23rd, I still hadn't resolved the problem, so I changed it to "Happy Holidays".
I think this story might strengthen the case for Bitcoin. Andreas Antonopoulos says children born today will never hear the phrase "three to five business days". I hope he's right, because I've heard it a lot in the last two weeks.
If you go to wellsfargo.com and search for 'bitcoin', it says 'no results'.
I am buying an apartment in Thailand. In order to do this, I need to transfer around $150,000 from an account in the USA.
I tried various methods, all of them dead-ends.
I opened a Transferwise account, because this usually makes it easier to transfer money to Thailand.
It took two days and some security, involving me confirming that Wells Fargo had transferred small amounts into my TransferWise US account, and then it was approved.
Once, I was able to transfer $15,000 to my Transferwise account using this method.
The next day, when I tried to transfer money from my Wells Fargo account to my Transferwise account, it said I could only transfer $5000 per day, up to a total of $6000 per month. At this rate, it would take over two years for the remaining money to transfer.
Incidentally, the contrast between Wells and Transferwise (Wise) couldn't be greater. Wise answers emails and online chat messages. Wise allows you to use a non-US phone number to send the OTP too. If you are in a different country, where your phone number doesn't work, Wise gives you options, e.g. using WhatsApp (which will work whenever your phone is connected to wifi). Wise is 21st century, Wells is still stuck in the era of the stagecoach, when it took over five business days to carry gold across the USA, dodging the arrows of its earliest critics.
Now, if I log on wellsfargo.com, and select "Transfer and Pay", then "Wire", it says "We are unable to complete your request at this time." I figured out the reason for this is I don't have a US phone number, and Wells will only send OTP codes to US phone numbers. The only alternative is to go into a branch, and they don't have a branch in Thailand. I had to explain this several times on the phone to Customer Service reps.
I called Customer Service, and the guy took me through Wire and Transfer, and I explained how neither of them work. He suggested Global Remittance Services. and gave me their number.
Global Remittance Services listed the countries they deal with, and Thailand isn't one of them. I pointed out that I'd been transferred to them by Customer Service, and asked if they could find anyone who could help. They put me on hold, and soon I got transferred back to Customer Service. Someone eventually answered (it helps if you shout "banker!" into the phone and hit '0' several times), and I told her the problem. Again, she took me through the "Wire" system for the 3rd or 4th time, and again it said "We are unable to complete your request at this time." As before, I had to explain this is because I don't have a US phone number.
After me complaining a lot about Wells Fargo refusing to give me my money, she escalated to an escalation specialist. She heard my complaints, generated a complaint number, and put me through to complaints. The complaint number is 1123217BEAEC6E8F61.
It's a hexadecimal number. In decimal, 316,126,089,967,540,539,233. I guess they get a lot of complaints.
After hours on the phone to Wells Fargo, I had to go into the Thai phone company and top up my account, to avoid getting cut off.
I asked if Complaints has an email address, but the guy said no.
I couldn't find any emails on wellsfargo.com, but I found this form:
https://survey.foreseeresults.com/survey/display?cid=eNAiDg86+jGbkKfGrippJw==&sid=sl-twoquest-en&cpp[segmentid]=COB&cpp[pageid]=summary&cpp[wfacookie]=1120211014175016519438004&cpp [customerid]=2d8bdd06efa70703e65e7653d678a1824dfdff2b956ed5379f95d18c5d2ea54d& cpp[environment]=prod&cpp[lang_pref]=en&cpp[search_termM2]=false
(Hackers - please don't use my customer id, which is embedded in the parameters of the above URL).
I filled in the form and pressed 'Submit'.
It took two days to get a reply by email, because it was Thanksgiving.
They gave me another number. I called it, waited 12 minutes, and woman answered. I explained the problem again, and she said she'd try to find a solution. Then she put me on hold for 35 minutes, after which I gave up, and decided to try again later.
This is what they call "a first-world problem". Most people in the world are much worse off than me, and could say "your problem, I should have". But this is one small story to add to the hatred of corporate America, and possibly, the love of Bitcoin.
I finally got through to an 'escalations specialist', who told me to go into my bank in Thailand and see if they can transfer the money from Wells Fargo in America using the "Wire Money" option on the online site. They couldn't help. So I called the last number I called before, and had to wait 25 minutes for a reply. This time, the guy on the other end gave me a 'case number', 260895497, and said those magic words "five business days". That's how long it would take to enter my Thai phone number into their system so it could send OTP codes to it, so I could transfer money at $25,000 per day. I still had the impression I could do a $5,000 transfer using the "Transfer Money" option.
No - when I tried this, this time it said "We are unable to complete your request at this time."
So I called again. This time, I got through almost immediately, but after explaining the situation, that my ability to access my money had gotten even worse than it was 11 days earlier, when I transferred $15,000, the woman said to hold on, then disappeared. Eventually, she came back, and told me that the information I'd gotten earlier today, from the guy at her office, was completely false. I will not be able to do any kind of online Wire or Transfer unless and until I get a US phone number. She also gave me another complaint number - 112621B5673E7DF0BD. Again, this is over three hundred million million million.
However, the one bit of good news is, after asking me a lot of security questions, the answers to all of which were "none of the above", she raised my daily ATM limit to $5,000, which means if I take money out every day, I'll have the $150,000 before Christmas. But now I know I can't believe anything they say, I'll see.
I have also received an email from LineofBusinessExecutiveOffice@wellsfargo.com. It says "We received your complaint and are committed to promptly addressing your concerns." It also contains another phone number, which I will call as soon as they open on Monday 29th November. When you call any of the numbers, it usually says "we are experiencing unusually high call volume", which cannot be true.
The latest, 29th November. I seem to be able to withdraw the equivalent of $5,000 each day from my account using my Wells Fargo ATM card, then go into the bank, and deposit it into my Thai account. Being charged for each withdrawal, and having to wait in line. Every day, for thirty days, except weekends, when I accumulate a pile of Thai baht ready to deposit on Monday.
I called the number given to me by LineofBusinessExecutiveOffice@wellsfargo.com. The woman at the other end couldn't help me. She said my 'case' was being dealt with by another lady, who is not available til 10 am East Coast time, 10 pm Thai time.
1st December: I received an email from Wells Fargo telling me they have updated my phone number to one ending in 3603. I have never had a phone number ending in 3603.
2nd December, 05:00 - I called the last number I was given, from which a woman transferred me to online banking help. After half an hour, someone answered, I explained the problem, and she put me on hold again. After 55 minutes, I got cut off.
6th December. Each day, I get ฿166,000 ($5,000) out of an ATM and deposit it inside the bank, except weekends and holidays. This is a long weekend, so I should be going into the bank tomorrow, Tuesday, with ฿166,000 times 4, which is ฿664,000. However, I was outside Chiang Mai this weekend. Some of the ATM machines only allow you to take out ฿25,000 at a time, and Wells Fargo limits the number of times you can access your money in 24 hours, as well as the amount. Tomorrow, I will be depositing ฿166,000 times 3, which is ฿498,000, plus ฿25,000 plus another ฿5,000 I got out of another account.
I thought maybe I could get the money by transferring it to a credit card I have with a different US bank, then transferring the money into the Thai bank, but when I called this American bank's customer service number, it said "Due to extenuating circumstances, we are unable to take your call. Please call back." I tried a different number for the same company, and the man at the other end answered immediately, and told me "no, you can't overpay your credit card, then use it to transfer money into a Thai bank." At least they came straight to the point, and didn't waste my time keeping me on hold or giving me false information.
8th December. Last night I finally got through to someone at Wells Fargo who knew what to do. They guided me into a 'secure email' box which I had access to via the emails from LineofBusinessExecutiveOffice@wellsfargo.com. By the way, this secure email procedure is useless - anyone who hacked my email could link to the secure email site, set a password, then read this secure email, which does not contain any private information.
The secure email contained a PDF file, containing the following information:
"If all account owners cannot provide a primary residential address located within the United States or its territories, we are asking customer’s to close their account."
It then said how to do this. You download another PDF file from part of the wellsfargo.com site, fill it in with the details of the bank you want to transfer all your money to, have it notarised at the US Consulate, and send it BY MAIL to Wells Fargo. Then they will WIRE your money to the account you put on the form.
Meanwhile, I contacted Wise. Not only do they understand the existence of countries outside the USA, they even understand some of their laws. The email I received in return to my query explained exactly what Thai law requires re. showing that the money I am spending on a new apartment comes from outside the country. So I could transfer the contents of the Wells Fargo account to a Wise account. From there, I could transfer as much of it as I need to the Thai bank, and Wise have explained how I can show the Thai authorities it came from overseas.
After getting up early and calling Wells Fargo, they've increased my daily limit to $15,000 (~ ฿500,000),
BUT ONLY TEMPORARILY. I'll have to call again, every morning, to get it increased, for the next ten days.
15th December: I was being over-optimistic. This morning, the guy who answered the phone couldn't increase my limit to $15,000 unless I have a US phone number. He couldn't find a list of questions to ask me to establish my identity. He thinks my current limit is $8,000, which would mean it will take TWENTY days, not ten, to get enough to pay for the new apartment. He suggested telling the bank my Wells Fargo account and routing number, and seeing if they can transfer the money from America.
No, they can't do that. My limit was not $8,000, it was back to $5,000, back to taking 30 days to get my hands on my money.
16th December. OMG - tried again, spoke to Jay, and he said he found a way of raising my limit to $15,000 for five days. I look forward to testing this claim.
So far, I've transferred $15,000 twice in succession. The nightmare of calling Wells Fargo early every morning, and going to the bank every afternoon, should soon be at an end, fingers crossed.
BTW, every single transaction costs me. Three percent for the 'disbursement fee', plus dishonest currency-conversion rates, which always work against the customer, in whichever direction you're changing currencies.
22nd December: For five days, I was able to get $15,000 by going into the bank. Then it stopped. So this time, I called again, and the woman at the other end said it was impossible to raise the limit. I explained that I had had it raised to $15,000 for five days, and told her to look on her screen and see my withdrawals. She couldn't raise it by talking to ATM operations, Debit card support. But she forwarded me to another "escalations" specialist, who, after explaining the problem, said she was able to raise the limit to $15,000 PERMANENTLY. In a few days, I will find out.
The arbitrariness is puzzling. Every time I call, it's a different story.
Still 22nd December. I was being over-optimistic. In the bank this morning, the machine refused to let me have a bit less than $15,000. The machine said "insufficient funds", which isn't true. I have two emails from Wells Fargo, one of them saying my daily limit had been raised to $15,000, and the next one saying a withdrawal was declined "due to daily limit exceeded," though it was an attempt to withdraw only $14,611.
So I had to call again. This time, a man answered pretty quickly, and I described the problem, and read out the two contradictory emails. He quickly consulted his supervisor, and suggested that the ATM fee was pushing it over $15,000. No - whichever bank I went to, I couldn't get $15,000. So I called again. This guy figured out that the 'escalation' team hadn't raised my CASH ADVANCE limit - they'd raised my PURCHASE limit, something I never use the card for. So they were unable to do what two other people had done - raise my limit to $15,000. That means I have to call yet again.
23rd December. After another phone call, they claim to have raised the cash advance limit to $15,000 indefinitely. And I was able to transfer $15,000 today. But I don't need to transfer any tomorrow, or at any time in the future. Except for closing my Wells Fargo accounts.
If the people who answered the phone on November 16th had contacted the people who can raise my limit to $15,000 indefinitely, or even for just five days, I would have been able to pay off the remainder of the money for the flat on November 25th. As it is, it took a whole extra month, hundreds of dollars in phone bills, ATM charges, and currency conversion costs, and a lot of stress, just to get my money. I've never known a company as bad at customer service as Wells Fargo.
The latest saga is my attempts to communicate with the department which deals with closing accounts. Following the advice of "Escalations", I filled in a form entitled "Account Closure or Partial Withdrawal Request". I entered the numbers of the accounts I want to close, and the account in Thailand I want the money transferred to, and sent it to "Exception Payments Account Closures" in Minneapolis by registered mail. I had to have it "notarized" at the US Consulate, which cost $50.
After a couple of weeks, I called Customer Service again, and got the number of the department in Minneapolis. It's 866-990-0814. They said this department is open 10am to 8pm Eastern Standard Time, though Minneapolis is in the Central time zone. So I called them at 10am Eastern. All I got was, over and over,
"We apologise for the delay. Please continue to hold and, we will be with you soon."
This is another lie. I listened to this for 25 minutes, then hung up.
I tried again early in the morning. The message was different - it said to call back between 7am and 5pm Pacific time. The only way you can find out when this department is actually working is by listening to the messages. I they say they will be with you soon, they are probably open, but they are too busy to deal with you.
To summarise, I am trying to get through to two departments of Wells Fargo.
The first is called "Escalations" - they're the ones who told me to close down my accounts. They are open
8am - 7pm New York time
7pm - 6am Bangkok time
The other is called "Exceptions" - they're the people who close the accounts, and transfer the money to a bank in Thailand. They are open
10am - 8pm New York time
9pm - 7am Bangkok time
Eventually, I got a phone call from a woman who asked me various
security questions. For example,
"Did I own a 1999 Honda Civic?"
"I did own a Honda Civic, but I can't remember the year" is the truth, but it was unacceptable, so I guessed. Luckily, my guess turned out to be correct. She also asked me where I'd been in the US, which was easy to answer. I was also able to inform her I don't know Bridget McLaughlin, so I can't tell her her age.
She took ages to read out the amount, and had to read out various taxes and fees, all of which were
"zero point zero zero US dollars"
She said it could take up to 7 days to transfer the cash to Thailand.
The good news is, it transferred straightaway.
The bad news is, I got a poor conversion rate. For once, this isn't Wells Fargo's fault.