Wednesday, April 22, 2009

TD Bank: Treating Black Customers Like Criminals?

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Today I am relieved to say that I no longer have to feel apprehensive about walking into the bank where I keep my own money.

After putting up with rude, insulting behavior from a bigot bank manager and poor overall service it feels good to say I am an ex-TD Bank customer.

Why an ex?

The short answer is I just grew weary of the suspicion, targeting and fear which greeted me from behind the counter and for those who may be reading this and wondering how far this nation has come since the Civil Rights era; read on

Profiling always seems to be defended by people who are rarely profiled themselves. I'm not a bank robber but I was treated as if I might be while waiting for service in the lobby of a TD Bank.

An unfortunate aspect of the recession has been a sharp rise in bank robberies in New York, so some bank employees seem to have developed an outwardly hostile attitude towards male African-American customers.

An encounter with just such an employee at a TD Bank in mid-town Manhattan recently led me to close my account with the bank that treated me as a potential bank robber rather than as the loyal customer that I am.

I’m not a security expert, so I can't really instruct TD Bank on how to keep their branches from being robbed.

But I AM an African-American male, so I CAN tell them what it feels like to be profiled in the branch I've used for the past 4 years.

Almost four weeks ago on Friday February 27th inside the TD Bank branch located on 43rd street and 3rd Avenue (the branch I've used for over 4 years) I was reminded of how far this nation has to go in terms of unequal treatment in public and private facilities based on skin color.

It was a Commerce Bank when I first set up my direct deposit from work there, but in recent months it was acquired by TD Bank. Aside from a few overdraft fees for the occasional bounced check, I'm a pretty average customer.

As a 6’7” African-American male, I can only suppose that (to some who don't know me) I cut an imposing figure. I was a professional football player so I am used to being gawked-at, observed, watched and followed by curious people or suspicious store employees (or bank managers) when I go into stores to shop.

It doesn't happen in the majority of instances when I shop but it does happen.

On Friday February 27th, I took a break from work in the afternoon to walk down to the bank and withdraw $1,200 in cash to pay my rent and Con Ed to the woman I sublet my apartment from.

The teller politely asked for my ID, which I provided. She then asked me if I could wait and took my passport, walked into the back and then returned without it and asked me politely to step aside so she could serve another customer.

I waited for four minutes before a young woman of Indian or East Asian descent, casually strolled from the back, walked behind the counter and sort of just stood there glaring at me without expression with my passport in her hand.

She didn't say anything to me. Didn't smile, or make an attempt to apologize for the delay and explain, or give me a reason why my passport was taken out of ,y site or what they were doing with it in the back of the bank for almost five minutes while I stood there with other customers glancing at me..

Though I was irate and offended, I didn't say anything particularly since one of their uniformed "greeters" casually walked over to where I was waiting and just sort of "took up station" two feet from me.

But I know I was treated differently because I was black.

I decided to do a little checking online and found that a rash of bank robberies in the New York area has led to reviews and overhauls of security measures.

A casual online search reveals a litany of complaints about TD Bank's sketchy practices. Everything from unjustified overdraft fees, to rude employees.

For example Reuters UK reported that Texas billionaire and scam artist Allen Stanford used to TD Bank to conduct his own ponzi scheme according to court records.

There are other complaints too, but I'm not here to discuss other people's experiences with an uncaring, Canadian-owned financial institution.

I'm writing in the hopes that other people who may have been treated with hostility, lack of courtesy and unprofessional behavior by a bank employee say something about it.

No bank or store employee has the right to treat black people as if they are criminals, especially a bank that has resisted efforts to install security options recommended by the NYPD that could keep tellers and money behind a safe wall so that paranoid, racist bank managers don't have to prowl the bank skulking after black customers.

The Sunday March 15th New York Times reported on efforts by the NYPD to work with banks to voluntarily enact recommendations and "best practices" to try and keep both bank employees and customers safe from the criminals responsible for a string of recent bank robberies in Manhattan.

Among the recommendations are for banks to use security partitions that protect tellers and also employ "greeters", employees who stand at the entrance and greet visitors and customers as a visual deterrent to potential thieves.

TD Bank, according to the article in the Times, has resisted NYPD requests to install security partitions and instead relies on greeters in the lobby and other undisclosed "best practices" which seem to include profiling, and or hostile suspicious managers standing around glaring at black customers who are waiting for service.

Funny, they worry about installing security partitions because it will make customers uncomfortable – but to protect their security, TD Bank allows their employees to treat and regard black customers as if they are in the bank to rob it.

Has this happened to you? Maybe someone you know?

Take action, close your account, write them a letter. I posted an excerpt from this blog to the consumer complaint site "The Complaint Board", and I intend to send their corporate office a letter and mail a copy to the branch at 43rd street and 3rd avenue.

Call them and share your experiences online with other consumers so they know not to give their business to a company that treats honest loyal customers with contempt and disdain because the company views them not as people, but as opportunities to unfairly milk bogus overdraft fees from, or as suspects because their skin is darker.


Jerry said...

Just my .02, but don't be so quick to think it is because you are black. Like the Denny's thing, I am white, and I have gotten terrible service(even them seating other people sooner) in that restaurant chain. OK, three days ago, I walked into my local TD Bank, (Ceasar's Bay Brooklyn), both their ATMs were being serviced(at 3:00pm in the afternoon??? lame, but ok), I digress, I proceeded to fill out a withdrawal slip, and some security geek in a three-piece suit, was like all over me, staring at me filling out my slip, and even when I went up to the counter he was hovering all over me. WTF??? I'm a white male in my forties, reasonably well dressed, etc... I have had good service from this bank in the past, but if this happens one more time, I am switching too.

Kimberly Holmes said...

Why do so many Caucasians assume that someone is being too quick to think and/or know when they're being treated differently based on skin color? The writer's post, discussing his experience at a place he's banked at for four years, shows a pointed situation. Poor customer service can be a problem anywhere, regardless of skin color. However, when a particular demographic receives *excessive* or selective poor treatment, customer service or fill-in-your-own-blank, it is still poor customer service and that needs to be addressed.

JesH said...

same thing has happened to me!!--I was raised in a bi-cultural family, and my name does not necessarily reflect the color of my skin--I complained to corporate and to the bank branches division manger, and have received no response back, even after showing ID I was asked "are you sure this is your account"--I once even had a $300 check that I deposited from a client "marked" because the bank teller was suspicious of me; when I called customer service they said it was "odd" since my check was NOT for a large amount--I'm working on opening another bank account and pulling everything I have from them, I used to recommend Commerce/TD Bank to everyone but since these MULTIPLE racist incidents I tell people NOT to even consider them; I feel like ever since Commerce got bought out by the Canadians it's just been going DOWNHILL (no offense to Canada or Canadians)...

in continuation of this all, a certain branch in BK has been "profiling" me a twenty-something woman of color constantly asking me "are you sure this is your account?" or "I need ID for you deposit this check" (which is actually not true)...

I've called the Chairman's office and received a call back but nothing has really been done; I received a called yesterday from TD BANK for a customer survey but when I told them I don't go to their branches because I'm constantly made to feel inferior I was told I could not participate..wah wah, another example of how this bank has gone down the drain since it became TD; and I've been a customer for at least 7 years...

Anonymous said...

I work at TD and they don't teach discrimination. You mentioned you had a passport for ID... the teller probably did not know how to enter a foreign ID into the ID field on the screen so they called banker support or looked it up in a manual in the vault. Before this I worked at Wells Fargo in CA so I saw a lot of foreign IDs being so close to Mexico such a Consular ID or etc... the first time you see one, you need to find out how to enter it so your ass is covered, otherwise auditors could penalize the store which results in being shut down and everyone being fired. The people you dealt with may have had a bad lunch and had a lot of gas which made you overly paranoid.

CG said...

Point taken Scott, perhaps I was paranoid; I'll allow that the woman who was glaring at me may indeed have been concerned about covering her ass. Your comments on the use of passports as ID's in banks are insightful too.

At the time I posted that blog my driver's license had been stolen, so I'd been using my passport as ID in that same bank for some time.

I can only speak for that branch of TD Bank on 43rd St. & 3rd Avenue in New York City; but I distinctly recall how long the woman was glaring at me and the way she was looking at me. It wasn't intestinal, she looked at me suspiciously as if she was uneasy with my presence. Her outward demeanor was cold, unsmiling and hostile and she made no effort to even say anything to me.

I will say in all fairness not ALL tellers at TD Bank branches in North America (and beyond?) act that way towards minority customers. I totally respect your opinion as a banking professional and appreciate you taking the time to comment but I definitely stand by what I wrote based on my recollection of the experience.

It's been some time since I wrote that blog entry and I must say that these days I am greatly appreciative of online banking because I don't have to subject myself to those kinds of experiences. Regards,-CG