I’ve said elsewhere that I don’t want this blog to be about shaming corporations, but I’ll be darned if I don’t have another reason to now. I just found out disturbing news about Grow Financial’s Bill Pay system. This is the second time I’ve gotten bad news from them. In this post I’ll tell you of the issue I had with them back in 2011. (I’ll follow up with a second post later and tell you about the more recent problem I’ve been having, but I want to see how that issue plays out a bit more before I write about it.)
So, the previous issue I had with Grow:
Anyone who has court-ordered payments needs to know: Grow Financial’s Bill Pay service will not send out checks for you.
(Court ordered payments include things like child support, alimony, settlements, victim restitution, etc.)
A lot of readers might be thinking, “Duh. You didn’t know that?” Let me say this. In the last fifteen years I’ve had five bank accounts – the one I have with Grow Financial now, two others for personal use before that, and two for business. Of those five accounts, my account with Grow is the only one I’ve come across this issue with. I think it’s reasonable other people might not know either, so I’m writing this post to educate others. (If you already knew some banks don’t provide full service bill pay feel free to stop reading here, and go on about your day.)
For those who are still reading – these days most banks offer an online Bill Pay service. You register on their website, then enter the names, addresses, and account numbers of the people and companies you send checks to regularly. From there you can either mail a one-time payment or set up a reoccurring schedule where the bank will keep mailing checks until you tell them to stop. For example, on the 28th of every month my rent check is sent to my landlord without me needing to do anything.
Before moving to Grow Financial my accounts were with Xerox Federal Credit Union (now XFCU). XFCU is a credit union for Xerox employees but they accepted employees of a few other businesses too. The bank branch was located on the ground floor of a Xerox office building that was next door to my job and they had good rates, so I opened an account. Two years later the Xerox office closed down but the XFCU branch stayed open because a lot of people in the area still had accounts with them.
That was the only XFCU branch in the whole state, but credit unions have reciprocal agreements with other credit unions. Members of one credit union can use the ATM and offices at other credit unions, but not all services are available. I knew I wanted to start saving to buy a house but mortgage services wouldn’t be available to me at a branch, only via mail. So I started shopping around.
Upon opening an account with Grow I started putting payee information into their bill pay service and I set up my automatic payments. Then I closed my account with XFCU. A month later I got a notice saying my child support payment to the State of Pennsylvania was late. As is usual, the note also said to ignore the notice if the payment was already sent. I assumed the bill pay feature had sent the check but the mail was late. I ignored the notice.
The following month I got another notice. It didn’t say I’d missed the previous month’s payment, just that this month’s payment was late again. I thought, “Maybe Grow’s bill pay service takes longer to send out checks than XFCU did. I’ll adjust the date the bank sends them out.” I logged in to do so but discovered the payee record for the State of Pennsylvania wasn’t there. I reentered the information, set up the reoccurring payment again, and made sure the checks would be sent out a few days earlier.
The next month I got another notice. I logged into Grow and again the payee record for the State of Pennsylvania was gone. What was going on? All my other payees were still there. Looking around the screen I saw a link that said I had new messages. “Okay, there’s an email system internal to the bill pay service that doesn’t forward emails to me at my personal email address. Let’s see what messages I have.”
To cut to the chase, Grow’s bill pay service has a selling point that most other bill pay services don’t: guaranteed delivery. If you want a check to be delivered on a given date the bank guarantees the check will be there on that date … EXCEPT for certain types of payments. Why? Because missing certain payments – like child support or parking tickets – can cause you to be put in jail. On one hand Grow’s willing to guarantee payments, but not the really important ones. Why?
They’re limiting their liability. In business a “100% guarantee” doesn’t really guarantee 100% perfection. What it really means is, “No product is 100% perfect, but we’ll eat the cost of correcting the 2%-3% of issues to make you think we’re perfect.” Sure, Grow will reimburse you for the cost of having your water turned back on if they failed to send your check on time, but they’re not willing to risk being late on any payment that could send you to jail. That would open a much bigger can of worms. (According to the Wikipedia page I linked to above, this is called a Restricted Biller List payment service.)
I thought, “Okay, that’s fine. I can understand that. But rather than not allow such payments at all they ought to at least give the customer a choice to opt out of the guaranteed delivery service. If not altogether, then at least for payments to that payee. And at the very least they ought to do a better job of communicating their restrictions to their customers – put the information in large bold text, or create a special screen the customer has to read and accept before they can start entering payee information.”
I called Grow and asked if they could relay this request to the developers of the bill pay service. They told me they could not. Of course that was more of a ‘will not’ than a ‘could not’, so I wrote a letter to the office of the bank’s president. I explained this is an important feature and not having it is a significant annoyance. The whole reason I use the bill pay service is to make my life easier and now I find out they’ve actually made my life more complicated. I might as well have kept my account with XFCU a bit longer and found a different credit union … but by the time I discovered the problem I’d already closed my account with XFCU.
In any case, two months later my son turned eighteen and my child support payments ended. I didn’t have any reason to pursue the issue further, but I’m sure this issue hasn’t been resolved yet. As such, prospective account holders should know about it before transferring their funds and closing their old accounts. Grow doesn’t seem too interested in telling their customers though. That’s not what I call good customer service.
Anyway, as I mentioned at the start of this post, I now have another problem with Grow’s bill pay service, but I’ll hold off on posting that. I’ll see if I can get some resolution first and I’ll report back later.