I usually am not one to criticize in public, but sometimes trying to work behind the scenes simply doesn’t produce an acceptable solution. When you are dealing with a big corporation, a single customer can’t make a difference. They simply aren’t going to change their system when one person encounters a problem. However, maybe, there’s a chance this reaches enough people to make a difference.
Early in 2013, I got the Fidelity Retirement Rewards American Express credit card. As I always say about credit cards, they are a good tool if you use them right and avoid the fees and interest payments. This particular Fidelity card gives you 2% back on anything you buy if you cash the points into a Fidelity Retirement account. (I think they’ve also added a statement credit option if you do enough points, which is probably the better option.) Almost everyone give you 1% back, but 2% is pretty big, especially when we can use it to pay our day care bill. Some credit cards will give you more in certain situations, such as gas and grocery stores, but this is a great card, in theory, for all general purchases. Notice the emphasis on “in theory.”
As it got to December, I decided it was time to cash in the points I had built up throughout the year to put in my Fidelity self-employed 401k plan. This is perhaps the most basic transaction one can do, except for the fact that Fidelity probably doesn’t have too many self-employed 401k plan customers… at least in comparison to something like their Roth IRA ones.
The website made it very easy to redeem the rewards. I logged into my Fidelity account where I see my SEP-IRA, my self-employed 401k plan, and my Fidelity Retirement Rewards card. Clicking on the credit card brings you to a place where you can the usual stuff: statements, current balance, rewards, etc. I click on the manage rewards and redeem the points to go to my self-employed 401k plan. It’s done in maybe 45 seconds… or so I thought.
Seven days later, I get an email:
“You are receiving this email notification because your recent request to redeem your WorldPoints® reward points and deposit them into an account of your choice could not be processed. As a result, the points you attempted to redeem have been reapplied to your WorldPoints® account.
We cannot guarantee that your selected financial institution will accept ACH or checks from FIA Card Services, N.A. on your behalf. It is your responsibility to ensure that deposits made do not violate the terms of your agreement with your financial institution. Following the transfer of your Cash Rewards from FIA Card Services, N.A. to your financial institution, FIA Card Services, N.A. will not be responsible or liable for the administration of this deposit.”
Essentially this email is saying that it Fidelity can’t guarantee that Fidelity will accept the transfer from Fidelity.
Wrap your head around that sentence for a minute. Done? Good.
I understand that the Fidelity credit card division is very different from Fidelity’s brokerage division. In fact, Fidelity’s credit card division could be run by American Express. However, from the customer’s point of view, they’ve branded it all Fidelity and put them under the same website… it should work as one autonomous organization. If there’s a problem doing the most basic thing, Fidelity should not try to intermingle these separate businesses.
The email continues stating that I shouldn’t reply to it (thanks Fidelity for not giving me the easy option) and to call customer support.
I called customer support to try to find out what the problem is. At first they tried to tell me I was over 70 and half and thus they couldn’t transfer money in. That was not only inconsistent with the response I received, but inconsistent with the date of birth they made me do at the beginning of the phone call. The person on the phone gave it another look and confirmed that it is true, it wasn’t the problem.
He was stumped. He decided the best plan of action was to bring in the Fidelity Brokerage services on the line. That’s where I was trying to transfer the money. That sounded like a great course of action because then we could look at the transaction from both sides. After an hour and half of back and forth, with me playing the middle-man, the two concluded that because I hadn’t funded my self-employed 401k plan, the points couldn’t be redeemed to that account.
They proposed a solution. I would need to deposit a single dollar into that account. I have thousands of dollars in my SEP-IRA, but I couldn’t transfer from there because that’s a different tax structure. This left me with two options:
- Drive 45 minutes to the nearest Fidelity office and give them a check to deposit. I would have to wait for the check to clear and then try again in a few days.
- Mail a check with a deposit slip. I would have to wait for the check to get there and be processed and then try again.
This seemed like a ridiculously ginormous roll of red tape. So I asked why they needed me to go through such lengths to give them a single dollar. Last I checked this is 2013 (well at the time I was trying to do it) and not 1983. This is really the best a huge company like Fidelity can do to satisfy it’s own red tape? They couldn’t tell me why.
I pressed the point multiple times. One of my biggest pet peeves is when people make up rules without a reason… or try to enforce rules without knowing why they are enforcing them. If they are going to make jump through hoops, I feel I deserve to know why. I’m not 5 and “just because” is not a valid reason.
You can’t squeeze water from a stone, so I gave up looking for an answer from them. I went to Twitter to voice my dissatisfaction with their reasons. They responded back to me to direct message them. I replied that the problem was too long to explain over Twitter and that we should converse over email. They have a system set up for that, which was a pleasant surprise. Unfortunately they say that they’d respond in 24 hours and it’s been more than two weeks. I tried to contact them and get their attention back to my question in case it slipped through the cracks, but still no response.
Twitter is another dead-end in getting an answer to why an account has to be funded and it was clear that I was simply just wasting more of my time.
I completed the deposit slip with my check for $1.00 and sent it off. (Between all the parties involved at this point, this policy has cost hundreds of dollars in lost productivity.)
Then I waited. About ten days later, I saw that my account had its shiny Washington in it. Also, the points that I tried to redeemed had worked their way back to my credit card. They said this could take 30 days, but I guess I was lucky to get happen to so quickly.
It was time to try again with a funded account. Online the redemption worked again… until 5 days later when I got the same email about it failing.
It was time for another call. This time Fidelity wouldn’t have the excuse about the account not being funded. I knew I had my work cut out for me, so I took my card, my cell phone, and my dog for a walk. At least at the end of this, I’d be able to say we got some exercise.
After 48 minutes I got back home. We had walked through every side-street in my neighborhood. During that time, I explained the problem to the first tier of customer support, the second tier (a technician with more access) of customer support, and a third tier… who transferred me to a message saying that the party couldn’t be reached, which resulted in Fidelity terminating my call. (Note to Fidelity: It is never a good idea to hang up on someone, especially with a message saying that’s what you are going to do. At a minimum at least kick the call back to the person who tried to transfer it.) The hang-up coincided with me arriving at me door.
I called back to start from scratch yet again. In what was perhaps the most amazing string of luck in customer support history, I got the same first-tier customer support person I had talked to about an hour previously. He remember me and looked through the notes in my account (I had been telling the support people to take notes) and he saw that I had been transferred to dispute resolutions. I didn’t know that… and he was amazed by it, because he knew this had nothing to do with a charge dispute.
With the help of his supervisor he looked into my account again, and found that there were two listings for my self-employed 401k account in their system. He said this is strange and in 5 years he’s never seen it. He gave a suggestion of wiping both of them out and entering it fresh on his end. This, hopefully, would eliminate whatever the problem is with the transfer not going through. I explained that Fidelity shouldn’t allow customers to create such problems and as a software engineer, I started to worry whether my money is really safe at an institution where the computer systems lack very basic error checking.
Nonetheless, we pushed forward with this solution. Will it work this time? I don’t know. I have to wait up to 30 days for my credit card points to get credited back to my credit card to try again. One would think the points would be credited the moment they send the email about the transfer failure… I’ll just chalk up to poor Fidelity software.
While I have resigned myself to letting this attempt play through, I feel compelled to mention that it is now December 26th and that it will be impossible for me now to get my points credited for the 2013 tax year. (I’m publishing this post well after I’ve written it. Due the upcoming birth of my son, I’m getting “ahead” of the game.) He apologizes for the delay and says that he understands it is inconvenient to not have points credited in a timely manner. I explain that it isn’t a matter of convenience, but when you are dealing with adding funds to retirement accounts the dates that the deposits happen matter greatly for tax purposes. Such unnecessary long delays for points to be credited back to an account is yet issue that Fidelity needs to address.
Will I ever be able to redeem my Fidelity Retirement Reward points? Hopefully I’ll have something positive to report around the time you are reading this.
Update: Well resetting the account didn’t work. I got the same email back. Fortunately they’ve added an option that you can redeem for points for statement credit. The catch is that to get the 2% value, you have to cash in $50 at a time (I think, I don’t have the chart handy). So rather than beat my head against Fidelity’s terrible customer support for another 6 hours, I’m just going to use that. It’s sad, because I’d really like to help Fidelity fix their system so that other customers don’t have to go through what I went through.
Finally, I’d mention that the email support that they promised proved to be a dead end. They emailed me back once that they were looking into it, but never got back to me. I prodded them 3 or 4 times with return emails of “Hey how is this going?” Either their system isn’t set up to take replies (or give me a link where I can reply on the web) or they’ve simply chosen to ignore me.