Banks are like death. No one likes them, but we’re all stuck with them and know more about them than we’d ever hope.

Two years ago Loblaws came out with something that very few grocery stores have. Banking services! President’s Choice Financial (PCF) had everything going for it: No service fees at all except for rarely used things like money orders and such. That on its own is an eye-opener! I decided to give it a try.

Within a few months I had my first problem. An attempt to withdraw $350 from a PCF bank machine failed. The next attempt succeeded, but unfortunately both succeeded as far as the bank was concerned. I was disappointed in how long it took to get it straightened out, but I figured that everyone is entitled to a mistake.

Things went okay for almost two years but in the first four weeks of 2000 all hell broke loose. My transaction report informed me that I’d paid a $153 to Toronto Water. Of course I don’t pay a water bill, and I sure as heck don’t live in Toronto! What really gave me pause was that a week after reporting the problem (and being assured it would be taken care of within a day or two), I was told that the money wasn’t returned to me because Toronto Water hadn’t reimbursed the bank. The way I see it, I didn’t screw up so that money should be returned to me in the time that it took to update my account. It took three weeks. For frig’s sakes!

At the same time, $100 with withdrawn from my account with no explanation or notification other than that it was a “debit memo.” A week later it reappeared as a “credit memo” with just as little explanation.

The straw that broke the camel’s back was that my January rent cheque was returned NSF even though the funds were in the account. I was told that I made bank machine deposits, the first $300 was available immediately and the remainder took five days to clear. What I found was that even though I made two deposits in one day, only $300 of the total was available to me. I could get no explanation for why what I was told was different than what I found in practice. That cost me an extra $36 in interest and NSF charges so I decided that the lack of service charges in no way made up for the complete lack of confidence I had in PCF.

I’ve since returned to the Royal Bank and paying for a $9.50/month service package that serves my needs is such a relief. I dealt with the Royal Bank for about six years before switching to PCF and the Royal Bank has never made any mistakes as bad as even PCF’s most minor slip ups.

Just say no to President’s Choice Financial. You sometimes do get what you pay for.