November 3, 2009

First responses

Last week I finalized my letter to RBC and sent it out on Friday by registered mail. Monday morning I obtained my first response from the ADR Chambers. "ADR Chambers Banking Ombuds Office (ADRBO) reviews decisions of the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) Ombudsman when RBC customers are not satisfied with the outcome of the RBC Ombudsman process. An independent ADR Chambers Investigator can advise customers about whether they have been treated fairly. If a complaint requires a full investigation, an investigation will be conducted and the Investigator may make non-binding recommendations." The fact that they responded so quickly makes me think that no one is actually making any complaints...

The response, however, seemed like a joke and I requested a letter so that I could have it in writing. The lady who called me said I needed to send a letter to Royal Bank before they could even look into the complaint. I will try to reproduce the conversation.

ADR lady: We have received your letter and I would like to let you know that before we can even look at it, you need to escalate with Royal Bank first. Only after you have received a response from them, if you are not satisfied with their explanation, you can contact us.

Me: Have you read the letter?

ADR Lady: Yes, but as I said, you need to contact RBC first.

Me: I had.

ADR Lady: Oh, you didn't state that in your letter.

Me: Well, if you've read the letter you'd realize it's not the point. So you mean before I can get a (humane) response from you, first I need a response from RBC.

ADR Lady: That's correct.

Me: Have you read the letter?

The conversation continued for a few minutes and it kept getting more and more ridiculous. That's when I requested I get a letter. Now I have something to use for my final project. I took it with humour...
Then Tuesday morning, I got a call from Client Care. They are investigating what has happened. I say there isn't too much to investigate. I would like a response to my question... is that too much to ask? Apparently, there are no humans working in banks...

This is the letter that was sent out:

To whom I would like to concern;

My name is Agata Ivanna Pogorelsky and have been a “customer” of Royal Bank since 2002. I write this letter as a re-action to a mistake made by your institution that has, quite frankly, jeopardized the balance I seek in my life. I hope this letter will make the reader think and re-consider specific values and the ethical issues behind certain policies and the way these are implemented. As well, I am hoping that my words will inspire a feeling not only of compassion but of responsibility, not for my own benefit but for all of us. I do not expect anything but a humane response to my call for awareness of a very realistic problem, which is affecting many people, in various ways. Allow me to start by briefly mentioning what has occurred.

In February 2009, I personally went to one of your branches in downtown Toronto, to get advice from a financial specialist. As I know little about finances, I trusted your institution to handle “my” money according to my needs and for my best interests. I was then advised to open a tax-free account, which would give me a higher-rate interest and would enable me to put some money aside without being charged for taxes. I followed the financial advisor’s suggestion -I decided that his name would be omitted- fully trusting this was indeed my best option and handed him some cheques. Close to $7000 in total was ought to be deposited and transferred to the new account; this was the money I had just received from OSAP for the winter semester. I must mention that I am currently enrolled in my 4th and last year of University, which not only means I will be graduating very soon, but also, I will have to start re-paying the HUGE debt that I got myself into just so that I could go to school and become “somebody” (I am starting to have my doubts about this last statement)

By the end of my meeting, all my cheques had been deposited and my new tax-free account had been opened with a balance of $5000; with the remaining of the money being deposited into my existing checking account. I did not have to do much except sit on the other side of the desk, hand in the cheques, and express my concerns about my finances and my future. Six months later, I get a phone call from this same person “regretting” to inform me that a mistake had been made and the bank would take away $5000. He explained that during my visit to the branch the money was never actually transferred, so even when I was showing those $5000 in my bank statements, they were not really there and they had never been. I was never given any option or even asked how this action would affect me.

How do I make you understand the financial situation your institution, the Royal Bank of Canada, has put me in? My last year of University, with no income other than the $12,000 the government lends me each year for 8 months of school, with a debt of almost $50,000 eagerly waiting for me to graduate to be re-paid, with $2194.18 of unpaid tuition and almost a $1000 in credit card debts; how am I supposed to give it my very best and my all to my final year of University? The money I assumed I had, the budget I had calculated for the year and the details of what these $5000 entails, have now evaporated. So I ask: am I supposed to NOT finish school so that I can get a job and pay my rent?

This is the question I want to pose to you, the reader of this letter, who I am hoping will not be anonymous by the time he or she finishes reading. In the society we live in, who gets “rewarded”? Is it those who struggle the most to achieve excellence? Or is it those who have the money to buy their way around? As it is, society is pushing people like me to become criminals, to infringe the law, to break the rules; because the rules seem to be fair for only a few: those who have the financial resources to come and go as they please, to buy their status, to change the rules, and to, in a way, abuse those who do not have as much money.

So I ask you, what am I supposed to do? I am an individual, 26 years of age, with a part-time job that leaves me with no more than $200 a month, only because I have the full-time job of being a student. I have no financial support other than a government loan, which I am likely to be re-paying for quite a number of years of my life. What happens then with my dreams? My dreams of growth and freedom, of becoming a better person... What happens then with my desire of helping to build a better world? My concerns for my community and my fellow human beings are realistic, yet I fear I will not be able to pursuit my goals, as I have been ripped off the little “savings” I had –or that I thought I had.

This is the catch 22. It was my choice to go to school. Seven years ago I immigrated with my family to this wonderful country that Canada is; my parents wanted a better future for me and my sister. After seven years spent with people from so many different cultures, learning the many points of view and understanding a bit better the world we live in; I developed a genuine interest in people, in life and in the pursuit of freedom. I immersed myself in a journey of self discovery so that I could start giving and contributing to this country, which has been an example all around the world. This is why I chose to go to school: to develop ethics, get educated, get informed and to learn and push myself to the best I can be. I believe you can give genuinely, only when you know who you are and what you are capable of. I want to give back to the people what I was given as a gift, but I cannot break free of these chains you have put me in.

I write to you, as a representative of one of those chains. I do not expect to live my life without having to pay bills; there will always be bills to pay. But your institution has not only chained me down, it has also cut my wings and any possibility of aiming high, when they took away the little savings I had to get through my final year of school. I quote RBC’s how to make a complaint booklet: “We all stand to gain from open communication” This is my plea for real communication between an institution backed up by the Federal Government of Canada and a self-supporting individual. I would like for you to respond honestly and compassionately to my situation. What am I ought to do? Continue to aim high, strive for excellence and fight for ethics OR find the first job I can and become part of this machinery that is taking us nowhere? I hope to hear from you soon and I thank you in advance for taking the time to read this letter.


Agata Ivanna Pogorelsky

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