As I type this, the East Coast of the United States is being hit with the worst storm in history. Millions of people are without power, and President Barack Obama has declared a state of emergency in at least two states (Massachusetts and New York). Into the midst of all this, a letter arrived in my e-mail inbox from Wells Fargo:
Certain fees waived for our storm-affected customers
We want you to know that we are here to help during these difficult times.
Due to the severity of the storm and its potential impact on you, we have decided to waive or credit certain fees beginning Monday, October 29th through Thursday, November 1.
Fees waived include:
Late fees on credit cards, consumer and certain small business loans, including home-equity, auto and student loans.
Fees normally charged to you for using another bank's ATMs when you use another bank's ATM in Maryland, Virginia, Washington, D.C., Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
The letter also includes the information that many Wells Fargo branches in the affected part of the country have been closed, pending the end of the storm and the ability to safely open them.
Certainly, this is a nice gesture on the part of Wells Fargo. However, take a look again at that timeframe: a gesture is all it is.
Although I now live in Arizona, I grew up in Pennsylvania, and cleaning up after the tail-end of a hurricane (or the direct brunt of a Canadian cold front) was nothing new to me. This isn't a task you can complete in a single day after the winds die down; it's a task that takes several days when you're on the fringes of the storm, and may take weeks for those directly in its path. On November 1, there will be many Wells Fargo customers who won't even know if their homes still stand, much less be able to get online and pay their bills.
Wells Fargo: you have taken a step in the right direction to ease the burden on those whose lives are, as we speak, in the middle of a transformation they are helpless to prevent. I call on you to now follow through: extend this waiver for affected states through the tenth of November to allow affected customers the chance to return to their homes and assess what must be done.
If you're not sure your branches can be open, step for a moment into the shoes of those with old and rickety East Coast homes, living in low-lying areas or near the region's many lakes and streams. Any damage your branches face will be nothing compared to the damage in residential areas--and will have far more financial clout, in most cases, to cushion the blow.
Extend the waiver. Power outages for those in Sandy's path have been estimated at up to a week for some people; Governors Cuomo and Christie have advised people to keep their phones charged and have a plan for days without electricity. The plausibility of paying bills like clockwork on November 2 when you were cowering before a hurricane on November 1 is quite low.
Don't add more hardship. Extend the waiver to November 10.
UPDATE: Wells Fargo has apparently been contacted by many angry customers--they've extended the deadline to November 3. This still isn't good enough when some people (especially in the New Jersey area) may not be able to even get back to their homes by then, but it's a start. Come on, Wells Fargo--will another week kill you?