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Hello Dear Readers,

One of the best things about getting out of debt was finally getting to tell CIBC (otherwise known as the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce) what I thought of their customer service. I moved my account to a credit union, and I don’t plan to ever look back.

They don’t make it easy to close a bank account, especially if you have several different types of investments, and income that is automatically deposited (not to mention bills that are automatically withdrawn), but in my opinion, taking this stand was so worth the extra effort. Maybe if more people took their business elsewhere, the big banks would finally sit up and take notice of the little people.

Here is the letter I wrote to CIBC. Maybe you can relate to some of the things I’ve gone through:

July 14, 2011

To Whom It May Concern:

I opened my first CIBC account when I was fifteen years old, with the first pay cheque from my very first job. When I moved to a new city as a young adult, it never occurred to me to bank anywhere else: CIBC was my bank. For a middle class girl in her early twenties, I was doing very well. I had over 20K invested in one of your aggressive portfolios, and plenty of money in the bank. I did even better as a successful freelance journalist, and all of my financial business was conducted through CIBC. When I bought my first home, I went to CIBC for the mortgage.

Unfortunately, in my thirties, the tide shifted against me. Through terrible circumstances, which included illness, death, a separation, and a mix-up with my mortgage, I found myself in debt for the first time in my life. This did not sit well with me, and I was determined to get back in the black as quickly as possible.

I decided to use my CIBC Line of Credit to pay off the debt as fast as I could. To do this, I requested one small change to the account: I wanted it changed from a mandatory three percent payment each month to an interest-only account. I knew that I would pay off more than the interest each month—I requested the change only to give me some peace of mind. If something happened to my house one month, for instance, I’d be able to make a smaller payment at that time and increase the following payments.

CIBC refused to make this small change for me. Why? I was a great, long-time customer. I had a high credit rating. I never missed a payment on the line of credit in all the years I’d had it, and never used my overdraft. But, on a recommendation from a friend, I had looked into the possibility of a consolidation loan from two credit unions. Their resulting credit checks temporarily lowered my credit score by two points. My CIBC personal banking assistant knew this, but she still refused to make the change to my line of credit. She kept telling me that she’d be able to help me once my credit rating regained the measly two points, but that time never came. I kept getting put off, and put off, and put off. All I received were empty promises.

Now here we are, just over a year and a half later, and I have completely paid off my debt. Over $30K paid off in a year and a half, and I did it by myself, with absolutely no assistance from my bank. I think you can understand why I’m taking my business elsewhere.

I’m not a millionaire. In fact, I’m practically starting from scratch again. But that will change. And perhaps one day you’ll regret losing my business. You’ll probably regret that I’m a journalist and blogger who’s not shy when it comes to talking about the lack of service I received from CIBC. Maybe someday there will be other Holli Moncrieffs who will decide they want to be treated like people instead of numbers. Maybe they will be legion. And maybe then you’ll decide it’s time to start paying attention.


Holli Moncrieff

Have you ever had a proud, happy moment like this where you felt vindicated? Feel free to share! And if you’re currently struggling to get out of debt, just stay patient and know that it will happen. There were times when that light at the tunnel seemed very far away, but I’m so happy that I stuck with it.

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  1. Kim

    How ironic that I find this post mere seconds after I opened up my latest hydro bill and realized that somehow it got left off for payment last month. How do these things happen? I too would like to pay off my debt and quickly. Mine comes from divorce, not other misfortunes. And a little bit of carpe diem as well. If I didn’t have a car, or have to have a car, this would be so much easier to do.

    Once upon a time I too banked with CIBC. Had my first account, I think, from birth that my parents set up and I took control of when I was also about 15 after my first job. My former spouse also worked for them up until I had our first child. At some point when I was on maternity leave (and my monthly income was cut by over half) I wrote a check on an account with no overdraft. It was a small cheque… maybe $50… and it just put my account into the negative.

    Normally our personal banker (who was a good friend of my then-husband’s) just took care of it but this one happened to show up on the bank managers docket. The bank manager, who was new and I think my husband had only worked for for a brief time before he left, went to our personal banker to ask about the situation. When she explained that I was on maternity leave and this was a rare thing to happen the manager’s response was something like: “Well how would she like it if I bounced it.” I, of course, heard this from our friend who managed our accounts. I don’t think she much liked that manager either.

    When I told my now ex about this, he was livid and we were out of CIBC within a week, I am sure. Our banker representative told us she didn’t blame us. And we were a family who was formally employed by the company and had also been good loyal customers with reliable credit for many years.

    We also moved to a credit union which I am still with. Same one you are with now too, I believe. I’ve had nothing but a good experience with them. I don’t recall it being difficult either to move everything. I think Cambrian did it all. We had loans with CIBC at the time and we just got another loan to cover it and it was paid off.

    Dealing with banks often reminds me of that commercial I’ve seen on TV a lot lately with the two little girls sitting at the table talking with the man in the suit. He asks one of the (dark haired) girls if she wants a pony she says “yes” and he gives her a toy pony. He then asks the other (blond) little girl if she wants a pony and he calls out a REAL pony. The dark haired little girl’s jaw drops and she says something like, “you didn’t say I could have a real one.”

    “You didn’t ask,” he tells her.

    There is tiered levels of service at banks which puts a certain level of customer ahead of others. Such is the way of huge corporations. And it always will be.

  2. Chris

    I love your letter, Holli. Thanks for sharing it!

    CIBC was my first bank, too. I opened my first account there when I was just a kid, and never thought I’d leave. When I went the Of U of M, they had a CIBC branch on campus, so I started going to that one all the time. I was doing regular payroll deposits in person (we got cheques back in those days), and making regular withdrawls. The tellers knew me, and I had a good relationship going with the bank.

    Until one day, when I noticed a sign up in the branch advertising no-fee (or very low fee) banking for students. I asked a teller, and she said that the bank had been doing that for years, and that there was no reason for me to be paying huge account fees each month, including penalties for going over my small monthly transaction limit.

    Why didn’t anyone at the U of M branch tell me this before I spent 4 years paying service fees I didn’t have to? Their brilliant answer: they didn’t know I was a student. Let’s see… I’m 20 years old, going to the campus branch regularly, and no one at the campus branch thought that I might be a student?

    They wouldn’t acknowledge that there was any lapse on their part, nor would they refund any of my service fees, so I moved everything out of CIBC that week and haven’t looked back. After using RBC for a long time, I’m now with a credit union and loving it. The difference in service is night and day.


  3. Laura Best

    Sometimes we really need to get things off our chest especially when we’re treated unfairly. I’m not in debt, and haven’t for some time. Here’s hoping when the time comes I won’t have any problems.

    Glad to hear you’re finally out of debt, Holli. It’s a wonderful feeling, isn’t it?

  4. Story Teller

    Sorry for my delay in responding to your wonderful comments–I’ve been remiss with my blogging lately.

    @ Kim & Chris – Interesting that you’ve both also had negative experiences with CIBC. For all their “Excellence in Service” promise, this is clearly not a bank that cares about people. And Kim, you’re right–it’s a lot easier to get out of debt without the expense of a car, but you will get there. I can guess at how expensive a divorce can be. It was splitting up with my live-in bf that first got me in this mess.

    @ Laura – I find letters like the one above are things people always mean to do when they’re angry but then never get around to. I’m glad that I stuck to all the things I said I would do once I paid off that debt–that I would tell CIBC exactly how I felt about their terrible customer service, and that I would move my business to another bank.

    Thanks for your kind words. It will be a wonderful feeling in time–right now, I feel like I’m starting from scratch again, but am still glad to have that monkey off my back!


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