Friday, February 02, 2007

American Express fubar

A few weeks ago, I wrote about a seeming snafu with the GM Card, in which cardmembers such as myself received trivial credits for something called "SHEA CLASS ACTION LIT. SETTLEMENT AWARD." It turned out that that was the result of a class action lawsuit against GM Card for slow process of payments, but most cardholders hadn't been informed of the settlement until they got their pennies.

Not recalling how I'd been damaged, I suppose the nickel credit was welcome. Sure, I've now received comments from bloggers who received more than a full dollar, and I almost feel deprived.

But where the GM Card thing was mostly a curiosity to me, I'm now in a more serious situation: The repeated failure of American Express to process payments.

I pay my American Express bill by scheduling the electronic payment in advance; I've been doing this for several years. In November, my payment was due on November 30. Using the olnine system, I logged in on November 22nd to schedule my payment for November 29th. Last thing I did before leaving for Thanksgiving holiday. Wrote down the confirmation number in my register, and took off.

In early December, I checked my bank account, and noticed there hadn't been a withdrawal. Checked American Express, and the payment wasn't recorded. I called Amex to find out what was taking so long, and they told me about my October payment. My November payment, it seemed, didn't exist. I gave them the confirmation number, and they promised an "investigation" and that there would be no late fees. I called my bank, but they had no record of Amex trying to make a withdrawal. So, I logged back in and paid the bill -- for the second time, this time by immediate payment.

End of December. By this time, I'd received a letter of "apology" from American Express, which noted that their investigation turned up nothing at all. It was time to schedule my December payment; I scheduled it for December 29.

In early January, I checked American Express, and... same thing! No payment processed! No record of it at all. So I called American Express again, gave them the latest confirmation number, and did an immediate payment, once again with the "promise" of no late fees.

January 23: I logged in to check the account and schedule a payment. It has to be fixed by now. First thing I noticed was a "Periodic FINANCE CHARGE" for $24.77 on January 10. SO MUCH FOR "NO LATE FEES!!" I immediately called American Express and demanded the item be removed, and of course got agreement. I made the agent stay on the line as I scheduled my payment, so he could see the confirmation number himself.

By January 25, the fee refund still didn't show on the account, so time for yet another call. This time, the agent told me that management had not "approved" the refund yet, with some explanation as to how items get approved and this one was temporarily stuck and it'd take a day or two. By now, I had Amex's "Terms and Conditions" in hand, including: "OUR LIABILITY FOR IMPROPER TRANSACTIONS OR PAYMENTS: If a transaction is not completed as you have directed or if we do not complete a transfer to or from your account on time in the correct amount, we will be liable for your losses or damages." Time to make the agent do an override. ok, so I had my money back... but...

I needed to update my scheduling for the payment, which I did on January 27, and scheduled for January 29. I printed out the confirmation page from American Express. Sure enough, January 30, and the payment is gone, like I never scheduled it. On the phone again. Just put me through the a manager, I asked; the manager knew enough to funnel me to "interactive services."

For the first time, I spoke to someone who was aware of the problem. But I told American Express two months ago that this was happening!! I manage IT systems. If I allowed a bug of this magnitude to remain in a system I run, for this length of time, I should expect to be an ex-IT manager. So, I got the explanation that Amex was aware of the problem, and that it was a high priority to fix (ok, so why weren't the other agents aware of it? Because most callers didn 't record confirmation numbers, and Amex assumed it was "user error" or worse, was the basic explanation... as if Amex doesn't keep backup tapes!! Some investigation!). She took my information, my confirmation numbers, my phone number, and put me through to someone who could notate my account to prevent further finance charges. Of course, that person had never heard of the issue before.

So, to summarize: 3 straight months, failure to process a scheduled payment. One finance charge (since refunded). Probably a 2nd finance charge, at least (we'll see if that happens). Many phone calls to American Express. And no end in sight to the root problem.

Oh, yeah, and if I had to guess, I'd say the folks at Shea, or somewhere else, are going to end up doing some talking to American Express.

I've looked around the internet, and not seen this issue mentioned anywhere. But I know repeatable errors enough to understand I'm not the only one -- even without the person in interactive services confirming it. I can only wonder how many others are having payments fail to process, are getting stuck with underserved late fees, and even paying those fees.

I was amused by the GM Card thing. Amex... I'm not amused by this. Fix it.

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