A Wells Fargo branch in Charlotte, North Carolina, the US. Picture: REUTERS
A Wells Fargo branch in Charlotte, North Carolina, the US. Picture: REUTERS

New York — Banks including Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Citigroup and Capital One Financial have assured nervous customers that they will provide assistance to those affected financially by the coronavirus.

“Call us and we’ll make it right,” Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan said on Sunday on CBS News’s Face the Nation.

But reaching a representative is proving more and more difficult as customer-service centres are inundated by calls from clients seeking help.

“Due to staffing issues resulting from our response to Covid-19, also known as coronavirus, wait times may be longer than normal,” callers to Wells Fargo’s customer-service line were told on Monday. The bank said last week that it was “having a larger-than-normal number of employees work remotely on a specific day.” A Wells Fargo spokesperson did not respond to questions about call-centre employees.

The problem is twofold: banks are trying to fight the spread of the highly contagious virus by keeping some employees at home, while call volumes are higher than normal as more American workers become concerned about paying credit-card bills and making mortgage payments as workplaces close amid the spread of the coronavirus.

Particularly hard hit are workers in the service industry as governors in New York, New Jersey, California and other states order businesses such as bars, movie theatres, restaurants and gyms shut to fight the spread of the coronavirus. President Donald Trump said Americans should stop eating out.

‘Longer than usual’

“As we address the needs of our customers, including those impacted by Covid-19, call wait times may be longer than usual,” Capital One callers were told. On Monday morning, hold times to reach a customer representative at the bank were in excess of 20 minutes, according to calls placed by Bloomberg. That compares with an average of 41 seconds in 2018, according to a study from MyBankTracker.

Capital One spokesperson Sarah Craighill acknowledged that wait times are longer than normal, and said that digital tools, including the bank’s mobile app, are the fastest way to reach the company. “We are grateful to our customers for their patience and understanding as we navigate these uncertain times together,” she said.

Some customers have taken to social media to express their frustration.

“Yesterday, I sat on hold for three hours, and got nothing accomplished,” one user said on Twitter. “I’ve been disconnected 7 times. I spend an insane amount of money on Citi cards annually. This is awful customer service.”

Citigroup has offered to waive monthly service fees and penalties for early certificate of deposit withdrawals. A spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment about increased hold times.

When asked about what Bank of America would do for customers who cannot make mortgage or credit-card payments, Moynihan said that they can “call the number on the card and they say, ‘I’m affected by the disease,’ and we’ll defer the payment.”

To get that deferral, customers may be on hold for more than 30 minutes, based on wait times on Monday.

“Overall, call volumes and wait times have remained stable, though we continue to prepare for increased volumes,” Bank of America spokesperson Bill Halldin said. The company is using social distancing and additional cleaning at its call centres, and some customer-service employees are working from home.


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