Dont Blame Card Confusion On The Merger

June 5, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS —  “We tried,” Leslie VanDoore says, “we really made an honest effort to notify everybody.”

VanDoore is the regional bankcard product manager for Fifth Third Bank and she and her department have been fielding a fair number of calls lately concerning a big change in making payments on Old Kent Bank MasterCard accounts.

Many people who bank with Old Kent have gotten into the habit over the years of paying on their Old Kent MasterCard accounts at the teller window.

Doing so saved a stamp.

Moreover, it enabled cardholders to pay on the due day itself rather than having to write a check and depend upon the postal service to get the payment to the First Bankcard Center in Omaha, Neb., on time.

But effective May 1 this year, the tellers had orders to cease accepting payments on Old Kent MasterCards.

“We really made an honest effort to notify everybody,” VanDoore told the Business Journal.

“We sent out notices in people’s statements in April. And, yes, there was a computer glitch which kept a very few people from getting them — but only a few.

“We also put notices in all the teller windows and ATMs — real clear black and white signs.”

But some people missed the notices and have been complaining. The complaints were   particularly vociferous if those clients attempted those transactions at the payment deadline, thus guaranteeing themselves late-payment charges by the time the Postal Service would get their payments to Omaha.

Moreover, many complainants have blamed the Fifth Third-Old Kent merger for the problem.

“Really,” says VanDoore with the patient tone of one who has said this many, many times, “the merger had nothing to do with it.”

She explained that Old Kent five years ago elected to get out of the credit card business entirely. “This is something a large number of banks have been doing,” she explained. She declined to speculate on why the bank’s management made the decision.

The point is that the firm sold its block of credit card business to First National Bank of Omaha. That’s when the return address on Old Kent MasterCard billing notices shifted from 1 Vandenberg Center to First Bankcard Center, Omaha.

In all but name, Old Kent MasterCard holders haven’t had Old Kent MasterCard accounts since 1996.

The change didn’t register on many people’s radars because they still were carrying Old Kent plastic.

In fact, one of the sale contract’s provisions was that the cards would continue to bear the Old Kent logo for five years. The account statements from Omaha have progressively reflected more of the change.

The sale’s terms also provided that Old Kent banks would continue to service Old Kent MasterCard accounts and payments for five years.

Well, time’s up.

The slow transition is nearly complete. VanDoore says holders of Old Kent cards soon will receive replacement cards from First National Bank of Omaha.

Moreover, she added, her department soon will send invitations, under the Fifth Third logo, for old Old Kent MasterCard holders to become Fifth Third cardholders.

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