Thursday, June 16, 2011

Scotiabank as Good Corporate Citiizen? Not.

I like it when corporations donate money. It’s better than the alternative. I am, however, tired of seeing their names plastered over entrances of hospital wings, summer concerts, arts festivals and concert halls. Isn’t a huge tax credit enough?  I guess not. They’ve got to make sure we know they’re good corporate citizens.

But are they?  Our family’s personal experience with Scotiabank suggests not. Publicity hounds is more like it. I’ll tell you why shortly, but allow me a few more paragraphs before I do.

I was particularly peeved by the corporate sponsorship thing last week when I read that Caribana, the annual festival of Caribbean culture held each summer in Toronto has now become the Scotiabank Toronto Caribbean Festival. Because of a copyright dispute with the festival’s originators, Caribana, billed as North America's largest street festival, and frequented by over 1.3 million visitors each year for the festival's final parade, now has a new moniker.

No doubt Caribana needed a monetary boost, and I’m sure it cost the Bank of Nova Scotia a pretty penny to get the festival out of financial hot water. But let’s remember, the bank didn’t do it for charitable reasons alone, if, in fact, the charity card was played at all. The payout got Scotiabank’s name unbelievably well -positioned. I would have liked to be a fly on the wall of the negotiations between the bank and the Caribana execs, who I imagine weren’t given a lot of options. You want our money? Fine, just make sure our name is upfront, loud and clear.

Scotiabank’s number crunchers undoubtedly convinced their corporate honchos that the dollar value of their PR outlay for Caribana ‘s name would contribute to, not take away from the company’s already strong bottom line. I’m sure something like “We’re not losing money, we’re gaining invaluable publicity,” made its way around the corporate boardroom at some point before the cheque was signed.

Therfore, besides the Bank of Nova Scotia’s generous hand in Caribana, we now have  Scotiabank Nuit Blanche (all night arts event), Scotiabank Contact Photography Festival (one month photography festival), Scotiabank Buskerfest, Scotiabank Festival of Fools (clowning event), and other Scotiabank this and thats. 

So what’s wrong with any of this?  Why am I so cynical? Isn’t a corporation’s job to make money, and isn't it nice they want to  ‘give back’?  Well, yes, it is. But before I explain my cynicism about Scotiabank’s ‘giving back,’ I’d like you to know that in 2010, Scotiabank reported a net income of $4.2 billion dollars, up $692 million dollars from the previous year.

So why with all that moula coming in, why was it impossible to get the bank to compensate my disabled  son for  the $1600 that was stolen from his Scotiabank bank account?

Here’s the story.

Three years ago, my son had his first job. He saved all his money and put it in the bank to save up for something special.

Everyone’s first job means something to them, for sure. Getting your first paycheque is a real thrill. But for my son, who has Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), having and holding onto a job was an extraordinary feat. Michael’s brain damage interferes with his motivation, ability to follow directions, stick with things and perform tasks well.

But several years ago, a friend of the family hired Michael to work at his landscape company for the summer. With the support of my friend, his boss, Michael got up and went to work every morning. He worked a full day doing manual labour. He came home exhausted, but proud of his accomplishments. By the end of the summer, he had made over $2000.

We helped him get his own bankcard, deposit the money and taught him how to use an ATM. Talk about proud.

During this period, Michael was living in a group home. He came back home to live with us on weekends. On his way to our house one Friday, Michael stopped off at an ATM, not far from the group home. A couple of boys from the group home must have followed him, and  unbeknownst to Michael, somehow found out his PIN number.

Vulnerability is another characteristic of people with FAS.

When Michael was coming home  to us several weeks after that, he went again to the ATM to take out a few dollars, He couldn't. His balance was $.67.  He couldn’t figure it out. We double checked with the bank, and sure enough, his $1600 plus was gone.

We had no idea what happened, but eventually, realized his money must have been stolen. His account was cleared out. There was a record of withdrawal. We asked the bank to check their security cameras for that date, but they told us they had none at the ATM Michael used. We called the police. They pressured the bank, and surprise, surprise, they found a security camera. Two boys from Michael’s group home had had their pictures taken.

Michael’s bank branch manager said there was nothing he could do about the theft. The bank has a policy not to pay back money stolen from ATMs.

So I contacted customer relations at Scotiabank’s main office to tell them the story and ask if they could repay Michael the $1600. They must be insured, no?  No. There was nothing they could do. The customer relations man said rudely, ‘Imagine the number of people who have the same kind of problem everyday.’ Quite honestly, I couldn’t. That many?

I thought Michael’s extenuating circumstances would touch a soulful chord somewhere in Scotiabank's corporate culture. For goodness sake, how much money is $1600 to a company that had a net income of $4.2 billion dollars. Think of the good publicity and “optics” of returning a disabled young man’s stolen money.

So I contacted the bank’s ombudsman. He barely blinked. I then went one step higher and wrote a passionate letter to bank president’s office. A  lovely, motherly gatekeeper called me. She spoke warmly and passionately about my son’s loss. She understood he had a disability. How devastating the experience must be for him. She wished she could do something. Right.

Could I speak directly to the President? Uh, no. Had he read my letter?  Yes, that’s why she called. He felt terrible.

It took over a year of calling and writing before I gave up and accepted that I had reached a dead end with Scotiabank. I was furious, especially because during the course of that year, I met several people who had  money stolen from their ATM accounts, but their banks had compensated them for their losses. 

During that year I also read the fine print regarding the bank's policy on customers who had money stolen from their accounts. It’s at the bank’s discretion. There is no policy that says they cannot compensate their customers for their losses. Contrary to what I was told.

In the end, the police arrested the two young men from the group home. My husband and I made a claim for Michael with Victim Services at the Office of the Attorney General, to receive recompense for his loss. They awarded Michael $500. He was thrilled. Case closed.

I, of course, should have threatened the bank, telling them I would go to the press with my story if they didn’t pay up. Just think how a reporter could string out this story about our humble family taking on the corporate tigers.. But I didn’t contact anyone. I was depleted and just let it go. A mistake.

The other mistake was not throwing a public concert and hitting up the bank for monetary support,  with the promise to bill it as Scotiabank’s Concert of the Century in Support of Our Valued Customers.

Instead, we withdrew Michael’s $.67 and shut down his account with Scotiabank. I’m sure they were devastated by their loss.


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