About two years ago, upon the advice of someone and the fact that the Meridian Credit Union branch in Orangeville was closer to me than the bank I had been dealing with, I moved all my banking to Meridian.
I did have a great relationship with all the staff at Scotia Bank – and never ever had any problems with them in the 15 or so years I did my personal and business banking with them.
I am starting to regret my decision to move to Meridian, however. It is true that their fees are somewhat less than Scotiabank but there is more to a banking relationship than inexpensive fees. To be quite truthful, Meridian’s services to small business is atrocious and their communication has been horrible. I’m saddened by that, as it’s actually one of my neighbours who works at Meridian.
The whole debacle started over two months ago. I have been in the process of starting a second business and wanted to know about the difficulty of adding a partner to a new bank account, but that the person lived in a foreign country. I sent a message off to the Meridian support team through their “secure messaging” via my online account, back on October 15th.
The response was quick – the next day I received a reply that my question had been forwarded on to the person that dealt with business accounts in Orangeville.
A few days went by, and I heard nothing. So I emailed the branch directly and also left voice mail messages. It took about two weeks before I finally had a conversation with the business accounts manager. I had explained what I wanted to do, but as soon as I mentioned that the partner was in Greece, that is when things got really weird. Suddenly, they needed to talk with their “Risk Management Team” to see if it Meridian could accept a Greek resident as an account holder.
With that in mind, I considered that it might be best to just register the business as a sole-proprietorship to get things moving and off the ground.
It literally took weeks again, with voice mails and email followups before I heard back from Meridian. Did I say things got weird during that first phone call? They got even weirder, if that is possible.
When I finally heard back from Meridian after their Risk Management Team got involved, I was then officially told they could not open an account with a resident of Greece as a signatory on the account, if the business was a partnership. But there were ways to do it as an incorporated business, and of course, the other option was a sole-proprietorship.
I advised the Meridian representative that the plan was to open the second business as a sole-proprietorship, at least to begin with. Did that stop Meridian from being weird? No. The weirdness just got worse.
I listened to the person tell me in a tone of voice that made me feel not like a 54 year old business man who has operated several different businesses over the course of my life, but like some teenager being spoken “down to” by some sort of authority figure, that even if I wanted to open a second account with them, there were going to be requirements.
Let me point out that I was NOT asking for any financing – just wanted to open an account in a different business name – a business that would be importing some goods from Greece and doing retail/wholesale sales here in North America.
Even if it was a sole-proprietorship, Meridian required I provide a brief business plan about estimated sales. But that was not enough. They also required… get that.. REQUIRED to know who both my customers and suppliers would be. I was even asked that, during the phone conversation – “Who will be buying from you, Ian? Friends? Relatives?” What a bizarre question.
“I’ll be trying to sell to as many people as I can, obviously. It’s a business with the intent of making a profit.”
“Well, we would also need to know who your suppliers are, who you are buying from, in Greece.”
I was astonished! They were not merely asking for a simple business plan, but my business blueprint! They were asking me for proprietary information – information that took me hours, days, and weeks to research. IT is not easy to research the best oregano growers in Greece, from Canada. It is not easy to sample 100% pure extra virgin olive oils direct from the growers, in Canada. Unless you know Greek and can understand the Greek alphabet, even browsing websites is not going to help you. No, I went to Greece, twice and we drove around, sampling products, talking to merchants, suppliers and growers there. Those people don’t even do email. It’s personal conversations, face to face.
I’m not giving that information up to anyone. That’s my time, research and expense and many conversations over the course of some months. Why on earth would Meridian want this?
Well… I was told it was to ensure that I was not involved in the trade of marijuana or illegal arms sales. I was totally taken aback by this. When I questioned the need for this information, or even why there would be such a suspicion, I was told directly, “Ian, I know you. But I’ve only known you in business doing your web development. This is a totally different type of business, and it raises concerns.”
What sort of Risk Management Team would be worried about someone starting up a second business that is different from their first or primary business? I told the representative that it was pretty nutty to me – that in fact, over the course of my life, I’ve been involved in a number of different businesses including everything from home security, custom fishing rod building, auto care products, and others, and have never had an issue opening a business bank account when needed.
“Well, we’ve only known you in your present business,” was the strange reply I received. I pointed out that many of the most successful entrepreneurs are involved in many types of different businesses – I know some of them – none have ever had such an issue with opening a new business account at their financial institutions. But then, most of them deal with a major financial institution, and not a credit union.
Two or three weeks went by and I spent my time dealing with other issues and things that needed to be done in order to get this second business off the ground. Now it’s time to revisit the bank account, and I decided to give Meridian a second chance. I emailed the branch manager as well the person I had been speaking with, suggesting that maybe the person in their Risk Management Team was having a bad day, or someone else was and asked they revisit the whole thing. To their credit, the Assistant Manager called me the next day.
She seemed to be quite surprised at what I had been told and even went so far as to say that she did not understand why I was told a foreign resident could not be a signatory on the account; normally they would courier documents to the person and asked that they be signed and returned. She also seemed surprised that I was asked to provide so much information just to open a new account when I was not asking for any financing.
She promised me she would get back to me by Wednesday, December 13th. It is now Saturday the 16th, and not a peep from Meridian. It is also now more than two full calendar months since my original inquiry. Is this acceptable to you?
On Monday morning, I may just begin moving all my banking back to Scotiabank. Something is weird at Meridian Credit Union, and they’ve basically lost all my future business and any personal recommendations to others. I have a sense that someone there is not being honest with me. Perhaps there is some personal issue that I am not aware of, with one of the Meridian representatives, but two months is far long enough to deal with trying to open up a business account. To be honest, I’d have more success opening one in Greece, and anyone who has tried that, knows how difficult that can be.
And seriously – even if the questions were valid questions for opening a business account, the fact that it took so long – over two weeks – just to have a conversation about opening an account – that in itself is unacceptable, really.
Update: After much thought, I really am serious about moving my accounts back to Scotiabank. While their fees are a bit more, I never ever had an issue with them in anyway. They did make a mistake once, but we all can make mistakes – one day, I got a call from then Business Accounts Manager, Mary Gardner advising me that a cheque drawn on my account was going to put me in overdraft.
“But Mary, that’s impossible. I just deposited over $6,000.00 last week!”
It turned out that oddly, the deposit had been credited to someone else’s account by mistake, and Scotiabank was extremely quick to fix the error. I did have to bring in the deposit slip, but Mary was working on it even before I brought in the proof that I had made a deposit. That’s how great they were.
Mary is sadly missed now – she suddenly passed away some years, but she was a marvelous person to work with. Always solid advice and making sure I had the best deal possible from the bank. It was also her that assisted me back in 2001 in setting up my first merchant account so that I could take credit cards (I’ve never had a single charge-back in all those years, either, and am proud of that record).
A few weeks ago, I had occasion to visit the branch, and it was so nice after the years away, that everyone there recognized and remembered me and expressed their sincere best wishes to me. Several of the tellers and an accounts manager spoke with me. In all the years I did my banking there, they were nothing but helpful towards me – unlike this insane incident with Meridian. Now that I think about it, it was well over 20 years that I did my banking at Scotiabank. And funny enough, they did not express suspicion when, after having a business specializing in custom built fishing rods, then starting a web development business and needing a new account.
They did not say, “Oh Ian – that’s a flag to us, that you are getting into another business substantially different than the one you are in.” In fact, they were quite positive and helpful towards me! Quite the contrast with my experience at Meridian, that’s for sure.
Update – December 18th, 2017
Got in touch with Scotiabank late this morning. About an hour later, was offered a choice of several appointment times over the next few days, including one for tomorrow. I took tomorrow’s appt. time.
Contrast that with the weeks and even into two months wait time at Meridian!