By CHRIS BARNETT
The biggest neighborhood bank heist in decades has left many customers feeling shortchanged.
Three automatic teller machines outside the Wells Fargo Bank at Fillmore and California recently vanished, depriving customers of the convenience of withdrawing cash and doing limited banking when the branch was closed. Now Wells Fargo customers or anyone with a debit card must observe banker’s hours — 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday — to use the two ATM machines in the bank’s lobby.
No one in the Wells Fargo hierarchy was willing to talk about the decision to remove the machines, which have been there for decades. But after repeated calls, Wells Fargo vice president for corporate communications Ruben Pulido issued a statement.
“The ATMs were older models that needed to be replaced before they no longer met our internal security requirements,” the statement said. “When we replace any ATMs, we are required to bring them up to code to meet the new American With Disabilities Act standards.”
Pulido’s statement added: “We spent months trying to figure out a solution, but unfortunately we were unable to determine a viable solution. Our only choice was to remove the ATMs, place lobby units inside the store to be utilized during business hours and begin a search for an offsite ATM location nearby, which is currently underway.”
The one person most inconvenienced by the yanking of the ATMs may well be Joseph Anonuevo, manager of the Fillmore branch.
“We’re just as frustrated as our clients,” he said. “We’ve explained hundreds of times that Wells Fargo is diligently looking for an empty space within a block of the branch where we can install new ATMs.”
Anonuevo said an external ATM machine at the busy California and Fillmore corner can generate more than 1,000 transactions a week. “It’s our customer service that suffers,” he said. “But we also lose fees from non-Wells Fargo customers who pay $3 to use the machines.”
Wells Fargo reportedly considered the space formerly occupied by Copy.net, a few doors away at 2404 California, as a new location for its ATMs. Instead, that space will soon open as a new home of Smitten Ice Cream.
Taking over any other nearby storefront would shut down an existing business and replace it with machines.
David Tente, executive director of the ATM Industry Association in Orlando, Fla., said he “doesn’t know of any manufacturer making machines specifically to meet ADA requirements — but Wells Fargo would be a big customer, so a model could be tailored to be ADA compliant.” Tente said a cash-dispensing ATM ranges in cost from $2,000 for a basic model up to $80,000, but typically averages $30,000.
While the machines on California Street were on an uphill grade, there apparently had been no recent complaints about accessibility. A spokeswoman for the Mayor’s Office on Disability said city records showed one complaint against the bank in 2004 — not necessarily about the ATMs — but nothing since.
“We never told anyone at Wells Fargo to take the machines out and there is no enforcement action against them,” said Rachel Gordon, a spokeswoman for the city’s Department of Public Works. “It sounds like the bank is proactively trying to do the right thing — to promote accessibility. And we’re trying to work in partnership with them.”
Many Wells Fargo customers remain miffed and mystified.
“If the bank had taken an action that disadvantages me but helps a handicapped person, I have no problem,” said Jim Spinelli, a Wells Fargo customer for 13 years who lives a block from the branch. But he called the decision to remove the ATMs “a lose-lose situation for everyone.”
Another longtime Wells Fargo Fillmore customer, Rick Scott, stopped by one recent evening to withdraw money and was shocked. “The ATMs are gone, the exterior walls plastered up,” he said. “I don’t want to wait until they open and stand in line.”
Another customer, Vanno Owen, called it a big inconvenience. “This area has so many restaurants and bars and people are forever running out for cash,” he said. “Now we have to find another bank.”
Filed under: Retail Report