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My Experience With Amex’s Financial Review

12/29/2008

It should not have come as a shock. I had read about it in FlyerTalk. I had opened up some new business and reward cards for the sign up bonuses. I had seen the stories of Amex’s financial problems.

It Was Still A Shock

One day I get a very garbled, almost innaudible recording on my home answering machine, claiming to from American Express. A short time later, I get a call on my cell phone, from the same person. Not only does this person speak with a thick foreign accent, Asian, I think, but it is like he is wispering though a tube. I immediately think that this is a fraudulent attempt to get me to turn over personal information. When the caller invites me to call the number on the back of my card, and ask for his extension, I do so. If that wasn’t enough to convince me this was for real, all of my American Express cards suddenly stopped working.

What Do They Want

In my case, they wanted me to fill out and fax to them an IRS form 4506-T. This would give them access to my tax returns for last year. Supposedly, there is a financial review clause somewhere in the fine print of your cardholder agreement that says that they may request such info.

Their Process Stinks

Once you realize that the barely discernable foreign speaker calling you actually does represent American Express, and your cards don’t work, you realize that this is a terrible possition to be in. Fortunately, I have backup Visa and Mastercards, but the rewards I earn there are not as valuable to me. Automatic payments can be disrupted, not to mention travel plans.

How Long Does It Take?

They claimed they would have this all resolved within a week, but it ended up taking three. First, I sent the form back with my wife’s social security number, but not her name. Amex, figuring that her name was top secret while her Social was not, called me back a few days later to tell me to fax the form in again, with her name, that they have in their records, printed on the form. From then, we patiently waited another two weeks. Finally, I called to follow up, and what a coincidence, they had made a decision.

The Verdict

As a customer of theirs for years, who has always paid his bill on time and in full, somehow they saw fit to retain me as customer. It only took them three weeks to reach that conclusion.

What’s Going On?

At some point in this process, I got a supervisor on the phone and gave him a piece of my mind. The supervisor was sympathetic, and explained that these Financial Reviews were completely computer driven and out of his control. All he could do was promise to process my paperwork quickly.

What’s The Problem

Some people object to the Financial Review on a matter of principal. They do not think that Amex has the right to such personal information. I disagree. When I applied for their card, I stated my income, and they are welcome to verify it. The part I object to is how they do it. First I applied for their Starwood Business card and their Delta Skymiles cards. Then they approved me and sent me the cards. Finally they cut off my account and sent me to the Financial Review team. If they didn’t want me to have the cards, they should not have approved them. If they had asked me for supporting documentation before extending me further credit, that would have been reasonable. Ironically, this whole time I am getting letters in the mail telling me to activate my cards and spend more money!

What To Do When It’s Your Turn

First, despite their rudeness and continued mailings encouraging you to use your now suspended account, don’t take it personally. Amex is suffering financially, not you. A computer is making the call on this, not a human. Like a bleak science fiction movie, the machines are in control, and there is nothing that the humans can do other than comply.

Next, fill out the form and send it in. Amex knows where I live, where I shop, and where I travel to. They also know what I claimed my income to be when I applied for the card. What is the problem with them knowing what I told the IRS when I paid my taxes?

Finally, reconsider your relationship with Amex. I don’t condone them treating their customers this way. I am expecting some very lucrative rewards from transfering my Starpoints to Delta as part of their major promotion that has since been withdrawn. Between my Starpoints transfers and my sign up bonuses, I should go from 0 to 300,000 SkyMiles in just a couple months. If it wasn’t for that, I might have just told them to get lost.

Tomorrow, I will share with you my letter of complaint to Amex’s executive customer service.

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