A CT official has asked for answers about the merger of M&T Bank and People's United Bank, calling it a "serious lack of preparation."

Concerns about the transition of People's United Bank accounts to M&T Bank are being investigated by the state attorney general's office, which has called the preparatory work a "serious lack of preparation" that has left Connecticut customers scrambling to make timely payments via automated debit accounts.

After receiving "numerous complaints" from customers and employees alike, Attorney General William Tong wrote to M&T Bank to "express deep concern." His office received complaints about a wide variety of issues, including customers being locked out of their accounts and unable to access their own money, and terminated workers being "denied access to timely information regarding COBRA health benefits, severance payments, vacation payouts, and more."

According to an opinion piece Tong penned for the M&T on Wednesday, "Connecticut customers wasted hours on hold and in branches trying to sort out problems that should have been addressed prior to the conversion." To protect families and businesses in Connecticut, my office will not hesitate to use all of our resources if customers continue to report long wait times for service. "

Tong also wants to know if the former People's United headquarters in Bridgeport, which is now a regional hub for M&T, has been staffed by employees who were paid at least as much as they were before the merger.

When dealing with a new financial institution, we are all in agreement that we must keep our attention squarely on serving the customers and enhancing their experience. According to M&T spokesperson Max Reiss, who responded to a CTInsider email seeking comment on Tong's letter, "that is why we have been open with our customers before and during the conversion process." While the vast majority of users were able to successfully register and log in, we are aware that some users' experiences have fallen short of our expectations and will not rest until all users are completely satisfied. "

M&T Bank, which acquired People's United Financial, based in Bridgeport, in April, migrated People's United's systems to its own over the Labor Day holiday. Since then, hundreds of customers have complained online about difficulties logging into their accounts via various digital mediums and lengthy wait times when contacting customer service or visiting a physical location. Some users had trouble logging in because of a technical problem caused by the presence of special characters in their account names.

The CEO of Greater Bridgeport Community Enterprises, Adrienne Farrar Houl, emailed CTInsider, "We haven't been able to access our accounts since last Wednesday, and I'm told that our 'profile' has totally disappeared, and we will have to open new accounts which may take a week or more." More than an hour passes while the manager waits on the phone, only to be told that she should call back or that someone from the back office will eventually get back to her. I'm still fuming mad that we don't have functioning business accounts. "

Market share-wise, People's United held around 5% of the New England retail banking sector last year, making it the fourth largest retail bank in the region after Bank of America, Citizens Bank, and TD Bank. M&T, headquartered in Buffalo, New York, was ranked seventh in its home state last year; this year, it has a larger market share than it did in 2017.

The Buffalo, New York branch of M&T was acquired in 2015. Y acquired Hudson City Bancorp, increasing its Connecticut presence by a handful of locations. Before being named CEO in December 2017, René Jones served as the company's CFO.

On Wednesday at a Barclays-hosted investor conference, M&T's current CFO Darren King briefly addressed the integration, saying the company is "pleased with how things are going."

King said on Wednesday morning, "We're in what I would call stabilize mode — when you take a franchise that has 700,000 customers and you change their web banking and you change their mobile access, there is always change and it creates challenges for people and we're working through those right now." There are no technical problems with what we currently have operational; the only challenge is implementing the necessary changes. "

The number of customers who have experienced issues, as recorded by M&T's call center and other channels including social media, was not immediately available. Despite the company having employees work overtime to restore account access, the company acknowledged some customers have experienced lengthy wait times on the phone or in bank branches trying to get a resolution.

Mike Keegan, head of community markets at M&T in Albany and formerly an area executive for the New England region, said that "logging into the system, accessing their mobile apps, and making sure that their pass codes worked — those were common issues." We put in a lot of effort into keeping in touch with our clientele, and in retrospect I can see that we sent them a wealth of information. In retrospect, we realize we could have simplified the process. "

Keegan noted that many customers logged in without any assistance, but that the company has received feedback regarding certain aspects of its instructions and interfaces that caused customers confusion. Keegan said M&T would review each individual case to determine whether or not customers should receive compensation for financial losses incurred as a result of prolonged difficulties accessing accounts.  

Keegan reassured the audience, "You can expect us to honor those relationships and do the right thing."

Several people have taken to social media to vent their anger over the fact that they can no longer do things like use the full range of services available to them under People's United or speak with a live person if they need help.

A dissatisfied customer posted on M&T's Facebook page, "We are not idiots, We know how to download apps and follow log-in directions." After eventually reaching out to an M&T employee, the poster updated her initial message to reflect the assistance she had received.

The New York State Department of Financial Services, which regulates M&T, received more than 20 complaints from Connecticut customers on Wednesday, and another 10 from customers in other states.

Since the beginning of August, only five M&T customers in Connecticut have filed complaints with the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. After 16 years of what was described as "a very solid and friendly relationship," one customer received a letter from M&T that month announcing that the company would be closing the family's accounts without explanation. Despite multiple trips to the branch, the customer was unable to get a satisfactory answer. The individual complained to the CFPB that their credit score had taken a hit because the associated automatic payments had not been made.

Manchester resident Tom Breen, for example, has found the transition to be "pretty smooth" in terms of accessing his accounts.

Breen told CTInsider via email, "I wasn't able to log into my accounts on the M&T website on the first day, but on the second day, I had no trouble getting in." They were able to successfully transfer all of the data from my accounts, including the details of the businesses that I use to make online bill payments. "

If M&T's competitors start reaching out to customers with offers for checking accounts or lines of credit, the question becomes how many customers who struggled decide to stick with the bank once access is restored and business can resume as usual.  

In the final appearance of People's United before becoming part of M&T, it ranked next to last on JD Power's annual survey of retail customer satisfaction, which was conducted in April of 2018. M&T ranked in the top third of New York City-region banks.  

In light of the current transition, Keegan emphasized the importance of "getting it right and leaving no customer behind."

Alex Soule@scni domain; Twitter handle: casoulman.com

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