Bank’s COVID relief turned to financial pain for BMO customer, now reimbursed for her trouble

The Bank of Montreal is waiving a Vancouver woman’s entire credit card balance and lowering her interest rate after a botched application to its COVID-19 financial relief program drove her further into debt. 

The problems started at the end of March, when Marissa Stower, 33, applied for a credit card payment deferral program with BMO shortly after being laid off from her job at a restaurant.

That application led to almost five months of confusion as she was passed back and forth between numerous bank employees, while receiving calls from the bank’s collection department and watching her credit score take a nose dive. 

BMO agreed to the settlement after it was contacted by CBC News.

“It’s such a huge relief,” Stower said. 

“I would hope this doesn’t happen to anyone else and hope they use it as a learning moment.”

‘I just need someone to help me’

Stower applied for a BMO program offering a three-month payment deferral on her MasterCard with an additional temporary reduced interest rate of 10.99 per cent. After multiple phone calls, Stower said an agent confirmed she was enrolled. 

Two weeks later, Stower said she noticed the changes were not made to her account and she contacted the bank again. Although she says an employee told her the application was accepted in May, her statement showed no payments were deferred and her interest rate had not been reduced.

Repeated calls to the bank over the next several weeks resulted in mixed messages, Stower said.

While some employees assured her she was enrolled in the program, others said there was no record of her enrolment. Some said although she was enrolled, she could not get the lowered interest rate.

No one seemed to know why the changes didn’t appear on her account or her credit card statements, she said. 

On July 9, she went to the bank, thinking meeting with a teller in-person would clear up the confusion.

“[The teller] told me I owed almost $300 to get current to be eligible for the program, the program that I was now three payments behind because they hadn’t enacted it back in March when I first applied,” Stower said. 

“I burst into tears I was crying in the middle of the bank. I was like, I’m not working, I can’t even pay my rent right now.”

Stower started receiving phone calls from the collection department. A conversation with another bank employee in July led to the bank crediting two months of payment deferrals to her account, she said, but her interest rate was unchanged.

After hours spent on the phone with more than half a dozen BMO employees, by August Stower remained unsure of the status of her application. Seeing her credit score drop, she was worried it would affect her financial record in the long-term.

During one of her final calls to the bank on Aug. 17, she made it clear she didn’t want to be put on hold or passed to another department. The next day, she also learned her credit card had been cancelled in July. 

“I said, ‘Listen, this is beyond frustrating … I just need someone to help me,’ ” Stower said. 

“And then the call disconnected.”

“I would hope this doesn’t happen to anyone else and hope they use it as a learning moment,” Stower said. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

‘A pretty big thing they’ve done for me’

Stower says she has been with BMO for 13 years. She considered switching banks because of her experience.

“We’re in August now. This rolled out in March. Surely you have figured out ways to fix things to … fix the bugs, get caught up with people,” she said.  

“It’s so confusing and such a mess on their end.”

Shortly after CBC News contacted BMO, Stower said she received a call from the bank’s collections resolutions department. 

Stower said the woman she spoke to said the incident would be used as an example in future staff training courses.

“She was very forthcoming and apologetic and took accountability,” Stower said. 

In an email to Stower, BMO said it would waive her credit card balance, reinstate her MasterCard at a lower rate, restore Air Miles that were lost in the confusion and revert any negative impacts caused to her credit score.

When contacted by CBC News, BMO declined to comment, citing customer confidentiality. It did not confirm whether Stower’s case would be used as an example in future staff training. 

For Stower, it’s an outcome that restores her faith in the bank after almost five months of stress, financial uncertainty and hours spent on the phone. 

“With COVID, I was unemployed for several months. I’m still only working part time. This is an expensive city, we’re all kind of struggling,” she said.

“So every little bit helps and that’s a pretty big thing they’ve done for me. It just gives me a leg up financially and that’s a real blessing, so I’m very grateful.”

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