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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, June 20, 2001

Bank of Hawaii clients weary of fees, long lines

By Frank Cho
Advertiser Staff Writer

Many Bank of Hawaii customers say they are fed up with long lines, poorly trained tellers and high fees at the state's largest commercial bank.

Michael O'Neill said his objective is better value and better service.

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After nearly three weeks and thousands of phone calls, e-mails and hand-written responses to the bank's "Tell Mike" campaign, executives say they are getting a clear picture of what customers want from their bank.

Of more than 2,000 responses, nearly one in three customers complained about long lines and tellers who are not familiar with the bank's products or services or are just not friendly enough. About 13 percent had something to say about bank fees, and 10 percent complained about the bank's decision to sell its credit-card portfolio to American Express, according to a list of predominant responses provided by the bank.

Bank of Hawaii's chairman and chief executive officer, Michael O'Neill, said he has already started making changes, but is not sure he will be able to deliver everything customers are asking for.

"My objective here is not to make less money for the company, but to provide better value and service levels," O'Neill said. "I think if we do that, people will be willing to pay for quality service."

The bank, a subsidiary of Pacific Century Financial Corp., has been busy cleaning up millions of dollars in problem loans that surfaced during the late 1990s and is burying much of its "New Era" campaign, which cost the bank millions more and eliminated more than 1,000 jobs.

The bank said an unintended result of "New Era" was a noticeable drop in customer-service levels and lost business. The bank is now trying to win those accounts back while holding onto its once industry-leading market share, which has slipped in recent years.

"We have had our issues. The dreaded 'New Era' campaign comes up over and over again," O'Neill said.

And the bank compounded its problems when employee mistakes added to the perception of a company that was out of touch with its customers, O'Neill said.

"It happens in big companies but, boy, when you read about it (in e-mails and letters) you say, 'We've got to do better than that,' " O'Neill said.

Customers hoping to get O'Neill's attention have asked him for everything from entertainment for customers stuck in long lines to million-dollar deposits into their accounts. Some submitted detailed suggestions several pages long.

"My problem with your bank and others is that I feel you have too many charges, fees and costs to handle my business," wrote one customer. Another customer complained about bank staffing levels and wrote: "Monday morning 9 a.m. Standing in line with two tellers trying to help 20 people in line."

While disappointing, the findings generated little surprise, said O'Neill.

The bank is already planning to lower fees on some of its most basic accounts, and is looking at doing away with or reducing some fees that are more of a "nuisance" to customers than important sources of revenue. It has started a nine-day training program for new tellers and plans more product training for all employees.

Many responses praised bank employees, but at least one employee received enough specific complaints that O'Neill said he is looking into the matter.

O'Neill said the bottom line is no one is too senior to listen to customers. "We just have to build that in as a core value," he said.