Users of Apple’s new Apple Savings service, launched in April in partnership with Goldman Sachs, are reporting severe delays in withdrawing or moving their deposits. Customers have struggled for weeks to retrieve amounts as high as $100,000 stranded in Apple Savings accounts, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The explanation for the delays is reasonable – at least, by the bizarre standards of the traditional finance system. In many cases the frozen funds were under “security review” – that is, Goldman is making sure its depositors aren’t engaged in criminal money laundering.
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The absurdity of this is layered and nuanced, like a souffle of clumsy, anti-customer banking practices. One trigger for such a bank security review, you see, is making a large deposit into a new account. But Apple has been heavily marketing the above-average interest rate on its savings service (4.15%), so it shouldn’t be a surprise people are depositing large amounts – which is also kind of what normal people do with a savings account already? And the savings service was only launched a few weeks ago, so all of the accounts are new.
In other words, if you followed Apple’s marketing cues and opened a big new savings account managed by Goldman, the default assumption baked into the system appears to be that you are a money launderer whose funds must be frozen immediately and indefinitely.
This becomes even more of a dystopian nightmare when you look at the specific people targeted by Goldman’s hamfisted anti-money laundering effort.
One victim who spoke to the Journal was Antonio Sanchez, a Grammy-winning musician who has collaborated with Dave Matthews and Trent Reznor. This is a person who a quick Google search and phone call could easily have determined is unlikely to be a money launderer. But instead Sanchez, like the other customers profiled, wound up fighting through a Kafkaesque customer service maze for weeks, trying to pry loose a frozen $100,000 intended for a down payment on a house. Sanchez wound up having to borrow money from his mother-in-law: truly, a nightmare beyond nightmares.
And if you’re not a Grammy winner? Well, that’s certainly not going to improve how you’re treated. The one solution that worked for a few of the profiled customers was ... getting the Wall Street Journal to call Goldman about their issues. That customer service solution is not available to most of us.
Goldman Sachs is not a retail-focused bank, and has struggled acutely with its efforts to serve smaller customers. But the incident also tracks a larger shift in traditional banking away from any kind of meaningful customer service, towards an increasingly automated, disinterested and even hostile approach to its piddling retail depositors.
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What makes this anti-customer bias truly toxic, though, is that it’s combined with an utterly opaque anti-money laundering regime that seems to have uncontested effective control over every bank deposit in the United States. Make one wrong move – something that looks even vaguely suspicious to a mute algorithm or an underpaid data analyst – and suddenly your property is “under review,” until they say otherwise.
That suspicious activity apparently now includes “opening a bank account” and “depositing money in it.”
So ask yourself this. When your bank doesn’t care who you are, and has the power to freeze your funds any time, without explanation, for an indefinite period … is that money really yours at all?