BRIDGEPORT — In recent months, some of Connecticut’s top elected officials have spoken out about the difficulty many customers had accessing their accounts after People’s United Bank accounts were converted to M&T Bank equivalents in early September. They are unlikely to go silent in 2023.
Highlighting the scrutiny of M&T, based in Buffalo, New York, which last April completed its acquisition of People’s United, based in Bridgeport, for $8.3 billion, Senator Richard Blumenthal said that it was considering measures, including possible legislation, to strengthen protections for customers of M&T and other banks. Meanwhile, a senior member of the state Legislature Banking Committee wants to hold a hearing on M&T customer issues.
“The M&T experience has clearly dramatized the gaps in current protections for banking consumers,” said Blumenthal, who is chair of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety and Data Security. , in an interview. “I’m looking for ways to strengthen both the authority and the resources of responsible federal agencies.”
Blumenthal, a Democrat who won re-election in November, added that, “clearly, it’s largely a federal responsibility to protect consumers when banks merge. And I am reviewing both the structure and the divisions of authority between various federal agencies like the Federal Reserve, the FDIC, and Congress itself.
Among recent actions, Blumenthal wrote in September to federal regulators, asking them to review issues with People’s United-M&T account conversions.
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Rohit Chopra responded with an Oct. 17 letter, in which he said he agreed with Blumenthal that “it is essential that families and businesses have access to their funds, account information, and customer service. ”
Chopra added that, “with respect to the issues facing M&T, the CFPB cannot comment on potential oversight or enforcement activity. However, we are committed to ensuring that banks and other financial institutions follow the law, and we will hold them accountable when they fail to do so.
Although they have limited regulatory powers over M&T given that it operates under a charter granted by the state of New York, state lawmakers have also expressed concerns about customer issues.
“At the next session (which begins on Wednesday), I will request that the Banking Committee hold a hearing with M&T so that members of the Banking Committee can ask questions and fully understand what went well and what happened. wrong,” State Rep. Tom Delnicki, R-South Windsor, committee House member, said in an interview. “It would be a roadmap and benchmark for any future mergers, buyouts, or acquisitions by out-of-state banks of in-state banks. We can’t have the level of failure we had when transitioning the People’s-M&T account over Labor Day weekend.
A spokesperson for M&T said in an email that the company would not be able to immediately comment on Delnicki’s proposal.
Since 2001, there have been approximately 80 mergers and acquisitions involving Connecticut banks. In addition to M&T’s acquisition of People’s United, the list also includes the $10 billion merger of Stamford-based Webster Bank with Pearl River, New York-based Sterling National Bank. This latest transaction was completed about 11 months ago.
“As mergers continue to happen and banks get bigger, I would say that as a policy we should encourage the success of our smaller, state-chartered community banks and credit unions where Connecticut residents can, hopefully getting better customer service and where the institution is directly accountable to regulators here in Connecticut,” state Rep. Jason Doucette, D-Manchester, House Committee Chairman, said in September. banks.
Doucette said in an email that he maintained that position.
Through its acquisition of People’s United, M&T has gained approximately 1 million customers across People’s United’s footprint in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont. The total included approximately 500,000 customers in Connecticut.
After account conversions, which were a crucial part of People’s United’s integration into M&T, many customers initially struggled to access their funds. These complications have led to further problems for affected customers, such as the inability to pay bills and late fees.
M&T officials said they responded quickly with measures such as extending call center hours and assigning additional staff to branches in need of support.
In addition, M&T announced in late September several forms or aids for affected customers, support that included refunds for those who incurred late fees. The bank also said it will temporarily waive consumer checking and savings fees and will not assess late fees for consumer loan and mortgage payments.
However, some customers remain dissatisfied. Over the past two months, the office of Connecticut Attorney General William Tong has received about three dozen complaints from M&T customers; in total, it has received more than 370 complaints from bank customers since the account conversions.
Among complaints filed last month, some customers said M&T was charging incorrect or unfair fees.
“M&T has resolved nearly all of the complaints received through the Attorney General’s Office, which together represent less than 0.1% of M&T’s customer base in Connecticut,” the M&T spokesperson said.
But Tong is still seeking further discussions with M&T officials.
“They seem to want to talk about their community investments and what they see as ‘generational investments’ in the community and the banking institution as a whole, but I mean the customers,” said Tong, a re-elected Democrat in november. , said in an interview. “Why don’t they tell me about the customers? »
In particular, Tong wants to meet M&T CEO and Chairman Rene Jones — a repeated request the company has not granted, he said.
“He has now met with the governor and reporters,” Tong said. “But for some reason he can’t make time to see the Attorney General.”
As Tong noted, Jones met on Oct. 4 in Hartford with Gov. Ned Lamont, and he was interviewed in November by this Hearst Connecticut Media Group reporter at M&T headquarters in Buffalo.
M&T’s spokesperson responded that members of M&T’s management team met with Tong’s office staff as recently as the first week of December. It was the latest in a series of regular meetings in recent months between M&T and Tong’s office, according to the spokesperson. The spokesperson declined to say whether Jones attended the early December meeting or previous meetings between M&T and Tong’s office.
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