Find the latest episode of "This Is Uncomfortable" here. Listen

When banks close, what do you do?

Amy Scott Apr 9, 2008

TEXT OF STORY

Renita Jablonski: It’s not very often you get a letter from the CEO of your bank. But that’s what many customers of ING Direct got recently. An email, to be exact, essentially saying no subprime exposure, nothing to worry about. These days, some customers may need a little extra convincing. Marketplace’s Amy Scott reports.


Amy Scott: One day last fall, Leif Wickland tried to log into his account with the online savings and loan Netbank.

Leif Wickland: I couldn’t log in. There was a page that said Netbank had been shut down by the FDIC.

Netbank had waded too deep into subprime mortgages. Its parent company filed for bankruptcy. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, or FDIC, seized all its accounts. And Wickland, a software writer in Bozeman, Montana, endured one very worried weekend.

Wickland: My mortgage payment needed to be sent. My car payment needed to be pulled out. But there was no problem.

Wickland’s account had been transferred to another internet bank, ING Direct.

Wickland: Everything was paid on time and my paycheck was deposited just like it should have been.

But Wickland didn’t love ING Direct’s setup for paying bills online. So he moved most of his money to Etrade Financial. Then, sure enough ….

Wickland: Shortly after I got all my bills set up to be paid automatically out of Etrade, I saw that Etrade was in trouble.

So much trouble that investors had to bail Etrade out with extra cash. Like Netbank, Etrade invested too heavily in subprime mortgages. Wickland decided just to be safe, he’d move a few months’ savings back to ING Direct. And a few weeks ago, he got that reassuring email from the bank’s CEO, Arkadi Kuhlmann. Kuhlmann, says he was hearing a lot of concern from customers. But he says ING Direct has been conservative. It’s had just 15 foreclosures in the last six years.

Arkadi Kuhlmann: What I think really inspired me was we finished our year and the first thought was, my god, we haven’t been touched by any of these problems.

Other banks are reassuring customers with information from the American Bankers Association, explaining the relative safety of different kinds of accounts. But these efforts are thin comfort to Leif Wickland, who’s already watched one bank collapse and another come close.

Wickland: I don’t think they can really do anything to convince me that they’re not going to fail. So, have good features, have great customer support, pay me a good rate of return. But I don’t trust you.

He does trust the FDIC, though, to back up his money if another bank fails. And for now that’s enough to keep him an ING customer.

I’m Amy Scott for Marketplace.

Marketplace is on a mission.

We believe Main Street matters as much as Wall Street, economic news is made relevant and real through human stories, and a touch of humor helps enliven topics you might typically find…well, dull.

Through the signature style that only Marketplace can deliver, we’re on a mission to raise the economic intelligence of the country—but we don’t do it alone. We count on listeners and readers like you to keep this public service free and accessible to all. Will you become a partner in our mission today?

Your donation is critical to the future of public service journalism. Support our work today – for as little as $5 – and help us keep making people smarter.