By SINCLAIR STEWART
Toronto Globe and Mail
January 02, 2006
The 62-year-old retired city councilor from Kingston, Ontario, paid his $230 Visa bill in 985 installments, often pennies at a time, to protest against the fact that his bank outsourced some of its credit card processing to a U.S. company. Rogers said he asked Vancouver-based Citizens Bank of Canada several times to end the practice, because U.S. authorities could potentially gain access to his personal information under the wide-ranging Patriot Act, a piece of legislation designed to crack down on terrorism.
When the bank refused to take action, he decided to employ what he describes as his "creative solution" - paying down his Visa in tiny increments over the Internet and generating a statement that was 35 pages long and a half-inch thick.
It created a considerable headache for the account folks at Citizens Bank, who were forced, he says, to process some of his payments manually after the system jammed.
"It's difficult for the average citizen to get large corporations to listen," explained Rogers, who nevertheless managed to get a one-on-one conversation with the bank's chief executive officer this year, and has had a dialogue with its privacy officer.
"Us retired guys are the most dangerous, because we have time on our hands. You have to look for the weaknesses in their system, and I think I found it."
Rogers said he has become so adept at the multiple payments, he can whip off about 50 in 20 minutes. Even so, that's almost seven hours worth of work - and he plans to continue his assault next month, unless the bank provides a written promise that it will stop sending its cardholders' information south of the border.
That isn't likely to happen, says Rolf Baumbusch, vice-president in charge of Visa for Citizens Bank, a branchless operation of Vancouver City Savings Credit Union that has devised an ethical charter and markets itself as a socially responsible financial institution.
Baumbusch said his options are limited in terms of card processing companies, and insisted there are few in North America - let alone Canada - that can provide the kind of security his bank requires at a competitive price. He also pointed out that Citizens Bank has privacy agreements in place with its processor in Columbus, Ga., Total Systems Services Inc., to protect customers' information.
"Changing this is not an easy thing to do," he said of Rogers' request. "It's a huge project, a high-risk project, and a very expensive one, too."
Baumbusch said the Visa cardholder agreement requires clients to make payments of at least $10, and said this rule will be communicated to Rogers. If he doesn't stop, the bank might have to take more serious measures.
"One option is to close the account, because we do get the message here, but it does hurt our other members."
Rogers, meanwhile, says he might dust off a few credit cards from other Canadian banks, and unleash his creative solution upon them as well.
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