BoA is holding my online bank accounts hostage

Bank of America demands that I agree to its 'Electronic Communications Disclosure'

Bank of America

OK, fine, "hostage" may be a bit of hyperbole.

However, right at this moment, Bank of America is presenting me with a take-it-or-leave-it proposition: Agree to our "Electronic Communications Disclosure" - all 2,127 words; three densely packed printed pages - or kiss your online banking privileges good-bye.

The inflexibility of the offer was not immediately evident, as BoA did allow me to skip past its first entreaty to comply, but upon logging in a second time I was read the riot act: "Due to the importance of the updates, we request all of our Online Banking customers to read and consent to this document in order to continue using Online Banking."

Request?

I had three choices: 1) decide life's too short, simply check the consent box and go do my banking; 2) read the blasted thing and make an informed decision; or, 3) find a new bank.

I choose No. 2, which left No. 1 with a stunned expression on its face.

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So let's take a look at what's inside, if for no other reason than it might spare a few of you from having to do it (gluttons for punishment can find the full text here):

Let's start with why BoA is doing this.

Certain laws require us to provide specific information to you in writing, which means you have a right to receive that information on paper. We may provide such information to you electronically if we first present this eCommunications Disclosure and obtain your consent to receive it electronically.

In other words, they're trying to save a bunch of money on printing and mailing costs. Makes sense. And while threatening to banish non-compliers may seem distasteful, I'm guessing it wasn't a difficult call for the bank's lawyers and bean-counters.

Learning what portions of my business with BoA are covered by this "agreement" turned up an interesting nugget.

This eCommunications Disclosure covers all of your accounts, products, and services with Bank of America and its affiliates ... accessible, either currently or in the future, through Online Banking, Merrill Lynch brokerage websites or other Bank of America websites.

Currently or in the future? That seems mighty open-ended of them. On the plus side, the caveat/warning provided me with a much-needed burst of determination to keep on reading.

Next: What communications that otherwise might arrive at my home via snail-mail will now be subject to electronic delivery - and what will electronic delivery mean? BoA answers with the run-on sentence of all run-on sentences, which you may skip in favor my more concise translation that follows.   

You understand and agree that Bank of America may provide to you in electronic format only, by posting the information on the website where you access your account, product or service, such as Online Banking or Merrill Lynch brokerage websites, or through e-mail (if applicable and if you have provided a valid e-mail address) agreements, disclosures, notices, and other information and communications regarding your accounts, services and products, the use of any Online Banking, Merrill Lynch brokerage websites or our other web services, your relationship with us, and/or other programs, products or services that are or may be in the future made available to you ("Communications").  

 Translation: What? Everything. How? Our Web site or e-mail.

The everything part - actually, there are a few exceptions -- concerns me because I still receive a monthly paper statement and would like to continue doing so. The Web option concerns me because it will require that I keep an eye out for such notices, as opposed to relying on BoA to send them to me. And, I'd no sooner trust an e-mail purporting to be from a bank than I would one from an heir to an African potentate.

Turning to Page 2 we get news of a more encouraging variety.

After you consent to this eCommunications Disclosure, you will still be able to set your preferences to receive certain Communications in (1) both electronic and paper format; (2) electronic format only; or (3) paper format only. Setting your Communications preferences may not be available for all products, accounts or services.

Despite that last caution, I'm going to assume that "certain Communications" will include my monthly statement both because it would be nuts if that was not the case and because BoA didn't see fit to devote any of its 2,127 words to spelling it out specifically.

Page 2 also defines the hardware and software requirements that Bank of America will expect me to possess should I decide that I would like to continue our online relationship. Only one thing worth noting here: Don't even think about bringing that IE6 doo-doo in here.

The highlight of Page 3 is Section 6: "How to Withdraw Your Consent to this eCommunications Disclosure."

Subject to applicable law, you may withdraw your consent to this eCommunications Disclosure by calling the appropriate toll-free customer service phone numbers. ... You will not be charged a fee for withdrawal of your consent.

Doesn't it say something that they felt a need to tell us there would be no charge for doing this? ... But just because it's free, don't be thinking you'll be getting off scot-free:

For Online Banking, if you withdraw your consent, we may stop providing you with Communications electronically and we may terminate your Online Banking access.

Call me crazy, but I'm thinking there's no may about it.

OK, decision time: I guess I'll choose to give my consent ... the way the teller chooses to give the guy with the gun and ski mask all the money.

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