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NetBank causes post-merger headaches

Former customers of the online bank that merged with NetBank are left holding worthless ATM and debit cards, swamping the bank's customer service centers with questions and complaints.

An online bank merger last week has aggravated customers holding useless ATM and debit cards and snarled customer support at NetBank.

A week later, some customers said Monday that they were still having problems with their accounts or couldn't get through on customer service lines to their new bank.

A spokeswoman for NetBank, which bought 50,000 CompuBank accounts in March, said there were no technical problems with the transfer, but that the bank had to cancel those customers' ATM and debit cards for security reasons. Spokeswoman Eve McDowell said they tried to notify those customers that NetBank had to turn the customer's old cards off when it activated their new NetBank cards.

"We sent out letters and posted notices on CompuBank's front door that this stoppage would occur," McDowell said. "We didn't get all of CompuBank's most updated information on some customers and that's why some of the changes weren't known to them. And we are very sorry for that."

The cancelled cards appeared to have a cascading effect on NetBanks's resources, according to messages posted by angry customers: Customers report trying to pay bills at restaurants or hotels with their debit cards only to have them rejected in the merchants' systems. Then customers tried to find out what the problem was by logging on at NetBank, but said their access was denied. Then they tried to call NetBank's call center, but were unable to get through.

"A $4,000 deposit is lost. My account is locked. I can't validate my ATM card because it is impossible to get through to (NetBank's) single customer support number," one post read.

Online financial institutions have found that a public wary of Internet thieves or of losing their money into an online oblivion demand dependable computer systems. Many potential online banking customers have been spooked by news of system meltdowns and hacker attacks at various online banks, bill payment sites and tax sites.

Analysts have cautioned online financial companies that gaining the public's trust was essential to the growth of their businesses.

Although NetBank's chief executive told InternetNews that fewer than 100 accounts were affected by the transfer, a customer service representative for the company told CNET News.com that the center has received thousands of calls.

McDowell said the high number of calls that had at times overwhelmed NetBank's call center were because of CompuBank customers asking "the usual questions that come with switching banks: such as what would happen to their CompuBank checkbooks or ATM cards."

"Anytime you have a conversion, you have issues that need to be dealt with," McDowell said.

However, a customer service representative said Monday that most of the calls from CompuBank customers were in regards to frozen accounts.

NetBank, one of the largest online-only banks has operated profitably for more than six consecutive quarters.