An alarming number of credit card borrowers hurt by the coronavirus recession are complaining that Citibank is treating them unfairly.
Citi (C) accounted for nearly 37% of pandemic-related complaints to regulators about credit cards between March 16 and May 20, according to an analysis by Consumer Reports.
That was four times as much as the next-closest bank, the analysis of Consumer Financial Protection Bureau complaints database found.
Borrowers complained about several aspects – from inflexible late fees and interest charges, to refusals to provide assistance for those with financial hardships.
“Citibank’s practices are particularly egregious during a time of severe hardship when so many families have been pushed beyond the brink financially,” Syed Ejaz, policy analyst at Consumer Reports, said in a statement.
With 55 million accounts, Citi calls itself the world’s largest credit card issuer. It provides frequent flyer credit cards to American Airlines (AAL) and cards for major US brands including Best Buy (BBY), Home Depot (HD), ExxonMobil (XOM) and Sears (SHLDQ).
In a statement, Citi said Consumer Reports “grossly misrepresented” how the bank has supported its customers and contained multiple “factual inaccuracies.”
“The complaints referenced in the CFPB database include those related to merchant disputes, as well as those received very early in the crisis just prior to credit card assistance being available, and in total, the 168 complaints represent a very small fraction — .008% of the 1.9 million customers assisted,” the bank said.
In addition, the Consumer Reports article “calls for recommendations to improve practices which are already in effect, the company said, adding, “we take all customer complaints seriously.”
One Best Buy customer from Pennsylvania filed a complaint in June to the CFPB database saying Citibank is charging $100 in monthly interest even though he or she was laid off because of the pandemic.
“This is absolutely disgusting,” the customer wrote.
The database indicates the complaint was closed without offering non-monetary relief and Citi chose not to make its response public.
Another borrower from Texas complained in June that Citi charged unnecessary late fees and interest.
“I have been a Citicard member for 31 years and in 2020 I have encountered the worst and most unprofessional customer service,” the borrower wrote in the complaint, which the database indicates was closed with monetary relief.
Synchrony Bank (SYF) had the second-highest number of credit card complaints related to the pandemic during the March-May period that Consumer Reports analyzed.
Synchrony, the largest US issuer of retail credit cards, including ones for PayPal (PYPL), Amazon (AMZN) and Gap (GPS) credit cards, did not respond to a request for comment.
Consumer Reports urged Citi to keep its promise to help borrowers seeking relief during the pandemic, and to needs to provide clear and reliable information about its relief programs on its websites, bills and mobile apps.
The group also said Citi should make the only requirement to access that relief an “attestation of hardship,” and should automatically waive all late fees during the duration of the crisis and for at least 180 days after.
Citi stressed that the recommendations Consumer Reports called for are already in effect, including a dedicated COVID-19 website for customers and not requiring proof of hardship for borrowers to receive relief. Citi also said that accounts in good standing before the waiver period began are not reported as delinquent to credit bureaus.
“To make the process easier for customers, enrollment was digitally enabled and 80% of customers have self-serviced,” the bank said.
Citi generated $2.3 billion in revenue during the first quarter from its branded-card business, up 7% from the year before. The bank set aside $4.9 billion in credit reserves to help cushion the blow from loan losses across the company.
In 2018, Citi acknowledged it overcharged interest payments on 1.75 million credit card accounts. The bank apologized and agreed to refund about $300 million to consumers.