A few years ago, while spending a few days in Lesa, Italy, I wrote a post called “Bullshit frosting”. It was inspired by the LuLaRoe, which was in the news a lot at the time. I happened to run across an epic blog post written in 2017 by a former LuLaRoe “consultant”. She was mad as hell and not about to take it anymore, and she used her blog post to soundly dress down LuLaRoe founders, Deanne Brady and Mark Stidham, for taking advantage of all the “moms”, who were busting their asses to sell LuLaRoe and going into massive debt to make LuLaRoe’s founders richer. Brady and Stidham, as well as higher level LuLaRoe leadership, thanked those women by criticizing and blaming them for all of their failures and disappointments in the business. I began my post with the paragraph below:
Have you ever run across someone who reeks of bullshit? I mean, all you have to do is look into their eyes and take a close look at their overly enthusiastic smiles and you just know they reek of shit? These are the kind of people who will appear to be happy all the time, yet they’ll be grinning big as they brutally cut you down in front of your peers. They are astoundingly and overwhelmingly full of shit, yet people still clamor to get on their boat and kiss their asses.
In my post about LuLaRoe, I included a screenshot I found on the woman’s epic blog post. It was about how the LuLaRoe consultants were expected to dress and conduct themselves at a LuLaRoe event…
I thought about reposting that post that I wrote in those days, since it was a pretty good and, I think, an entertaining rant. But instead, I think I’m going to revamp my theories about “bullshit frosting” with a new issue. Not that many people are talking about LuLaRoe now, even though that whole phenomenon remains fascinating to me. However, as I noticed on Twitter last night, a lot of people are talking about USAA, and not in a nice way. And like LuLaRoe, USAA has been resting on its laurels and coasting along on a prior “good reputation”. Historically speaking, lots of people have sung the praises of USAA for years, and people want to “get on their boat”. But if you look beneath the surface, you’ll find that something rotten has been covered with a lot of “bullshit frosting”.
If you’ve been reading my blog over the past couple of days, you might have noticed that I have had some recent trouble with USAA– the huge insurance/banking company so popular and widely used by military servicemembers, retirees, and government employees. Just click on the “USAA” tag, and you’ll see that I’ve had repeated issues with them blocking attempts to make purchases and locking my account arbitrarily. This practice, supposedly done in the name of security, has caused me to have to call USAA to get things unfucked.
It’s a real pain to call USAA, because they’re in Texas, and I am in Germany. Most of their offices aren’t open 24/7– as I wouldn’t necessarily expect them to be, if they were a “normal” bank. However, a lot of USAA’s customers live abroad, so it seems like they could come up with ways to make things easier for those people. One would think they would have online systems that would allow me to confirm or deny questionable charges without my having to call them. For one brief time, it seemed like they did have that option. I could just go on the app and mark things “yea or nay”. Now, they will send a text, but as I have to unlock my devices, am sometimes “indisposed” in some way, and don’t always have my phone, watch, or tablet with me, sometimes I’m not able to answer quickly enough.
So… the blocks on my account and having to call to straighten them out were annoying enough. But then, a few days ago, I noticed that I had three actual fraudulent charges on my debit card. It was about 5:00am when I saw these charges, so I had to call the fraud department while half asleep. They blocked my card. I told the representative about the fraudulent charges, one of which never successfully posted. USAA gave me a “temporary” refund on one of the charges. The other one– for Insomnia Cookies– remains. The funny thing is, a USAA representative gave me grief over a vendor in Belgium I’ve made purchases from lots of times, but they allowed a charge from Insomnia Cookies… which has a Web site that, as someone who lives outside of the United States, I can’t even access without a VPN! I suppose I could have ordered cookies for a friend, or something, but why wouldn’t that charge be suspicious over one that originated in Belgium, which is only a couple of hours’ drive from me?
And then, because I had to update my payment info on revolving accounts, another false fraud alert was triggered, this time on my credit card. That issue led me to have to call the rude “gentleman” at USAA who has left me with “shell shock” bad enough that I actually feel traumatized.
Yesterday, I thought about calling USAA again, but my last call to them was so shockingly unprofessional that I just couldn’t stomach it. The charge for the cookies was about $43. Today, I can easily cover that amount, but there was a time not so long ago that losing $43 would have devastated me financially. ETA: as of 3/20, USAA has “temporarily” refunded the $43.
I went to Twitter, where I was surprised to find that just like in the song, “Message In A Bottle”, I was one of many, many people “sending an S.O.S. to the world” about problems with USAA. And some of the messages people were leaving led me to believe that I was actually kind of lucky I’m just out $43. Moreover, a lot of people who really have been screwed, have reported that they’ve been on hold in USAA’s annoying phone maze for hours. For hours, they’ve been forced to listen to USAA’s God awful jingle over and over again, which I found myself commiserating about with a fellow disgruntled member. Below is a screenshot of one of the USAA jingle hater’s recent tweets, which indicates that, like me, she was exposed to the jingle because of some fuckery at the bank.
I directly tweeted USAA myself the other night. It was while Bill was busy tending to personal business. I was sitting alone at the kitchen table, drinking wine and feeling sassy. I almost never use Twitter, except to engage with one of my anti-Facebook friends. But I was doing it on St. Patrick’s Day, because I had my Irish up. I let USAA know that I was shopping for a new bank, which we found yesterday. They invited me to PM them with my name, contact details, etc. I declined, since I have already gotten those phone calls recently, and they haven’t fixed the problem. Aside from that, I don’t want to call them, because I run the risk of getting “serviced” by the mansplaining jerk I encountered the other day, who refused to listen to me and, instead, was talking louder over me, and wasting my time. He flat out didn’t care about my issue. He needs to be fired, but since I don’t know who he is, I can’t complain to anyone who can actually do something. And again, as I noticed on USAA’s lively Twitter account, I am not the only one who has woes… nor am I, by any stretch, one who has been fucked over the worst. Have a look at these tweets.
Of course, yesterday it was reported that USAA was just hit with $140 million in fines because for “bad money laundering controls” that they had a chance to fix and didn’t. According to the New York Times article I linked:
“As its customer base and revenue grew in recent years, USAA F.S.B. willfully failed to ensure that its compliance program kept pace, resulting in millions of dollars in suspicious transactions flowing through the U.S. financial system without appropriate reporting,” FinCEN’s acting director, Himamauli Das, said in a statement. The bank “received ample notice and opportunity” to fix its anti-money-laundering controls, he added, “but repeatedly failed to do so.”
This doesn’t sound good at all, does it? So I told Bill that I wanted to open an account at another credit union, since I’ve also had unrelated issues with PenFed lately, trying to get a checking account with them. Bill was a little hesitant, since he’s done business with USAA for so long, and so many military people have drunk the USAA Kool-Aid. I’ll admit it, I used to drink it myself. But he finally started the process to open a joint account at the other credit union.
Then, after he started that process, I suggested to Bill that he should refinance his USAA car loan, noting that the credit union’s APR is more than a percentage point less than USAA’s is, and USAA won’t even allow us to get a car loan from Germany anymore. They quit allowing Germany based car loans in 2019, which was when we got ours. I guess we just got in under the wire. They’ve also stopped allowing us to open new CDs from here. I read that it has to do with licensing in Germany, which probably involves money and oversight.
I told Bill that it made sense to refinance, since we have already successfully financed two cars together with a credit union, and I financed a car on my own with them before Bill and I met. I have always been very happy with that institution’s service regarding loans. And USAA, quite frankly, doesn’t deserve our business anymore. He can keep paying the higher payments he’s already been paying USAA, and it will ultimately result in a cheaper loan, paid off faster. Again… he was reluctant, but ultimately acquiesced. I don’t think he’ll be sorry.
USAA has always promoted this idea of “family” and solidarity. Likewise, the same “family concept” was promoted in LuLaRoe. As I mentioned in my “Bullshit frosting” post from 2018…
Keep in mind, the people who sell LuLaRoe aren’t company employees. They buy clothing from LuLaRoe and sell it, and they make their money based on what they sell. In essence, they are LuLaRoe’s first customers. And yet, here’s a “coach” lecturing them about what to wear and how to wear it. Above that post was another one by the coach. She’s in a van with her sister and their kids, headed to a retreat in Wyoming. She implies that she and her sister had dropped everything to attend this function because “Aunt Deanne” said so.
Notice that she calls the founder “Aunt Deanne”. I’m sure the company promotes the idea that they’re all one big family. On the surface, it sounds good. If you’re family, you’re “loved” and cared for, in a sense. Family members are supposed to have your back. We love our family members and don’t want to disappoint them. That’s what makes it easier to trust family members, and more devastating when family screws you over. Lots of people think of a business that treats people like “family” as a good thing. But there is a downside to being a figurative “brother”, “sister”, “aunt” or “cousin”. Sometimes when you think of someone as “family”, you let your guard down when you really shouldn’t...
“One big happy family” sounds great… until you realize that some of the most toxic relationships a person can have are with family members. Family members have that advantage of being in the group… they have access to you that other people generally don’t. They know you better than most people do. And when something unpleasant needs to be done, family members feel okay about asking other family members for help. If you go against the grain, you run the risk of being cast out… lovingly, of course, because you need to see the error of your ways. While I don’t know for sure, I get the sense that LuLaRoe and some other multi-level marketing businesses are kind of culty like that. You toe the line so you won’t be towed outside of the group.
It’s not that I think USAA and LuLaRoe are that much alike in terms of what they do, or even their business practices. I would not, for instance, equate LuLaRoe’s seemingly disastrous business practices with what’s been going on at USAA. Rather, what I’ve noticed is that both organizations are kind of “culty”. I remember, when we lived in Texas, people acted like USAA was just the greatest company to work for and bank with, and people stick with them, even when the writing is on the wall that things aren’t good.
When Bill was looking for a job in 2014, he approached a USAA recruiter, whose eyes very quickly glazed over when Bill confessed that he didn’t know anyone who worked at the company. The guy encouraged Bill to consult USAA.com… This, even though USAA supposedly values its members above all else. And yet, here was Bill, a guy who’s a retired Army officer and has been a member since 1984, and the recruiter treated him like dog shit. Of course, now I am delighted that Bill doesn’t work for USAA. I don’t think he would have enjoyed the experience. Things turned out fine for us, anyway.
Incidentally, I wrote a rant about Bill’s USAA job hunting experience, and USAA had its public relations firm stalking my blog for months. But this time, after having written about them several times this week, I’m not getting any attention from USAA’s PR firm. Not that I mind not being stalked by USAA. I just think it’s kind of telling… it’s like the leadership just doesn’t care about the company’s reputation anymore and has given up on trying to satisfy its members.
I tweeted a couple of responses to people who tweeted last night. USAA was tagged in those posts, and both times, they sent demands that I send a PM with my contact information. When I didn’t do as they asked, they posted this:
My response to USAA’s request for cooperation was, “That’s okay.” I no longer expect them to help. And based on their Twitter feed, it looks like other people need their assistance much more urgently than I do. What a sad state of affairs for what used to be a great company.
So now, about the title of this post… When I wrote my original “Bullshit frosting” post in 2018, I was reminded of a classic episode of the 70s and 80s sitcom, Three’s Company. Have a look below:
Back in 1980, there was an episode of Three’s Company called “Lee Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother“. Jack Tripper (played by the late John Ritter) was very upset because his very good looking, financially secure, egotistical brother, Lee, had come to visit. Lee spent the whole time trying to impress people and making Jack feel small. When Jack accompanies Lee and Jack’s roommate, Chrissy (Suzanne Somers) to a restaurant for dinner, he accidentally spills wine on Lee’s suit. Jack is feeling horrible, but Chrissy consoles him by correctly predicting what Lee’s going to say after he cleans up in the bathroom– “Don’t worry, I’ve got another suit like it at home.” Chrissy also says, that guys like Lee are like cakes with too much icing. Jack, on the other hand, is all cake with a lot of layers! I think that’s a very apt analogy of a fake person who’s full of shit as opposed to a person with depth, character, and substance.
I think the same could be said for certain businesses who have allowed themselves to become “culty” and too big for their britches. Before long, the quality product that helped them make their good name and form their reputation turns into nothing but “bullshit frosting”…. all icing, and no cake, as Chrissy says. So now, like quite a few others, I’m looking for financial services provided by an institution that is “all cake, with a lot of layers”, instead of just a bunch of pretty frosting.