Penalty? What Penalty?

When I called Ameritrade recently to transfer my account elsewhere, I was surprised to learn that it would cost me $50 — a $25 transfer fee plus a $25 termination fee. The first charge seemed justified. But a fee to stop doing business with them? Whose bright idea was this?

You would think someone in customer service would see the moment a little differently. They could have recovered, or at the very least, closed my account with grace. They didn’t say, “We enjoyed doing business with you and we’re sorry to lose you, but we hope you keep us in mind in the future,” or “What could we have done differently?” They said, “It’s company policy” — now pay up.

Ameritrade isn’t alone in imposing this type of fee, of course. Plenty of companies adopt a similar short-sighted view these days. They’re slamming the door and giving up on customers too easily. They don’t seem to realize that they’re terminating something more than an account. They’re ruining the possibility of a change of heart, of customers coming back and doing business with them in the future.