Dear S. Larson Of Citibank: You’re Not Real, So Please Retire

I’ve had a Citibank credit card since I was in college. That’s nearly two decades of being with them, which means that little table they stuck up one day at UC Irvine has provided pretty good ROI for the company. Over the years, I’ve had various letters from Citibank, usually signed by the hard-working S. Larson.

I was thinking about S. today. I recently switched to electronic statements, and I got my first email from him or her telling me that my statement was ready. She or he ended the message with:

We hope you continue to enjoy the many benefits of the All-Electronic Program.

Sincerely,
S. Larson
Customer Service

S., of course, is not a real person.

I can’t recall when I figured that out, but it was many years ago. It annoyed me when that realization dawned on me, since like many others you can find on the web, I’d written on occasion to S. Larson as if they were a real person.

Why make up a pretend person? Either have someone real from customer service sign the messages or don’t use a name at all. I don’t need S. Larson to join (look away kids) the mythical characters of Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy.

Tonight, I decided to see what I could find out about S. I’m not the only one. Over at Yahoo Answers, someone asked about them:

For literally many years now, I’ve been getting various letters about my account from a certain “S. Larson” at Customer Service, Citibank in South Dakota. I have no problem whatsoever with this person or my account, but I have always had a certain suspicion that this is in fact a dummy name and that this person really does not exist. A Google search turns up nothing of relevance (hey, it CAN happen!)

Just curious to know if anyone knows anything more about this famous and elusive “S. Larson” (gender unknown), who must by now be one of the longest employees in Citibank history!

I love answer number two:

I thought it was just me. They could make up a new name every decade or so, don’t you think?

Like the original person asking the question, it’s amazing how there’s nothing definitive that’s easily found about S. Larson. A Google search for “s. larson” citibank just comes back with lots of people referencing the ambiguous, non-gendered, never-aging, never-retiring customer service rep.

Yahoo did a bit better. AT&T Universal Card, S. Larson, and Account “Upgrades” was in the first page of results for the same search and says:

But I was curious: does “S. Larson” really exist, or is he (she?) a phantom generic identity like so many other of these credit card company people. So I called AT&T and asked for Mr. Larson, just to find that, well, he exists, but I can’t talk to him. Uh huh. So I checked the Citigroup annual report and if S. Larson does exist, he’s not important enough to be listed as executive staff. There’s also no mention of “Larson” associated with Citibank, Citigroup or Citi in the Wall Street Journal.

FYI, Windows Live had that result not just on page one but also ranked first, compared to Google oddly listing this PDF file in the number one spot. OK, it’s a funny letter, saying in part:

Let me begin with an apology. Custom dictates that I address this letter to “Mr.” or “Ms.” Larson. Your own letter is signed with a simple and ambiguous “S.Larson/ Customer Service,” a subscription that evades my efforts at reading your gender….

….In reading the letter, one wonders: have they forced you to collapse your first name into the initial “S.,” thereby exploiting your material presence as a worker in (and therefore convenient human representative of) the enormous AT&T Universal Card structure? If this is the case (which the strangely printed script “signature” suggests, as well), then just what happens to you, the individual “S. Larson,” who both resists the corporate erosion of sentiment (as we see in the double valence of “regret,” which is both personal and impersonal, both literal and figurative) and who capitulates at every moment in the brief letter?

But come on, tops for all the things about S. Larson, on the basis of what seems to be one single link? Man, those .edu links from Harvard must be powerful.

At least S. Larson gives proof to the fact that Wikipedia is not all powerful over Google. You know how normally a search there has you stumbling over a Wikipedia link that always shows up in the top results? Well, S. Larson doesn’t trigger anything from Wikipedia. In fact, S. Larson doesn’t warrant an entry at all at Wikipedia, something I hope will change. Stay tuned by monitoring the Wikipedia page about all Larsons here.

Over at Citibank itself, you’d think a search might bring up something about good old S. Nope. Nothing using either the site’s own search engine or a Google search for site:www.citibank.com larson.

If the entire web has failed me in my quest for the origin of S. Larson, surely some newspaper has explored this over time. So I hit the Google News Archive, which supposedly goes back over 200 years of news material. I looked for “s. larson” citibank. Zilch. Well, one thing from 1994:

Worcester Telegram & Gazette : CONTACT
$1.95 – Worcester Telegram Gazette – NewsBank – Oct 13, 1994
JS, Millbury A Contact sent your questions to Citibank Cards, charging fees or surcharges to customers who charge their purchases,” said S. Larson.

Was the Worcester Telegram & Gazette actually quoting S. Larson as a real person?!!! I wanted to know, but not enough to pay the $1.95 to find out. So I did the time tested method of searching for the words around the last words I could see, to get the snippet description to expand.

This search got me an expanded description to the “front” of what I’d seen, the additional material in bold:

our bank does not condone the practice of merchants charging fees or surcharges to customers who charge their purchases,” said S. Larson.

This search got me more to the back:

charging fees or surcharges to customers who charge their purchases,” said S. Larson. As with all billing problems, Larson said, if you send a letter of

Working it more, I eventually got the rest of the question not shown here plus the answer. The person was charged $3 to call and verify her credit card was valid, causing her to write to the newspaper for help. That answer from the paper was:

Contact [the name of the newspaper column] sent your questions to Citibank Cards, Customer Service Center, PO Box 6500, Sioux Falls, SD 57117-6500

“As a member of MasterCard and VISA International, our bank does not condone the practice of merchants charging fees or surcharges to customers who charge their purchases,” said S. Larson. As with all billing problems, Larson said, if you send a letter of Citibank will assist you with this problem.

Yes, the local paper for Worchester, Massachusetts quoting a non-existent person from Citibank. I don’t blame the paper. I blame Citibank. It’s time for S. Larson to be retired. They have worked long enough.

Oh, wondering why I said “they” about S. Larson rather than he or she?

I’ve long used they, a plural pronoun, as a substitute for the singular neuter pronoun that the English language lacks. It’s very handy, and I hope more people do it. It’s an easy way to make any sentence not favoring either males or females. Consider:

  • A student, if they work hard, can graduate with honor.

That’s better than saying:

  • A student, if he works hard, can graduate with honor. (what, you hate women?)
  • A student, if she works hard, can graduate with honor. (what, you hate men?)
  • A student, if he or she works hard, can graduate with honor. (what, you like being awkward?)
  • A student, if s/he works hard, can graduate with honor. (now you’re just in my face being politically correct!)

Of course, usually any sentence that references a single person — and thus may require you to use the singular pronouns of he or she later in the sentence as an antecedent — can usually be turned into a plural form. That allows you to use they and be grammatically correct:

  • Students, if they work hard, can graduate with honor.

See my past post, Sneaked Versus Snuck & Past Tense Versus Past Participle, for more fun with grammar

Postscript (August 6, 2010): Barry Newman from the Wall Street Journal spent the past few weeks trying to track down if S. Larson is real. No luck getting any official confirmation. But it’s a great story to read:  Mystery Writer: Does Citibank’s S. Larson Really Exist?


Comments

  1. says

    LOL… Jill I was just thinking the same thing!
    Great article though Danny. I have a similar suspicion about my current HSBC contact. Do they think we are stupid?

  2. Smigglefutz says

    Dear Danny,
    I enjoyed your post, and share your high regard for the tireless efforts of S. Larson over the decades. Sometime in the 1990s I decided S. is female. She is “of a certain age” but nonetheless hot, sort of Dana Carvey’s church lady crossed with Pamela Anderson. (After all, it was the 90s.)
    Life in Sioux Falls isn’t very exciting, but neither is S. She likes the company of her nieces and nephews and their children, and during the ten and a half months of South Dakota winter she lets the cat sleep in her bed.
    She is not smart. Last month I opted for Citibank’s on-line credit card statements, and this Thursday S. sent me a letter via U.S. Mail telling me my on-line statement was ready for viewing. In this way she managed to continue cluttering my mailbox, except that now I also have to go on-line and log in before I can find out how much to pay. I’m not sure she gets e-commerce. (At least in your case she sent an e-mail.) That may be why, in all the time you and I have known her, she hasn’t been promoted.
    That’s what prompted me to Google her, and led me to your blog. It’s always fun to make a new acquaintance through a mutual friend, especially one as unwavering as S.
    And I’m glad you like her too! Anytime I hear someone lamenting large, interpersonally inept conglomerates like Citibank, I think fondly of S., with her curling, unchanging signature, her remarkably stalled career, and her ferocious work ethic.
    It’ll be a sad day if she takes your advice and retires, but I guess we both know it’s time. Maybe we can have a party for her.
    Ken

  3. bruce says

    Dear Danny, Ken and Matthew of 28A Fresno Street,
    Let me thank you for a very enjoyable morning of reminiscing about dear old S. Larson. Like each of you, I have wondered greatly over her restricted corporate career. (I have always considered S. to be female, but perhaps that’s just because I once had a female friend with the same name.) On those occasions that I have needed to talk with someone from Citibank, I make a point of asking about her. I have always been assured she is real and in her office urgently scribing another letter for her customers.
    I finally decided that S. is just too good at her job to be dismissed or nudged into another position. Look at her unending diligence, her patient manner of responding to often irate customers, her simple prose that anyone can understand (even if it is occasionally condescending). Perhaps she finds pure joy in being the sole human face (so to speak) of Citibank’s customer service.
    Or perhaps she’s another victim of the glass ceiling. (Another reason to think S. is female.) If so, I mourn for the remarkable career she might have had. Anyone who has touched millions of individual lives from all around the globe, as she has, surely would have much to contribute to the otherwise impersonal corporate world of international banking.
    I do not expect S. will retire very soon. Yes, she has had a long stint (twenty-plus years, by my reckoning) but I believe she is still young – my age, in fact, 50. She came upon the scene not long after I started my own career and family and I have imagined she was then exuberant and filled with hope at her new responsibility. That she has persisted so many years attests to the endurance of that hope.
    My only qualm is the unchanging, child-like signature that accompanies every letter. Does this signify that her personality is arrested in some significant way? That maybe she really is a dull corporate robot, churning out corporate prose over and over again? I really had hoped that as she matured, her signature would become more bold and penned with a flourish. I suppose we never will know. It certainly is appropriate that Citibank protects her privacy despite how public her duties are.
    Again, I have enjoyed this camaraderie with you, and perhaps, as Ken suggested, we can party when S. Larson finally retires.
    regards,
    Bruce

  4. j4cats says

    Dear Ken and company,
    How I envy you! At least S. Larson writes her name. I have received a couple of missives from a bank representative with both a first and a last name, but her name is never signed. The entire letter, short as it is, is printed from top to bottom. She does provide a phone number, but I can tell you from experience it doesn’t go to her desk.
    I miss the days when companies issued their form letters with real signatures, however brief. Enjoy your S. Larson while you can. :-)
    Jean

  5. Freddy delgado says

    Actually, I have a letter signed by S. Larson from Citi Cards. Someone should decypher his/her identity by studying the signature. Perhaps we will find interesting things.

  6. RickNY says

    I was telling someone on the phone earlier today with amusement the story of the famed ‘S. Larson’.. The reason behind my amusement was that after receiving a refund check for a credit balance on my Citi Card today, it was accompanied by a letter that went further to identify ‘S. Larson’.. It was signed with the same signature of ‘S. Larson’, but underneath also included “Sandy Larson Customer Service”.. Anyway, found your site in a search after my friend didn’t believe me.. Thanks for the laugh!

  7. cavenewt says

    Ah, I’m not the only one! Just last week I was remarking about S. to my spouse-equivalent, who, being an Amex customer, is deprived of the pleasure of having a pen pal like S.
    I have always felt S. was female, perhaps due to the curly signature.
    Sandy? Like SNL’s Pat, a genderless first name. The mystery continues. It feels to me that there ought to be some sort of email list one could sign up for to receive updates on S. I see there is no Wikipedia entry yet.

  8. AmericanMom says

    Hello Danny,
    I had been closing a rather scathering letter to Citi cards and thought sheesh at least tell me if S. Larson is real, so I did a google.
    I found this page link on the first results page of over 10 pages and I had to laugh.
    I guess we will never know..
    Regards,
    Patricia

  9. cardholdersince1990 says

    S Larson does exist…I found HER when AT&T accidentally connected me to the Citi Bank employee directory. Her name is Sandy and I was able to get her direct phone number. She is employed in the customer dispute service center in Sioux Falls, SD.

  10. s.larson says

    Not so fast! I have been writing to
    and receiving various correspondance from S. Larson at Citicards in Sioux Falls, SD since 1993. I always suspected that S. Larson was “many different people” in the Customer Service/Billing Disputes department. Well, if S. Larson is real, he/she is moonlighting with Macy’s Department store out of P.O. Box 1517, Maryland Heights, MO 63043. I recently overpaid my Macy’s bill and in June requested a refund check. I received my refund check accompanied by a form letter with that return address signed by the notorious “S. Larson, Customer Service”.

  11. phango says

    This is highly depressing new:S I called citibank today because my card was paid a day late and they upped my interest rate and was told by a customer service rep to send a letter to a “Ms. Sandi Larson” the head of their customer service division… does that mean I’m back to sending letters to fictional people? If my letters to Santa are a any indication to how this request will work out, I guess my interest rate will not be changing??!!

  12. Connie says

    YES!!! There is a real S. Larson. I worked with this person and Sandy was my best friend while I worked at Citibank. You all can get some sleep now.

  13. alphablueskies says

    Hmmmmmmmmmmmm… really, this person exists? She is supposedly the Sr.VP for Marketing at all these different huge corporations… interesting. Because if she is non existent, this is deliberate and unethical business practice. S Larson is the excuse of the sups that is “unreachable by direct communication by neither clients nor sups” (according to Dave ID #DF94351). Eventually, clients will succumb out of frustration due to this “scheme.
    I submitted this to the media and hopefully, it sparks their interest. I will however, keep on trying as this issues take time for the media to take on.

  14. Paul says

    I’m sure you’ll all take comfort to know that S. Larsen is apparently still alive and well, signatory to emails to Commonwealth Bank customers in Australia. In one she’s with their customer rewards section and in another she’s with their fraud prevention unit. Amazing that they don’t even bother to change the name.

  15. jdinpa says

    Today, I was told by a Citi account manager that I need to write a letter to S Larson, the “President of Customer Service” !! He/she has really moved up in the company apparently.

  16. David says

    Having worked in the dispute department at AT&T Universal Card for 4 years (95-99), I can attest to the existance of a real live Sue Larson who by the time I left was working her way up the managment chain. I don’t know if she still works there but the S. Larson of your letter was indeed an actual person. The dispute department included fraud handling at that time though I have no knowledge of their current set-up.

    Using a ubiquitous name on all letters and failure to properly educate staff on how to handle inquiries is poor customer service certainly but it is neither illegal (in the US) or unethical.

  17. HP says

    Actually David is right, S. Larson is a real person, working/(who used to work) in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where Citibank is based. I know this because I used to work for CitiBank in Customer Service and was asked that question all the time by callers. I asked the higher ups, and according to them, S. Larson is a real person.

    P.S., Fraud is now handled by a separate security operations department located in Texas and Jacksonville, Florida.

  18. Frank says

    I love S. Larson – he/she sends me a note thanking me for business every time they screw me with rate increases or “change in terms”

  19. Ken Tilbe says

    I recently canceled my Citibank card due to their continued ineptitude. Life is too short to deal with those idiots, but I have always admired the strong work ethic of what I thought, until now, was a fictional person; mainly because nobody (except perhaps Santa Claus) seemed to be able to be in so many places at once. In responding to S. Larson’s last letter telling me my account had been closed as requested, and after ranting about what a bunch of dumb s…. they are, I closed on this personal note:
    “Finally S., I hope you do not take any of these criticisms personally; I know you are just doing your job. It seems that you are very much underappreciated and working in a thankless position. After all these years working diligently, cranking out all those letters, those bigwigs at Citibank can’t even see fit to give you a decent title much less a promotion. Stick up for yourself S! It seems that with the exception of a few letters from Kendall E. Stork, you are carrying the entire load over there, and your letters are much better (and not nearly as pompous) as his. I don’t see how they could make it without you and yet, they must be paying you peanuts for you to have to take that second job over at Department Stores National Bank in Mason, Ohio working on those Macy’s accounts. The commute alone must be killing you! Maybe you should consider going into sales. Banks are, by their nature, cheap sobs, and with your energy you could probably make a lot on commission sales. Good luck to you.” This included a footnote to the Macy’s account sentence that read:
    “In May 2007 you wrote me stating that Macy’s had sent me a check for $10 but that it had not been cashed. I wrote back saying that I didn’t get the check, but I never heard back from you. I know you are extremely busy, and there’s no hurry on this, but the next time you are over in Mason could you check on that ten bucks for me? Thanks.”

    Now that I know she is real, I really do think they should can that Stork guy and make her the bank’s president. With her efficiency, they would have never needed all that government bailout money!

  20. rks says

    S Larson is still there, i asked a rep and he said it was Sandy, guess they are all in on it, won’t anybody spill the beans and expose this,
    keep the thread alive!

  21. KRIS says

    hey Danny,
    guess what showed up when i searched for this S Larson. i was mad at the 400$ i was charged for something i didnt get online and this Larson person sends me these mails that i should get back to him only by writing a mail . so i called up the customer service and as we all know they are the dumb F*&^ from a different world all together. I decided to google this person and came across this article, i am relived and had a good laugh that someone out there is also getting letters from larson….way before i was born. looks like these banks come up with fake names to protect themselves from all the screwup they do at work

  22. Sarah says

    S Larson is a real person. I work in the customer service/sales division for citi cards. S Larson is a real person, she does not personally send out letter but all form letters regarding certain issues were written by her. She has people who work below her that handle of the disputes and the research and she oversees them. As their boss though, her name is on the letters. And to the comment about Macy’s….the reason you received a letter from S Larson on a macy’s account is because citi cards handles macy’s accounts. We have many different retail accounts. Instead of complaining all day long about S Larson maybe you should be sending in your payments on time so you don’t have to receive a letter from her. And to everyone who calls and complains about interest rates and charges and blah blah blah, if you don’t like it don’t use the card. We have to make money. We have to be a sustainable business. interest and fees are part of what a credit card is!!! So what you were only a day late, you were still late! Get over it and pay your bill on time.

  23. jeff says

    hahah S Larson just tried to sweet talk me into accepting a 30% intrest rate on my 12% debt for no good reason… just becasue.. then making up some BS program where I were to get some small rebate. I was just googling his address so I could send him a personal go blow yourself message.

  24. says

    I just talked to Citibank Dispute center and asked to speak to someone real rather than S Larson. “Nancy” said that Sue was indeed real and that everyone worked under her. I responded, ‘oh really, mmm.” Unfortunately, you cannot write to or talk to S.

  25. West Coast says

    Well, I just received a letter from “S. Larson” in customer service at Bloomingdale’s.

    Weird.

  26. Todd says

    I need to send a letter to Citi and the account manager told me to address it to a Steve Larson. Now it’s a guy.

  27. John Clark says

    Frankly, after the ‘song and dance’ of the phantom S. Larson, I felt some relief when I, too, came to the obvious truth that this signatory is as phoney as the ‘spillage’ of corporate regurgitation that appears over the nom’ plume’, and stamped evidence of vaccuous verbiage purporting to be a living being. Citibank, as a corporate entitiy, can only be seen as a business that is designed to sit on a false bottom while taking a ‘bit’ here and there from those of us who have need of their credit card service department. The S in front of Larson could easily stand for ‘Shaft!’

  28. Chris Trimm says

    With all those S. Larsons out there, I was relieved to know that citibank wasn’t charged with “identity” theft.

  29. anon says

    I work in Citi Customer Service Operation Support sending these S Larson letters. This week a warning was posted on our internal alerts page about the Wall Street Journal story, giving us a heads up that we might be getting a deluge of inquiries about S Larson. That prompted me to check the web.

    A bit of background about our letters. The majority of Citi letters are created in outsourced India centers contracted from different companies. The more specialized inquiries are handled in about a half dozen US centers. While assembled across the world, the letters are printed and mailed from the South Dakota mailroom.

    I don’t know if S Larson still works for the company, but I’m told she was/is in charge of the South Dakota mailroom. She isn’t an executive or listed in our organizational charts as being in charge of customer service or anything.

    I can understand why we use a figurehead name on our letters. To create the illusion of a direct human contact, but without employees having to be directly accountable to the public. I wouldn’t want angry customers to know my name from the hundreds of letters I’ve written.

    O Larson