Over a year ago, we rejoiced triumphantly as we left the discombobulated mess that is Bank of America and went to a smaller, regional bank instead. BofA was so bad, they would charge us fees month after month for no reason, even though their representatives would assure us in person that these fees should never be charged. Because every time I called for help I got a different person, our problem would only get solved temporarily, and with a lot of twenty minute phone calls to go along with it.
At the bank we’ve been at for the past year, things had been going great. Both Mrs. Mase and I knew all of the employees at our local branch, and they took good care of us. Before long, things worked like clockwork and we didn’t have to deal with big bank problems anymore. Or so I thought.
Even though we went a smaller bank that was more personable, we still went to one that had corporate strategy and stockholders as their primary focal point – not necessarily the customers. Now, I don’t want to speak badly about them because they really were/are a decent bank, it’s just the series of events that forced us to leave happened to occur in a sour kind of way.
We got a letter in the mail near the end of last year stating that our particular bank branch was being sold to another regional bank, and that they were going to transfer over all of our accounts in mid- January. After that we just started getting new check books in the mail. There were no phone calls or follow up letters from the people at this new bank. The people at the old bank had no idea what was going on themselves and couldn’t provide much useful information about the transition. This was problematic because the next closest branch was fairly out of the way from where we live and where my wife works. Again, we felt like we were just tossed around in the sea of the bank’s customers as one of many, and we certainly didn’t feel appreciated as customers anymore.
In looking for a new bank to house our family’s accounts, we automatically ruled out any of the big banks. Our past experiences and those of family and friends have shown us that that’s not the way to go if you desire a more personal (read: at least minimally human) banking experience. Going to another regional bank seemed like an option, but what was to stop them from selling off their branch to a competitor too? Granted, the probability of this occurring is relatively unknown, but we didn’t want to take the chance given the annoyance involved in shifting all of your money to another institution.
Next we explored online banks, which we considered as a feasible option. One of the top contenders was Simple, an online bank based out of Portland. After hours of research it really seemed like it might be the bank for us. That was, until we learned that they do not offer joint accounts. For us, this was a big deal, so we continued the search. Also, the notion of not being able to withdraw cash easily on a regular basis made us think twice about online banks. Although the world is moving toward exclusively digital transactions, we’re just not there yet. When the day comes that the Federal Reserve stops printing physical money, we’ll deal with it. Until then, cash is king!
We ultimately decided on going with a local credit union that has a branch that is a two minute walk from our house. The convenience, obviously, is unparalleled, and the staff is friendly. When can still go whenever we need to withdraw cash. Most importantly though, the credit union has been around since the 60’s and is a credit union, so by definition we are the owners (technically, members). This means slightly higher interest rates on deposits, more personalized service, and as close to guaranteed stability as you can get. As long as the general population in St. Louis remains stable and growing modestly, there should be a reasonable pool of the population who can do business with the credit union.
I used to worry a lot about joining a credit union because the local nature of it worried me. With the big banks, I liked knowing that I could travel to another city, in a completely different part of the country, and still be able to go to my bank’s ATM or branch. With technology in 2016 though, this definitely isn’t a problem for most credit unions because of the CO-OP network. Also, if we ever do move from the area, we’ll just switch to another credit union in the new location.
If you aren’t banking with a credit union, I would suggest at least looking into it. You never know what the other side of the fence looks like until you take a peek. Because I had never had experience with credit unions, I simply went along with what other people did – get an account at one of the big banks. Sure, those guys tend to have fancier apps, bigger buildings and lots of money to loan you – but do they actually treat you like a person? Do you they really give you the most competitive rates? It’s important to continually ask yourself these questions. After all – this is your money we’re talking about here!