Monday, November 1, 2010

Big Bank vs Community Bank...

Late last week I stopped by my bank of countless years, Regions Bank, and canceled my three checking accounts. Out of the blue they decided to start charging a monthly fee for my tiny little accounts so rather than pay them to use my money I picked up the phone and easily found a lot of other banks that didn't charge. I had two business accounts and a personal account (no fee on that one). None of them had a lot of money in them, but since the money just sat there for months without being used, thus allowing them to earn money on my money it was silly to stay with Regions Bank.

I planned my day to allow time to answer questions when I canceled my account. I wasn't upset and I really like some of the people at the bank who I've known for years so no way I'd fuss even if I did have a problem! However, no one asked why I was canceling. I walked in, asked the teller who I needed to talk with about canceling my account and was told she could do it. Five minutes later my accounts were closed, I had my cash and I left. Not one question. Not one "gee, we're sorry you're leaving" (even before they saw my small balances!).

As said, I'd found quite a few banks that didn't charge. I had talked face-to-face with some of the various bank reps at the Fayette County Chamber Expo in September. It's a great event and I was able to get a good feel for the people plus got to take home a lot of info to compare.

I settled on Charter Bank. It's a small community bank with branches in Fayette County, Coweta County, and then a few going down into LaGrange and over into Alabama. The only thing they didn't have that I would have liked is ATM fee reimbursement given the small number of locations... but since I never use them that wasn't a biggie for me, but might be for others.

The people were fantastic. Not over the top fake gushing friendly, but real, down-to-earth, gee we really appreciate the fact that you chose us fantastic. I walked out of there feeling that I'd made some friends. I also walked out with a pair of computer speakers and a good thermos. How many banks these days give you gifts for opening an account? I got a kick out of it and had to joke that I was glad they weren't handing out toasters! Then I looked at the list and saw that back in the early part of the year they handed out little bread-toasting sandwich grills... close.

I like the idea of a community bank. I like feeling like I'm more than a number. I like it that while they of course want the big accounts, they still appreciate all the small accounts. I like the free checking, too.

I had forgotten what excellent customer service felt like. Sure, my old bank had really nice people and I liked them. However, their hands were tied when it came to making decisions... understandably so given their size. They didn't know much about me or my account. Only one person in the branch that I've gone into for years remembered my name, and that was because we knew each other outside the bank. I have the feeling that when I walk into Charter Bank they'll remember my name.

I hear SunTrust's commercials saying they give you an individual banker who cares. I like the concept, but somehow I can't imagine that two little start-up businesses like mine would warrant a whole lot of individual attention! I think I have found a bank where I'll get the kind of attention that makes me feel like I matter. That's a rare thing these days in the world of big, bigger and biggest.

I'll keep you posted on how it goes.

Oh, the reason Regions Bank gave me for starting to charge a fee is that the changes in the way ATM withdrawals work will cost them a lot of revenue... they have to make it up somewhere. The new regs don't allow them to overdraft your account when you make a withdrawal but don't have the funds. I gather that in the past if you took out a hundred dollars but only had fifty in the account they'd give you the money, then charge your overdraft fees or the overdraft protection would kick in, which also cost money. Now you have to designate which way you want it to work. I found it ironic that I was being charged a fee on my banking account due to ATM fee changes and yet I never use an ATM card on the Regions accounts... I do on my main personal account, which is with another bank. If things go well at Charter, that account may be moving, too...

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