How To Shop for a Good Bank

Using the Automated Teller Machine

With banks now offering so many services and charging higher and higher fees, you may need to review your choice of a bank. Banks are supposed to be your partners in financial management, not a drain on income. Many people stick with the same bank forever, not because it is really competitive, but because it is a habit. Well, your bank can be an expensive habit! You may be buying, as part of a package, services that you will never use. This time, do your research and make informed choices.

Step 1

Set your bank service priorities. Do you use a savings account? Do you invest through the bank? Does the bank do your accounting for you? Do you get a number of free cheques each month with a certain minimum balance? How much are you charged to use ATMs...or is there a charge each time you see a teller? Will you be borrowing? Mortgage? Sending money to family in other countries? How about retirement planning? Or even trust management in the future? How about line of credit and overdraft protection and all kinds of insurances? Write down a list of exactly what services you want. Once you have done this, do your research of the banks around you. Find out what they charge for the priorities you have listed. Get literature from these banks, especially the list of services and corresponding fees and any "packages" and discounts.

Step 2

Of the banks on your list, locate branches closest to you. Determine which of these is most accessible to you from home or from work. Look at banks you can walk to easily from your house or your office. With the cost of gas, you don't want to drive each time you want to withdraw money in your account. And remember, usually you pay extra fees when you withdraw money from the ATMs of another bank. Chances are you will find yourself withdrawing money constantly from the handiest bank and pay the corresponding higher fees if it isn't yours.

Step 3

Study the fees for services you often use. If you use checks to pay your bills, or you do transactions by telephone or online, then compare fees. Sometimes, banks offer plans that cover a group of services. Look into this. If one plan covers most of the services you use, go for the plan. Monitor your monthly statements so you can shift to a better plan when you have established your transaction patterns. If you do NOT use online banking, find out how much extra you are spending for teller service.

Step 4

Get good customer service. When you know someone in your bank, you often get better help. If there is a problem, you can call that person and she looks into the matter for you. Banks are in a very tough competition and they want your service. Make them work for it. Ask to see a bank officer with your list in hand and ask her why you should choose that bank over all the others. Ask them to explain their assortment of credit cards and find one that works for you. As you know, many bank employees tend to move quite frequently. Ask your contact to introduce you to his replacement each time this happens. Blow his socks off with a Christmas or Eid or Hanukkah card.

Step 5

Establish a relationship with your bank. If you are not one of those ushered in to a totally different floor from the line-ups because of the size of your portfolio, make yourself known to your bank employees. Introduce yourself to the receptionist. Make sure he or she remembers you. When your schedule affords it, go in at less busy times. The bank staff is more inclined to be friendly and conversant. And remember, don't become the bank grump or everyone will run when you come in! Tell them when the service is good, too.

Step 6

Stick to what works for you. Often, you get one bad service or a hike in fees and you throw out your bank. Dumb. Use this occasion to let your bank know you better and see if the customer service staff has other ideas to help out. Work through the problem with them. Give them a chance. Build the really is worthwhile over time.

Step 7

Go online. If you almost never go to your bank, why are you paying to support your bank's branches and all the staffing? If you don't need a full service bank, check out the options. Look at the new breed of online banks and see if they meet your needs.

While many of us tend to be loyal to our bank and for good reason, it is good to review transactions with them and negotiate better terms. They are there to make money but to do that they must have YOU. If they see you as a good long-term customer, they will work hard to keep you with them.


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Funny that this should come at this time! I'm in the process of changing banks! When small banks (they're way, way better!) get swallowed up by large corporate banks, the beautiful customer service one enjoyed slowly disappears, and bank fees and chargees which were non-existent, all of a sudden bites you pretty hard! Relationships with bank employees though are paramount especially in a business context.

By Enid Sevilla

Thanks S.E. Smith. You are right! Great addition.

By Mary Norton

I would also add that it's always a good idea to check on promotions, especially for savings accounts. Sometimes banks will offer a high interest rate on savings/interest-bearing checking, especially in a poor economy, when they want your money so that they can invest it; sometimes you can lock in a great rate for six months and it makes a big difference.

By S. E. Smith