A taken-for-granted pillar of ourfinancial life is our banking institution.Be it a credit union, savings andloan, or bank, one of the first thingswe do when we relocate to establishour residency is find a convenientbanking location and open an account.We may have our doubts about themachinations of the systems that goon at a national level, but we reallyneed the functions of safe repository,checking, and loans, and we usuallylike them local.
The problems that result are relatedto the depersonalization of theprocess through serial takeovers,steering corporate focus away fromconsumer business and our increasingreliance on the ubiquitous ATM. Butlike any other business, regulated ornot, national or local, there are thingswe consumers can do to both improveservice and cut costs.
And don't underestimate how heftybanking costs can be. Just review thefees and charges you've run up in allyour various accounts this past yearand you will be either amazed, sickened,or both. Computerized or not,banking is an expensive business torun when interest rates are low andthey have to make up for all those baddebts somehow. In case you haven'tguessed, we are the "somehow."
HOPE ON THE HORIZON
But all is not lost. Banking is also avery competitive business; so if youhave never done so, make an appointmentto meet with your bank managerand a local competitor's as well.Show some charm and some compassionto a person who is used to dealingmainly with problems, and see if youcan't get a fee waived. Point out howmuch money you have in the bank;how you have or will consolidateaccounts, including your business, ifyou are in private practice; and howyou have or will take out profit-makingloans. Corporate policy or not, managersdo have some leeway to a niceperson with a noteworthy cash flow.
Another not-to-be-ignored benefitis that a lot of red tape may also meltaway, speeding you on your way withstars in your eyes. No kidding. So askaround to find out who has the mostconsumer friendly reputation in town,there's always at least one, and see ifyou can't arrange an introduction tothe branch executive.
With the marketplace blurring asstock brokerages offer checking accountsand many financial companiesare trying to get your CD and loan business,the savvy investor will want toshop around for rates when the timecomes. But even the most sophisticatedof us still feels the need for a local officewhere "everybody knows your name"and the safe, convenient feeling thatgoes with it. It's safer than a mattressand, with a little bit of cajoling effort,may not be much more expensive.
Jeff Brown, MD, CPE,a partner
on the Stanford Graduate
School of Business Alumni
Consulting Team, teaches in
the Stanford School of Medicine
Family Practice Program. He welcomes
questions or comments at jeff