There’s a lot of interest and discussion in the US for individuals making their feelings known to ‘the big banks’ about what they’ve done to the economy (not only here but also abroad). And one of the most popular appears to be people closing their accounts with the ‘too big to fail/we gave them bailout money’ banks and moving their money to either a locally owned bank or a credit union. And if you want to know who the so-called big banks are, the list is here: Solari Tapeworm 20
But, how do you know if a bank is ‘locally owned’? And can you join any credit union you want to?
Well, ‘locally owned’ banks, in general are referred to as ‘community banks’ and if you want to find out which banks in your community are community banks, you can use a very nifty search engine sponsored by the Community Bank Association to do just that. Go here: community bank search engine You just plop your zipcode into the last box, click off the radius in miles and the engine will generate a list. After that, it’s up to you to do the investigating in terms of finding out which bank will be right for you (because after all, just because it’s locally owned doesn’t mean that it has all the services you might need, nor does it mean that the customer service is really great). There are all sorts of guidelines out there on evaluating banks: Solai How to Find A Local Bank
But, here’s my method (and actually I use this for finding doctors, dentists, plumbers and other people I need services from): Ask everyone you know: “Do you know anyone who works at xxx bank? What have they said about working there? Can you give me their phone number – I’d like to ask them some questions.”
The Solari article has reams of technical questions but I like to ask questions like: How is it to work there? What is your relationship with customers? Are you held to strict guidelines in terms of what you can do? How does the organization treat YOU as a person?
I figure an organization that treats its employees well as people, gives them responsibility and authority to take care of customers in the best way they know how is the sort of organization that wants its customers treated well too.
Here’s another idea – community based credit unions. Now, there are a lot of employment-based credit unions – that’s really how the credit union got started. And in most cases, if you have a close (like, sibling, parent, etc.) relative that already belongs to their employment credit union, they can sponsor you to get into that credit union also. All credit unions are not the same size and may not have all the same services so it’s good to know all your options. Another option in credit unions (and these have only really grown in the past 15 years or so) are the ‘community chartered’ federal credit unions. These are based on the affinity of an area or municipality. For example, in my area, there are two community chartered credit unions. One of them used to be a giant employment based credit union, but when the industrial giant closed their operation here, the credit union faced losing all of their customer base so they got their charter changed to a community based one, where anyone living, working, going to school in our area could become a member. And since they were a huge credit union with lots and lots of advanced services in insurance, investments, trusts and estates and so on, this made them a very popular option for people who could not be members before. The other credit union actually started as a teachers’ credit union and went to community cased. Another credit union nearby started as a community credit union. But again, you can find credit unions in YOUR area by using the credit union search engine here: Find a credit union Again, you plop your zipcode and the radius of distance around you that you’d be willing to travel into the boxes, click off search and off you go. You will see a list with details on membership requirements. And also again, I’d find people you know who are members of those credit unions or who work there. We’ve been members of two credit unions over the years (and the larger one actually absorbed the smaller one when it ran into trouble) and I can tell you that the service and attention to us as customers has been absolutely amazing.
It’s worth taking the time to do the little job. Once you have chosen your new bank or credit union, go in and speak to a staff member and ask for ‘a switch kit’ – this contains the check list and all the paperwork you will need to get your accounts switched AND take care of all the automatic payments you have for car, insurance, utilities and so on. The whole process becomes very streamlined with a switch kit so ask for that and also ask for whatever help the new bank or credit union can provide to smooth the process with your old bank.
(this is a cross-post from my blog truth in advertising and all that)