Fallout: The Financial Crisis

Go local with your money?

Ashley Milne-Tyte Jun 3, 2010
Fallout: The Financial Crisis

Go local with your money?

Ashley Milne-Tyte Jun 3, 2010


Tess Vigeland: Several months ago, we profiled an effort underway to get Americans to switch their accounts away from the big banks that got bailout money. The “Move Your Money” campaign started on the Huffington Post. The idea was to punish the scoundrels of the financial crisis and reward well-behaved and more consumer-friendly local banks with your business.

Ashley Milne-Tyte reports some bank customers have made the move, but others aren’t so sure.

Paul Wichman: Hi!

Several bank employees: Hi Paul. Good morning. How are you?

Ashley Milne-Tyte: With a reception like that, it’s no wonder Paul Wichman loves going to the bank.

Wichman: OK, got some money to deposit here.

Banking wasn’t always so much fun for Wichman. He used to have an account with Bank of America, and he did most of his personal banking online. That was fine. Then last year, he moved from New York back home to the Bay area to start his own company. He opened up some business accounts with B of A, but things didn’t go smoothly.

Wichman: We ran into a lot of glitches that I didn’t feel like we really should have. There wasn’t a lot of proactive work on the part of the representatives there to help me get important transactions done in a timely way.

He had a lot of questions, and it was tough to get anyone on the phone or in the branch who could answer them. He’d heard local banks pay a lot of attention to customer service, so he began shopping around — and found the Bank of Marin.

Wichman: The phone was picked up usually on the first ring. And the person that picked up the phone had most of the answers. If they didn’t have the answers, they committed to getting back to me, and they did call me back with the answers.

Wichman was so thrilled, he decided to dump B of A and go with Bank of Marin. But he did some homework first to be sure the new bank was sound; he checked its balance sheet. Then, he moved his money over in stages. Wichman and his new bank are very happy together.

Bank representative: Your online payment is going well?

Wichman: It is going very well.

Thousands of account holders may be experiencing similar feelings of satisfaction: A Zogby Interactive poll found 14 percent of Americans have moved some of their money from a mega-bank to a smaller one during the last year.

So how do the big banks feel about this desertion? A spokesperson for Bank of America said she couldn’t speak to Paul Wichman’s specific case. But she says the bank is making changes in response to customer feedback.

In New York, Citibank has been cozying up to customers. Manhattan division manager Bill Brown says the campaign is called “Our Promise.”

Bill Brown: We recognize that there’s much for us to do to continue to earn or to win back the business and trust of our customers.

“Our Promise” kicked off last fall, when the bank announced branches would stay open till six instead of four. More branches are now open on Saturdays and some on Sundays. Bill Brown says staff hit the sidewalks to promote the campaign.

Brown: And it was not without some fear that, what would the response of the average person be on the street to meeting a Citi employee, or meeting someone who was handing out Citi literature?

But no one was chased down the block. He says customers appreciate the fact that they now have their branch manager’s personal e-mail address and direct line. He says his bank can deliver the same kind of service community banks offer — and a lot more besides. But some people still don’t buy the idea that the big banks really care about anyone but themselves.

Glen Goldstein: I think they lent money they shouldn’t have lent. I think they’re still giving out giant bonuses, and I don’t think I should spend money with somebody who behaves that way.

Glen Goldstein banks with Chase. He’s not very happy with them, but he can’t quite bring himself to walk away. Goldstein runs a bike tour business in Narrowsburg, N.Y. He has flirted with his local bank. But all his vendor accounts are with Chase, and he says transferring them would be a huge hassle. And there’s another reason to stay put:

Goldstein: Chase gives me frequent flier miles every time I spend with my debit card and that influences me. I am not a big business, but I probably spend enough that I don’t need to spend for airline tickets for the entire year. And my new small bank does not offer that service, they don’t offer that perk.

They don’t have a 24-hour service line either. Goldstein says sure, his relationship with Chase may be dysfunctional at times. But at least he can call them at two in the morning.

I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte for Marketplace Money.

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