In Saturday’s post about investing, I talked about the importance of properly checking out the brokers and advisers handling your investments. Today, I want to cover something similar — getting to know the people who work at the local branch of the bank or credit union you use.
These days, you don’t really have to step foot into a bank. You can check your accounts online, you can have your paycheck direct-deposited, you can apply for loans online, you can get your statements emailed to you, and you can even deposit a check by taking a photo of it with your smart phone.
Those features are great and have removed some annoying or time-consuming barriers to accessing and managing your money, but an unfortunate side-effect of this is that we’ve fallen out of touch with the people who are handling our money every single day.
As a child, I remember tagging along with my father to our credit union. My father came in every week to do some small piece of financial business, whether it be making a loan payment or withdrawing cash, and every clerk there knew him by name and face. When my father needed to do some business at the bank, he already knew who he needed to talk to — there was none of that uncertainty that comes with talking to a total stranger about an important or sensitive topic.
Today’s task is a simple one. Go into the local branch of your bank or credit union, and make a transaction or ask a question.
Convenience isn’t everything
My credit union has an ATM by the front door. If I need to withdraw some cash quickly, it’s easy to pull up, get my funds, and go. That’s really convenient if I’m in a hurry or if I’m trying to do something during the lunch rush or Friday afternoon. But convenience can easily step over into avoidance — it’s easy to stick to impersonal electronic methods because they keep us from waiting and they keep us from having to face people.
But it takes only a few minutes more to go inside and make my withdrawal in person. Every time I do, it’s an opportunity to build a little familiarity and rapport with the people that work there. It’s an opportunity to make myself recognizable.
Never underestimate the value of a history of patronage. A customer who comes into the bank every week or two to do some business is always going to be treated with more warmth and familiarity than someone who has an account, but has never actually stepped through the doors.
The staff at your bank or credit union are a source of information
If you bank with a big national chain like Regions or Bank of America and you need to ask a question, you could always brave their online or phone support. You’ll want to plan on getting forwarded to an outsourced call center in Bangladesh or China, juggling intentionally complicated automated phone systems and language barriers, and if you’re lucky, you might get your answer…eventually.
If you bank with a smaller community bank or a credit union, you might have a better experience, but you’ll likely still be faced with technical barriers to getting your question answered.
Or you could walk into the local branch, talk to someone who lives and works in your community, who is familiar with your accounts, and who speaks the same language you do.
I’ve never had a bad experience with the staff at the local branch of my credit union. Occasionally, a new employee might be rude or incompetent, but they either quickly shape up, or they don’t last long — customers tend to complain if the person handling their money is bad at their job.
On the off-chance a transaction is handled poorly, handling it in person helps me know who I spoke to and when, so I can correctly report it to their supervisor and get the issue resolved quickly.
If I have a question about a loan or something strange with my account, I know the tellers, loan officers, or customer accounts representative at my credit union can probably answer my question. If I have a particularly big issue to deal with, I know I can probably even make an appointment with the manager of that location, or even a higher-up officer of the bank.
A second pair of eyes helps you catch problems quickly
Several years ago, I went into my bank to deposit my paycheck for that month. The particular bank I was using had online banking, but I didn’t have Internet access at my apartment, so I only checked it periodically. When the teller pulled up my account, she noticed that a recent largish transaction had been charged to my account twice. It wasn’t enough to overdraw my account, but I obviously didn’t want to pay double for the item I’d bought.
She advised me on how to proceed to get the charge reversed (which was promptly taken care of a few days later), but if she hadn’t caught the error and brought it to my attention, it might have gone a week or more before I could have addressed it.
Relationship building doesn’t have to take a lot of time
I’m not saying you should completely give up online banking and other impersonal methods of conducting business with your bank. I use my credit union’s online banking religiously, and I frequently use the ATM instead of going into the bank if I need to withdraw cash.
If you don’t have the time, you don’t have to go into the bank every single week. Maybe you only go inside every two weeks or even once a month. That’s enough to get your face recognized.
Most days aren’t so urgent and rushed that I can’t spare 5-6 minutes to handle a transaction in person. Those minutes buy me familiarity and history, and those two elements are worth the extra time and hassle of handling my banking in person. More than that, it’s a casual reminder to myself that I can afford to slow down a little bit and take life at a slightly slower pace. Rushing everywhere and trying to do everything as fast as possible often leaves you missing out on some great experiences.
Tomorrow: Follow Up With A Professional Contact
Tomorrow we’re heading into the final week of 31 Days To Your Financial Future!We’ll be talking about keeping professional relationships alive by making follow-up connections.
Do you do your banking in person?
Do you like to do your banking in front of an actual person, or do you avoid it like the plague? Why? Tell us about your experiences in the comments!