Choosing a bank can be almost as difficult as choosing a spouse, and traditionally lasts longer than the average US marriage! When searching for a bank, you will have certain criteria to match, and many banks will fill much of what you need, but very few will be complete solutions. Here are the things I look for in a bank (or credit union, brokerage, etc.), in order of importance.
Is the bank modern?
One of the biggest complaints I have with some of the banks I have used in the past is that they are way too outdated. Their online interface is clunky or non-existent, their BillPay system is slow and unorganized, and their practices and procedures are archaic. I have a hard time trusting a bank that doesn’t have an online interface because it makes me think that if they are this behind the times, what does their vault or look like? But I have an even harder time trusting a bank when their online banking password requirements consist of, your password must consist of letters…that’s all, have fun!
Obviously you will need to define what criteria your bank needs to meet in this area, but to me a bank must at least have an online interface that is secure, is easy to use, and is convenient to access. A mobile interface as well as a mobile app itself are huge advantages with smart phones becoming the norm, and everyone doing their banking on the fly.
Another sign of a modern bank that meets current standards is being FDIC insured. After going through a bank closure, I am a huge believer in the FDIC and won’t touch a bank without it.
Is the bank free?
Your bank is the house for your money, and should be there to keep your money safe, not drain parts of it away for no good reason. With so many banks, online and off, available to you, you should not have to fight to get fees reduced for your most basic banking needs.
Pick a bank that has no fees. Call customer service when researching a bank if you are unsure of their fee schedule. Check on fees not only for checking and savings but for checks, BillPay systems and even investment vehicles. Even if you have part of your money elsewhere for some of these things, you want to have options and not be restricted by fees if you decide to start investing from the same bank you have your checking account with.
Is the bank friendly?
Customer service is very important to me. When I need something from my bank, I want to speak with someone helpful, and comforting to get my problem taken care of as quickly as possibly. Your bank is the cornerstone to your financial life, and if something goes wrong there, your whole life can be briefly thrown off course.
If something does happen with my bank, I want to be able to call someone at my bank and get the problem fixed while I’m on the phone, the first time I call. I don’t want to get off the phone unsure as to what I should be doing or what the bank will be doing to solve my problem, left with feelings of insecurity and nervousness.
Your bank should have customer service reps that are kind and treat you like a customer, not a user. You should also be able to call your bank with any questions you have about new accounts or other services. If you don’t feel comfortable calling your bank about problems you have, there is no way you will be willing to consult them about other financial decisions that already make you feel vulnerable like planning for retirement.
Is the bank convenient?
Convenient is in the eye of the beholder. For me, I don’t care if there is a branch nearby, but I do want my bank to be available online 24/7 and I want my bank to have a wide range of office hours so that if I need to call about something, I can reach someone and talk it out. If the bank is open from 8-5, Monday – Friday, chances are I won’t ever be able to call the bank if I have a problem.
For you, convenient may mean having a brick and mortar branch right down the street from your work or home, or in the grocery store you visit most often. If you need to actually go into a branch, deposit cash or checks, or talk to representatives in person, convenient will mean something entirely different to you.
Does the bank offer a wide variety of services?
I think back in the day, people used one bank for everything they did in the financial world. Now, most people have at least two banks they use for different things, if not triple that. Personally, with all of my investment accounts, retirement accounts, savings and checking, I have accounts with a dozen banks, not to mention loans and other services I use. It would be nice to have a one size fits all bank that offers every service under the sun at the best rates available, but I don’t see this as a realistic deciding factor for where I bank.
On the other hand, if you can find a bank that satisfies most of your needs, and has services you will one day want to use at competitive rates, this could be very convenient.
Once you find a bank that fits your needs, you will have to make the switch which can be a difficult task. Check out my 8 step guide to help you along, and good luck with your new bank! It can be an exciting new adventure, or a disaster, but you never know what a new bank may have in store for you until you try one out. The grass may not always be greener on the other side..but sometimes it is!
Image by Identity Photogr@phy br>