As companies push to release flashier (and more expensive) technology, we often lose track of how well those innovations fit into the routine of life. No matter how excited you are when you first get that new car, smart watch, or remote control drone, eventually you get used to it. Only when something begins to "feel" or sound wrong do we worry, wishing we had paid for a routine inspection and tune-up.
You probably think of your financial institution much the same way — money goes in, money comes out; and barely a thought is given to the intricate systems permitting such smooth operation. But you don't need to be a financial expert to examine how well your institution is working for your needs.
Here are our best recommendations for how to begin a personal inspection of your financial institution and which details you should pay attention to.
Do they offer great products and account benefits?
You may not think of your checking account or loan as a "product" like you’d buy at the store, but it's a useful exercise. Accounts, loans, investments, and even insurance offerings vary by institution. It may be tempting to look strictly at rates on deposit accounts and loans, but there are many components that make up a consumer-friendly financial product.
How competitive are the rates? Look at the Annual Percentage Yield (APY) and rewards on checking and savings accounts, as well as the Annual Percentage Rate (APR) of loans and credit cards — you may be able to save on both! Alternately, look that the types and amounts of fees that you can be charged for. Sometimes hidden fees can outweigh the benefits of an attractive interest or dividend rate.
Do they have good customer service?
One of the best ways to evaluate customer service is measuring satisfaction. That means, chiefly your satisfaction, but it can extend to other people you know who use the same institution.
For example, think about your interactions with staff: Do they listen to your concerns, ask about your needs, and continually build the relationship? Employees who genuinely care about account holder satisfaction are one of the most valuable assets an institution has to offer.
What is their reputation in the community?
There's no law requiring financial institutions to adopt neighborly values or invest resources into the community you live in, but if everything else was equal (great products and great service) where would you keep your money? A faceless corporation headquartered halfway across the country or an institution that was built by and employs your friends and neighbors?
Ask people if they’ve heard of your institution and if they would consider banking there. Inquire about their experience at other institutions. Have they ever had a great experience at a bank or credit union? What made it special? Be considerate, as some people may feel uncomfortable discussing finances in casual settings.
As you examine these different areas, note the things that you like or work well, in addition to the things that worry you. If you find something you think could be better, let them know! Policies and terms may get revised or eliminated based on the feedback of account holders like you.
In the end, if you don't feel like your current institution is interested in helping you stay a satisfied customer, use the questions mentioned above to vet other institutions in your area. The results may surprise you.