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Is your bank the right one for you?

Consider your favorite technological innovation and how it fits into the routine of life. No matter how excited you were when you first got the self-parallel-parking car, watched your fitness routine on your smartwatch improving your health, or when you confirmed your packages arriving remotely thanks to your front door camera, eventually, you got used to it. It became second nature, as good technology should. It's only when the equipment starts to wear or doesn't keep up with advancements that we worry, wishing we had paid for a routine inspection or waited until the latest version was released before completing the full installation.

You may think of your financial institution much the same way. Your money moves in and out of your account, and barely a thought is given to the intricate systems permitting such smooth banking operation. It's only when you hit a financial speedbump or realize you might be working harder than your megabank that you start to wonder if you should have considered a better option.

Here are our best recommendations for how to begin a personal inspection of your financial institution, and which details you should consider. It helps to know what banking questions to ask, and what answers you should hear.

 

What products do banks and credit unions have for you?

You may not think of your checking account or loan as a "product" like one you'd buy at the store, but it is just that. A savings account, vehicle loan, investment account, or even an insurance offering will vary in its details (and costs) from institution to institution. Start by knowing which accounts you need, and then find a bank or credit union that offers those products.

It may be tempting to look strictly at rates on a money market account or the amount you'll save on specific loan terms, but there are many components that make up a consumer-friendly, you-focused financial product. Is it worth saving a few hundred dollars over the life of a loan if you are paying that same amount in monthly maintenance and ATM fees on your checking account? It may feel a bit like a jigsaw puzzle, but knowing what accounts fit best with your spending and borrowing habits can make a difference.

Let's consider your early research and what questions you should be asking yourself about the products.

  • What kind of checking accounts match your spending patterns? If you keep a high balance, seek out an account that pays interest. If you use your account as your primary purchasing source, be sure you get rewards for using your debit card. Look for hidden fees — most banks and credit unions include their fee schedule on their websites.

  • What kind of savings account will help grow your emergency fund? You'll want to automate your savings with easy transfers, but also look for an interest rate that amplifies what you are setting aside.

  • Do you want additional accounts, such as a CD or a money market account? These accounts will primarily focus on their interest rate, but also check about terms, policies, and any penalties for closing an account early. 

  • Do you plan to open or refinance a loan, including a credit card or mortgage? Of course, interest rates are important, but so is the complexity of both the application and fulfillment of the loan. Service matters when you need it.

  • How competitive are the rates for both deposit accounts and loan accounts? 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 more if you have multiple accounts.

These should get you started in the search, but there are many more inquiries that you should scout out in your search for the best bank for you to use.

 

What financial services complement those products?

The answers to the product questions will help you find the right products, but the services that accompany and enhance your accounts will make a difference in your long-term satisfaction with the products you select.

  • Do you have a loan officer with whom you can speak if you have questions? Even before you apply, you may have questions about your credit worthiness, and after your loan is approved, you might want to find out about the equity value of your home. It's helpful to have an expert to answer those questions.

  • How does the technology support your online banking and mobile app? There may be money-movement features, for example, within the mobile banking technology that aren't name-brand services. This will lower the costs to the bank or credit union and often those benefits are passed along to account holders. Skip past the obvious features like mobile deposit and bill pay, and read the reviews on the app stores. 

  • How easy is it to get cash? A megabank may not have branches where you travel, so a network of partner institutions allows you easy cash flow without added hassles, and even with ATM fee refunds. Don't settle for any option that charges you to get your own money. 

  • What additional products do you have that you might want to consolidate? If you are looking to bring your investment banking, HSA, or insurance, your business credit cards and your checking account, consider if these products might provide you with an easier way to keep all of your finances under one roof. 

  • Do you want in-person interaction? This isn't about swinging by the branch to say hi to friends, but it might be about your dog getting a treat at the drive-through. It's about the value of customer service. (Keep reading — this is a biggie.)

You can always get opinions from others, read reviews, or talk to the nearest branch. Ask about what you have, what you don't like about your current institution, and see how a change could create a positive boost for you.

 

How banks and credit unions show you customer service

One of the best ways to evaluate customer service is by measuring satisfaction. That means chiefly your satisfaction, but it can extend to other people you know who use the same institution. The biggest aspect of customer service is the interaction with tellers, the phone representatives, but also chat, text, and in-app responses.

  • High-level service: Do they listen to your concerns, ask about your needs, and continually build the relationship? Employees who genuinely care about your satisfaction are one of the most valuable assets any business has to offer. 

  • How do you like to communicate? If you want to reach out by phone, call a bank or credit union and see what that experience is like. If you prefer to text, see if they offer SMS information, including text alerts. Keep in mind there are limitations due to the security of your bank account information, but how responsive — and human — the chat, text, or voice on the phone is will give you a good idea of how the institution prioritizes its account holders. 

  • What about when you're in a pickle? If you lose your debit card and need a replacement, or need help researching a questionable transaction, it is critical to have a support team that truly supports you. 

  • How easily do you problem solve? We've all had a bad customer support experience that was exhausting and took much longer than you expected. Having a resource that is responsive, where you can get in and out of a branch easily, or where you know someone will follow up with you makes a huge difference in your day (and to your stress level).

Customer service absolutely sets apart an average experience from an extraordinary experience. Seek out extraordinary service, even if you don't need it every day. You'll be grateful for it when you do need it. 

 

What is a financial institution’s reputation in the community?

There's no law requiring financial institutions to adopt neighborly values or support the community where you live, but if everything else was equal (ideal financial products and great customer 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?

Community banks and credit unions use the funds their account holders deposit to lend to families and small businesses in your community.

  • Do your values align with the community bank or credit union? That's a big question, but compare where those community dollars go compared to a national bank's profits. Much like a big box store, it's unlikely a national entity with its central bank in another part of the country is putting your community's needs above the needs of its corporate shareholders.

  • Where have you seen the bank or credit union? If you see community financial institutions supporting fishing tournaments, school events, and community organizations, that shows how they are showing up in your community. If you see someone shopping in the grocery store wearing its logo, it's a good bet that its employees live and work where you live.

  • Do you see posts on social media? This is a great way to review feedback and ask for recommendations, plus you can follow them to see what activities and events they sponsor. It's an excellent way to see if their values align with yours. 

  • What does the bank's income statement look like? Don't be afraid to ask this one. You may want to know how long they have been serving the community and to understand the structure they are building for the future. If you're looking at a credit union, you'll be an owner, so it's okay to inquire about the financial policies and guidelines of the institution.

Let's be honest: It's your money, and you have every right to be proud of it. Why wouldn't you want the people who you are entrusting with your money to manage it responsibly, as a financially strong, community-based counterbalance to the forces of too-big-to-fail conglomerates?

 

How will your bank or credit union improve your financial wellness plan?

These may not seem like obvious interview questions when shopping for a new bank or credit union, but the purpose of asking good questions is to find the financial institution that best suits your needs and financial plans.

  • How can the bank or credit union help build your emergency fund? Perhaps the community bank or credit union can help you with refinancing an existing loan that either helps you pay your loan off sooner, or lower payments to allow you to save as you go. Asking and getting answers is another version of excellent customer support, but recognizing what you need long-term also makes a difference. 

  • What if you’ve never borrowed money? We aren't born with financial literacy. Asking for help is as important as finding help. Even if it's as simple as finding your routing number, building a relationship where you can ask a question, and developing money skills you can use for a lifetime. Find a financial institution that is willing to be a partner and an expert to help you grow your finances and your financial knowledge.

As you examine these different areas, note the qualities that feel like a good fit. You might not find the perfect place, so know what's most important to you. If you recognize what you like or know what works well, let them know these qualities, products, or features are important to you. In addition, watch for the things that may worry you, and 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 if want to keep your money where it matters.

In the end, if you don't feel like your current institution is interested in helping you stay a satisfied customer, use these questions to vet other institutions in your area. You and your money deserve a financial institution where your money matters to the bank or credit union as much as it does to you. 

Tags: Community Impact, Rewards Banking, Banking