Why I Like Big Banks

by Elizabeth Lang on 4 June 2012 25 comments
Photo: Phil Sexton

With the mortgage crisis, housing bubble, bailouts, and record bank profits (and losses), big banks have made people really, really angry. Lots of folks are ditching their major banking institutions for credit unions. But not me. (See also: Credit Unions vs. Banks: What's the Difference?)

I love my big bank. Here's why.

Convenience

Big banks have branches and ATMs everywhere. When I moved cross-country I didn't have to open a new bank account because there was a branch already in that city. When I need some cash or have a check to deposit, I can find an ATM close by every time. 

Still Local

Even though there are thousands of branches, my branch still has a local feel. For instance, one banker knows me — even if I only go in once a year. Last year, I opened up a business bank account at my local branch, and when I returned this year, she remembered me. I would have never thought that this would be the case, but banks are inherently local — it's your neighbors who are working at them, and your neighbors who are visiting that branch.

Customer Service

Big banks aren't necessarily known for their customer service. And truthfully I haven't always had the best of luck with my bank. But the vast majority of the time, the person on the other side of the window, phone, or email has helped me promptly, warmly, and with correct information. (And going back to convenience, it's super convenient to have all these service options available 24 hours a day.) One time, a banker from my local branch called me to tell me about some upcoming fee changes that could occur and to let me know how I could avoid those.

Stability

Big banks are stable. Sure, there's always the possibility that the bank will fail, but such an instance wouldn't go unnoticed. There would be lots of press (and government assistance). I've been a customer of my bank since I was 7, and I'm confident my bank will still be around when I'm 77.

Banking Options

Big banks have a huge number of banking options. From various types of checking and savings accounts to loans and mortgages, every banking option you would need is under one roof. When you log on to your account, you have a complete picture of your finances (and the ability to contact one customer service number) all in one place. Plus, the bank website and app offer all the features you could ask for, from auto bill-pay to remote deposits. Many small banks can't afford to offer this many features because there isn't enough demand.

Ability to Negotiate

Large banking institutions are often perceived as being difficult to negotiate with, but I've found my big bank to be flexible. Because the bank is bigger, they have greater ability to make adjustments that might temporarily hurt their bottom line in order to keep you as a customer. For instance, I've easily had fees reversed by my bank. And most notably, when I was moving across the country for an internship one summer, I went to my local branch to find out what my options were. The banker told me that they had no branches in that particular city, but he was happy to waive the non-bank-associated-ATM fee from my account. A fee that is still waived to this day.

There are lots of reasons to dislike big banks, but I love mine (it happens to be Wells Fargo), and I'm not ditching it anytime soon.

Do you bank with a big bank? Do you love it or hate it?

1.64706
Average: 1.6 (17 votes)
Your rating: None
ShareThis

comments

25 discussions

Add New Comment

CAPTCHA
This test helps prevent automated spam submissions.
Guest's picture
Stewart

Those are great reasons to like a bank. But I prefer credit unions. At a credit union, you're an "owner" -- *every* depositor is an owner. Fees and minimums for just about everything are lower, too.

Besides, very few credit unions got caught up in the shenanigans that the big national banks did. My mama taught me to not reward bad behavior. I think that means not being a customer of a big bank.

Guest's picture
Nancy

We ditched Wells Fargo after 30 years. Why? They wanted to start charging us a monthly fee for checking that we previously received free. It turned out that there was a way around this for us, but the bank didn't make that clear to us until we showed up to cancel the account. In addition, we had begun getting many, many calls from the bank's partners to sell us products and services, always starting out with a thanks for being such a long-time loyal customer. We didn't like that our loyalty translated into lots of dinner-time sales calls. And finally, the big banks have gotten too big--and too avaricious--for the overall good of the economy.

Elizabeth Lang's picture

That's too bad that they didn't inform you of the monthly fee. This is the fee I think they called me about last fall to warn me about and set it up so I didn't incur it.

Guest's picture
PJ

Size of a bank doesn't matter - who owns the bank, DOES. Big banks aren't often owned by the people, for the people.

Guest's picture
Adam

Everything written here applies to my experience with Chase. However, you guys bring up some really interesting points about the stances these banks take on their customers. At the investment banking level, these banks seem to treat customers quite poorly, which gives me doubt about their behavior at the retail level as well.

Guest's picture

This sounds like a brainwashed customer to me or at least one overcome with the inertia of being a long-time customer of Wells Fargo. Perhaps you can tell us about your relative experience with small banks. Or do you have any? If not, there is no point in writing an article such as this. There is no attribute identified in your list which is uniquely associated with a large bank.

For many years I was a BOA customer and even a stock holder. No more. BTW - my bank waives ATM fees everywhere - no negotiation required.

Elizabeth Lang's picture

I would definitely be far from a "brainwashed customer." This post was not intended to be about credit unions vs banks or even the benefits and negatives of big banks (most people are well aware of the negatives.) The intention was to point out that there are some benefits to big banks and explain why I like them.
To answer you question: I banked with a small local bank for several years as a teenager. However, I closed my account with them after I was double charged for a transaction (it wasn't fraud but a merchant mistake - but I did not authorize/sign for the second transaction) which resulted in an overdraft fee etc etc. I went to the bank to clear it up and was treated exceptionally rudely. A good lesson of why not to treat young people poorly. I have also banked with a credit union for a business account and had a bad experience - very long lines, bad hours, and the location became inconvenient when I moved. I still currently also bank with several online large banks - including ING and USAA. Hope that answers your question.

Guest's picture
D.J.

I respectfully disagree. This article doesn't seem to have been written by a brainwashed person. I was with a local credit union for 10 years and switched to a big, coast to coast bank. Why? Well, because of all the reasons mentioned in the article. I have a free checking, free savings, low fees on incoming and outgoing wires and convenience of using ATMs all over the country. Plus, you have the apps for your smartphone, no need to run to the bank to deposit a check, free online bill pay, which is outstanding. Yes, there are certain things that I would change about it, for example, having customer service line open 24/7, but I can manage with the 7AM-10PM call center hours. Employees of larger banks also seem to have more knowledge when it comes to banking products, especially international wires. My former credit union couldn't give me the international wiring instructions, and the info they eventually provided me was incorrect and it took them 3 months to locate the funds. With my new big bank, sending and receiving international wires is a breeze: online, using a smartphone app...etc. The point of the article was not to "brainswash" consumers into switching to Bank of America. It was simply a person op-ed about the benefits you get when you're banking with a large financial institution.

Guest's picture
Deborah

I left Wells Fargo after a blatantly fraudulant act. Two large checks - neither of them written to or from me - were forced against my checking account within a two day period. When I went to my local branch to deal with the resultant overdraft situation the manager looked unhappy when I waved the the cancelled checks in front of her and told her that I was sending them to the Federal Reserve since it was pretty obvious to me that this was a ploy to hide bad paper. (Growing up in a family of bankers, I knew about unscrupulous tactics used to clean up the books when auditors are due.) The manager tried to blame it on computer error but when I pointed out that a human hand - not a computer - had written my account number on the checks, she gave up on that story. I got a couple months of free checking to atone for the "mistake". I took advantage of the time to open an account with a local credit union, after which I closed all my accounts with Wells Fargo - including a 15-year-old credit card. I've been with couple of different credit unions for almost 20 years now and never had anything remotely odd/shady/illegal occur with any of my accounts. I have truly free checking along with all other online and in-person services that are available at banks (including automated bill payments and competitive vehicle and home loan rates). There are plenty of ATM's available locally. I've never had to pay an out-of-network fee when using the ATM of another credit union when travelling. The NCUA provides the same level of protection against institution failure as the FDIC. And, like Nancy, I appreciate the absence of "partners" sales pitches. Big banks have gotten far too big and too powerful since their deregulation in the 1980's. It was the shady loan practices of big banks - not credit unions -that precipitated the 2008 recession from which we're STILL trying to recover.

Guest's picture
SD

Wells-Fargo had one shot with me and they way they handled my refinance was abismal. I will NEVER do business with them or BOA if I can help it. I would much rather work with a regional bank or credit union. They have kicked all national banks in the you-know-where when it comes to customer service.

Guest's picture
Randi

We moved from Wells Fargo to a local credit union and couldn't be happier.

Our credit union is part of an ATM co-op, which allows us to use 25,000 ATMs across the country with no fees. If we have to use a non-supported ATM and a bank charges us fees, our credit union will refund us the fees we were charged (up to 3 transactions per month).

My grandmother's plain checks (no fancy design) from Wells Fargo recently cost her over $40, which included $10 shipping. Ours cost us $6 with no shipping. We were told by a credit union employee (that used to work at a large bank) that they get their checks from the same place the large banks do (Harland).

Like Nancy, when I was with Wells, I was getting marketing calls and junk mail (identity theft protection service, yada..yada). The difference is that large banks are out to make money and sees us as dollar signs. People are more than that. I love being part of a credit union. It is better for the health of our country and our communities.

Guest's picture
Guest

This is completely false. Credit Unions offer way more ATMs than any big bank does. Why? Because I can go to almost any other credit union and get my banking done with them also. I also have FREE access to the ATMs in 7-11. And I bet there's a 7-11 even closer to you than your branch office. This entire article is a complete joke.

Generation X Finance's picture

I use a credit union and Chase, but Chase gets most of my business. Chase is especially helpful for my business banking. I get free checks, ATM fee reimbursements, and haven't paid any sort of weird account fee in years. Plus with the great online banking features and technology (like taking a picture of a check with your phone and cashing it electronically) it's hard to do banking with a bank or credit union that doesn't offer those features.

I used to use my credit union for all of my borrowing needs (car loans, mortgage, etc.) because they had better rates, but when we bought a car a few months ago Chase even came in with a lower auto loan rate, by nearly half a percent. I was actually quite shocked by this, but sorry, credit union, I love you, but I'm sticking to who can offer the lowest rate.

Finally, I love the customer service aspect of my big bank. My credit union has very limited hours and virtually no bank by phone options. Also, the few times I've needed customer service they have bent over backward for me. Halfway across the country I was at a non-chase ATM to withdraw money and the ATM didn't spit any money out. But upon inspecting my account online it showed the money was removed from the account. A quick call to Chase and no questions asked, they deposited those funds back into my account immediately.

So, until the bank starts charging me unnecessary fees or treating me poorly, I'll continue to stick with them.

Guest's picture
Guest

As I was reading this article, the thought crossed my mind that it sounds as if it was written by a banker. I am a WF customer for one reason only. Convenience.

Elizabeth Lang's picture

Not a banker - sorry

Guest's picture
CC2

I love my big bank. My family has our personal and business accounts with PNC. We also have an account with a credit union that I have belonged to since high school. I keep it open as a back up but they are too expensive compared to PNC for what we need. And the interest rates aren't any better. Not every big bank is evil and not every credit union is good. Everyone needs to shop and compare in their own locale for their own needs.

Guest's picture

I agree with you. Not all big banks are evil. Depending on the breadth of your relationship with your bank, it impacts the level of service that you receive. Unfortunately, institutions do not treat everyone equal, as it is a for-profit business. In the past, I have called to get reimbursed for fees, as it did not make sense that the institution was not taking a holistic approach to the banking relationship. Though I shouldn't have had to make the call and explain about the different accounts and services I utilize at the firm, a call and some leverage quickly got them to reimburse me!

Guest's picture
Guest

I have to respectfully disagree with you on every single one of your reasons for liking a big bank! Convenience: my credit union allows me to go to ANY ATM worldwide, and they will refund me any fee I uncur. Local: sure, bank employees are local, but my credit union employees probably FEEL more like local employees because they are not overseen by national HR policies and culture. Customer Service: what you described at your big bank is a MINIMUM acceptable level of basic customer service - it is ok to expect more, as I do from my credit union. Stability: have you been around for the last few years? A lot of people probably expected Washington Mutual to be around 70 more years, but that's clearly not the case! Ability to Negotiate: I have never had a big bank willing to negotiate with me because they know they have a million other customers and I am just not that important. On the other hand, my credit union treats me like a valued employee because I am not only a customer, I am a shareholder. And I am more valuable because there just aren't as many of me. I have had a significantly easier time negotiating fees (not that I have to, because my credit union charges no fees for being their customer).

Kentin Waits's picture

Good points, but I think much of the reason why people have left big banks is political. Personally, I have a problem with how big banks acted (and continue to act) during the recession of 2008 - especially with regard to mortgage and re-fi's. I think a lot of people found their attitudes and actions unconscionable and pulled their business purely on principle.

Guest's picture
James

Three of the points mentioned are my reasons why I would prefer big banks: convenience, stability, and banking options.

Guest's picture
Carly

I don't know that many of these are really 'advantages' over small banks or credit unions, though. My credit union is part of a network of credit unions that mean that I have free access to ATMs and branches even when I'm not near my specific credit union. The CU also has a wide variety of products and services, including online banking and all that - I've yet to miss a single thing from my old 'big banks'. My money's insured by the government just as it would be at a larger bank, and my CU has actually been around longer than some of the other bigger options around here. (And it's not constantly changing hands and changing names, either! :)

A particular big bank may offer some advantages over SOME small banks, but big banks also differ from one another in many ways. I hunted around for the perfect alternative because banks have shown us time and time again that there is definitely such a thing as too big to be responsible. I'm not content to do business with a bank that runs wild with policies and practices that are criminal, knowing that the rest of us will bail them out when they get into trouble.

Julie Rains's picture

wow -- it sounds like you have had great experiences with the local branch of the big banks. I have had similar experiences with the smaller ones in my area (actually a savings and loan and a credit union) whereas the larger institutions tend to have long lines and ill-informed staff...and they never recognized me or considered waiving fees no matter how often I showed up.

Guest's picture

Ever since the Bank Transfer Day back in November 2011, the debate about whether big banks are really the best place to keep our credit has been quite fiercely contested. While you have talked about why you like big banks, it is important to see the other side of the discussion too.

The benefits of banking with a credit union range from lower ATM and overdraft fees to free checking accounts. Moreover, they offer lower loan interest rates and higher deposit interest rates. I think that itself is worth it, unless you are somebody who travels/moves regularly.

Yes, big banks are convenient, but in all reality, most credit unions also have fantastic customer support. They might not have a hundred branches in each city, but they don't charge exorbitant fees. Plus, I have read that credit union ATM cards do not charge you extra for withdrawing from non-bank ATMs either.

Sincerely,

James

Guest's picture
Guest

I don't think you have supported your premise with the examples you give for big banks over credit unions. These are very shallow/insignificant examples that can be equalled by the credit union, and the credit union isn't going to invest our money in high-risk investments for profit. That is a huge difference that we absolutely must be making a priority and holding big banks accountable for. If the government isn't going to regulate the big banks to protect us from their games, we have to make decisions that will do this for us!!

Guest's picture
Guest

I disagree with every point you make in this article. My credit union is fantastic (Bayfederal in Santa Cruz).

Customer Service- on most days, better, more personal and more friendly. My bank takes good care of these people, they are making a competitive wage and receiving good benefits. I have seen their job posts.

Stability- Been around for 50 years and federally insured.

Banking Options- Diverse, 1.9% on auto loans, that's very very good.

Ability to Negotiate- There was a great special on one of the big networks, about a furniture manufacturer who inherited the family company and brought it back to the U.S. from China. When he wanted to open the factory in his hometown, he checked with every large institution across the country. He couldn't get financing. Except when he went to his local credit union.

Frankly your piece on big banks is really angering.