Banks

In the vein of my posts about companies that have worked really well and/or really poorly for me:

I was a Bank of America customer for about 20 years. When I moved to D.C., I could no longer rely on my hometown bank account. At the time, the best option I could find was Nationsbank. Big company, plenty of locations near everywhere I was. Nationsbank eventually merged with BankAmerica and became Bank of America. And those early years were fine. The branches I was using were all in good neighborhoods, and provided decent service.

But when I started venturing out of the commercial core of DC, I found the smaller, neighborhood branches were very lacking. A branch in Adams Morgan that seemed to be little more than a dirty white room with bullet-proof glass windows along one wall. An abandoned branch on H Street that was mostly used by homeless people as a place to sleep, in it’s still functioning ATM vestibule. When I moved to the east side of town, my new local branch was at least superficially in better shape. But it was incredibly understaffed, resulting in regular 20-30 minute waits for anything. They started playing fast and loose with the promises as well. Agreements I worked out in person with a bank representative would suddenly disappear a year later, resulting in fees that had supposedly been waived. Services that they once marketed were suddenly gone, with no notice. Of course my own experience is nothing compared with what the people who held mortgages with Bank of America experienced during the sub-prime mortgage crisis. That really left me with no illusions about their ethical standards.

And one day they caught me when I was too close to the edge, after years of frustration with them. They refused to make a deposit until I filled out a deposit slip, (even though they regularly did so). But they couldn’t provide me with a pen to fill out the form. It was absolutely ridiculous, but I’d had enough. This is the second biggest bank in the country, in a branch that was always busy, and they couldn’t provide a pen. Straw… camel. I snapped at the teller, walked out, and never returned until I was ready to close my accounts.

I’d been looking for banks and/or credit unions for years, but this became a prime motivator. And after research, visits, and questions, I ended up at TD Bank. This was not a mega bank with a million options. They had set packages at a variety of levels. I was actually able to get better terms than I could from Bank of America. The service staff has been absolutely amazing, every time I’ve talked with them. They’ve always been ridiculously friendly, and well informed and well trained in their jobs. The wait for a live or automated teller has never been more than 2 people. And their branches — in every neighborhood I’ve visited — have all been incredibly well set-up and maintained. Figurative case-studies in branding and design. Their phone app has worked well. They have better security practices. And their relatively small number of locations/ATMs is made up for by reimbursements on 3rd party ATM fees. (And lest I make them sound too small and quaint… they are the #8 or #9 bank (by assets) in the US.) Six months on, and I really can’t believe how much better the experience is.

And yes, they always have pens available — a bin full. And lollipops. And dog treats.

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