Readers Respond & Debate
Note: Denny Hatch personally responds to all correspondence.
Readers Respond to "Making a Complex Business Consumer Friendly," which discussed the differences between Internet banking and the brick-and-mortar branch banks.
If online banking people could be trained by the folks of USAA Federal Savings Bank (www.usaa.com) on the fine art of delighting my hard nose, the need for bricks would crumble. My wife, CPT Sonia Hearn RN, serves with the 10th Combat Support Hospital in Baghdad, Iraq. At any point on the earth, she or I can lift a phone and speak to a sunny service representative while pondering our account status online. Granted USAA requires a niche clientele, armed forces families, past or present. However, their helpful passion is tangible on the phone. They know how to serve. Every person we contact speaks with empathy and respect. It's like talking with a favorite cousin. Sonia and I are accustomed to maintaining an intense relationship long distance on the phone. Her deployment has focused our attention on the important things: our love and our nest. Thankfully USAA can be trusted with our nest. Our faith takes care of the rest.
I found your article about banking very interesting. Due to a series of bank buyouts I found myself with my personal accounts at Fifth Third Bank. When I go there in person (which is as rarely as possible) I find the employees bland and the atmosphere impersonal. They still do everything "on paper" if you can believe that and deposits aren't posted to the accounts until midnight! On the other hand I have my business accounts at a smaller local bank & trust. It doesn't matter if I go in every day or once every few months. The employers are always super friendly and most know me by name. If I have a problem or question I can pick up the phone and get assistance almost immediately. I haven't seen any coffee available but, I'm sure if I asked for it, someone would fetch it for me. Unbelievable the difference in the total experience between the two.
It's interesting that things have come full circle (as always) in banking. I helped introduce ATM cards in Chicago through First Chicago what, now, nearly 20 years ago? First Chicago had found through research that people were a lot more careful with their money than tellers and that errors went down when people did their own deposits (and ATMs were far more accurate in counting out withdrawals). The need for labor also went down, and I'm sure that, too, was an incentive. I personally didn't "get" the need for ATMs then; but I didn't "get" the need for the Sears Discover Card, either, and both were wildly successful (as were my promotions for same). I don't have a Discover card, but I confess I can't live without an ATM card, which makes cashless living nearly possible. Then I spent a lot of time and effort in the late '90s helping Wells Fargo "transition" (i.e., train) as many customers as possible to STOP using brick and mortar banking in favor of using ATMs. Wells did some pretty draconian things, including trying to charge people for face-time. Maybe they still do, I don't know. The stuff I did mainly revolved around giving depositors a $25 reward if they'd use their ATM cards 3x in a month or something. Can't remember all the details. Again, their research indicated that about 45% of their depositors simply did not want to use ATMs -- they were stuck on face-time, brick-and-mortar banking, much to Wells's disgust. Wells was a great client to work for in terms of money and getting paid on time, but I had a hard time respecting a business that was completely, utterly contemptuous of the 45% who didn't bank online. Wells really (and they were completely open about this in meetings) hated consumer banking because that pesky 45% cut into their profit. Wells is still a place where I will not bank (but of course would be happy to do more DM for them and should go look them up again, except I'm too darned busy). All of this is to say that certain banks, finally, seem to have realized that those 45% will (like you) be darned loyal if offered a cup of coffee and a bit less confusion. Tour guides and latte -- vive la banking 1900's ala 21st Century! And we continue to reinvent the wheel... or the banker... P.S. I'm a local banking person and an Ever-Banker, too, mainly because I buy Euros and you can open a world currency account there with as little as $5k, then deposit as much extra as you want. As long as our national balance sheet keeps careening south and looking more and more like that of Argentina or Mexico, there's a place for the EverBank's of the world. I've actually found them easy to deal with.
I love your columns; always have. But your put-down of cyberbanks is totally unfounded. I've always thought you so progressive for your age, but you're living in the dark ages, my friend, if you haven't enjoyed the security and convenience of Internet banking. I've been with Everbank for nearly 10 years and I've never looked back (or inside a bricks and mortar bank) with a centavo of regret. You missed on this subject by a mile!
I don't always have time to read each one of your newsletters, but when I do, I always enjoy it! You are an entertaining, informative, and (best of all) intelligent writer. Keep up the good work.