A No-Brainer Choice

Article excerpt

Tales of a big bank refugee and community bank convert

Editor's Note: Everyday it seems another big-bank merger hits the head-lines. As the number of banking institutions winnows day by day, consumers feel the turmoil-often through higher fees and less personal service. This column by Peter G. Miller is a reminder of the growing opportunities today's banking climate offers community bankers.

In the eyes of big banking, I am a inner of the first magnitude. My offense is not overdrafts or bounced checks, but rather the undeniable fact that I am selfemployed.

I last held a job in 1971, and since then have managed to cobble together a reasonable existence as an author and consultant. Clients and publishers pay for my thoughts and words, and I gleefully deposit their checks.

This was a fine arrangement, and everyone seemed pleased until a few weeks ago when the huge financial institution where I have banked for nearly 15 years suddenly decided they could not accept my deposits. The problem, it seems, was that some checks were made out to the business name I use in trade and not the name on my birth certificate.

"These checks were good last month," I said to the banker. "In fact, this bank has been taking these checks for more than a decade and not one has bounced. I operate a sole proprietorship. I have no partners and no shareholders. There is no difference between me and the name on this check."

"Well," explained the bank officer, "you operate a business and thus require a business account. You can deposit this check into the business account and shift it into the personal account. I can sign you up for a business account right now. The cost is only $13 a month, plus a fee for checks."

"You mean you will only take my money if I give you $13 a month?"

"Yes. That's our policy."

Well, OK, two can play this game. Depositors of the world unite-you have nothing to lose but excess fees and indifferent service. If bankers can have policies, so can consumers. Here are mine.

First, I don't do business with any bank that has more personnel than the Norwegian Army. What used to be my local bank has been bought, sold, absorbed and downsized to the point where it is now a minor outpost of some distant financial colossus. Since I don't need $500 million to open an electronics plant in Thailand, it's fairly plain that my status as a desirable client is in question.

Second, I don't do business with any bank where the president cannot be reached with a local phone call. With the old bank, the president seems to have moved over the years from downtown, to the suburbs, to another part of the state and finally to a different time zone. …