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Cross-Country Banking and Financial Frustration

This was originally published on CustomerThink, here.

A few years ago, I moved to California from North Carolina.

Anybody who’s made a cross-country move can tell you, you give up a lot. It’s not just your friends and family you leave behind. You lose your dentist, your doctor, your contractors, your mechanic – basically all the local connections you’ve forged over the years.
 

One thing I wasn’t willing to give up was my bank, a local credit union that had provided me years of great customer service and benefits. It was there that I set up my first real bank account, where I received my first credit card and first major loan.

I figured, since most of my transactions were digital – 90% coming from a debit card – why would I need to switch to a California bank? My checks were direct deposit, my bills were paid online, and any question I had could be answered with a quick phone call … at least I thought.
 

I’m not alone in this thinking, according to our recent research, 44% of financial service customers rarely (29%) or almost never (15%) visit physical banks or other financial institutions.

About a week into my move, I hit my first snag with my long distance bank relationship. As it turns out, California homes require a much more sizable security deposits than the standard $150 I was accustomed to submitting. When I went to sign my lease, I was asked to provide a money order that totaled well above my $600/day ATM limit. I didn’t realize the true extent of my dilemma until about 3 p.m. PT, which meant my home bank (operating on a normal 9 to 5a.m. ET schedule) was already closed.

 

After a daylong panic induced dash to find funding, I managed to secure a cash advance from the local Wells Fargo. The next day, I paid back the advance and immediately closed the account. I wasn’t ready to let go of my dear old NC bank just yet.

My second snag, wasn’t as dramatic as the first, but managed to take me a step closer to the door. It was something simple. I wanted to check my account balance and transfer funds from my savings to my checking account. What I failed to realize was that my computer caps lock was on, and I quickly tore through my standard three strike password entry.

Under most circumstances, that problem would have been fairly innocuous. However, this particular Saturday afternoon, I was at risk of over drafting from my account. And much to my disappointment, the web log-in did not contain a password reset. Again, I discovered the issue well past operating hours, so there was nothing I could do. I had to wait about 48 hours, until the Monday opening, to call and reset my password. I was stranded. What could have been a quick online transaction instead became a mounting overdraft fee.

The following Monday consisted of a relatively short phone call with me reciting answers to several password security questions. In total, I burned maybe 5 minutes. But it was enough to put a bad taste in my mouth. Things I had never considered started to taint my view of the bank. Why didn’t they have 24/7 support? Why was it so difficult to unlock my account? How would this continue to impact me throughout my California stay?
 

My third issue put the nail in the coffin. April, my birthday month, was full of surprises. Not only did I see a surplus of checks arrive as gifts (something uncommon since I passed my 18th b-day), but I also received a sizable reimbursement from a security deposit that I had long forgotten.

I was excited to be money flush, but that excitement soon faded when I realized I had no place to cash my checks. Sure, I had direct deposit set for work. But my NC bank wasn’t exactly a modern practice. There was no photo deposit option, and really no way for me to convert the check digitally into my account.

Again, I was forced into one of the California banks. For each check I cashed, I lost a flat $6 and about 1% of each total. It nibbled at my funds, just enough to spark a slight rage.
 

The next day, I closed my NC bank account and tracked down a more suitable local financial institution.

In retrospect, I was pretty stubborn about my whole bank situation. But there are some good teachable moments for banks looking to retain fussier customers:
 

  • 24/7 access is pretty important. Your bank may have a closing time, but people travel, spend money and encounter financial obstacles outside of your 9 to 5 hours. Twenty percent of financial services customers report having issues accessing their information either sometimes, often or very often. If your institution can’t solve critical problems after hours, you may be losing customers to competition that can.

 

  • Homegrown banks are awesome… but they aren’t immune to the digital demands of today. Things like photo check deposit aren’t just flash-in-the-pan trends you can ignore. Digital convenience is opening the door to competition. Even if you want to remain small, your institution should stay ahead of major trends to retain customers.

 

  • Security is important, but it shouldn’t become an unnecessary obstacle for your customers. Fifty-nine percent of financial service customers would be willing to add an additional password to their financial account, sacrificing speed of access for security. I’m clearly in the minority. This doesn’t mean there isn’t a safe middle ground. Secure financial information as much as possible. But make sure there are easy password recovery functions. Don’t make me call if I don’t have to!

Want to learn more about what financial service customers want? Check out our new e-book and learn tips and tricks to help your financial institution stay ahead of the game.

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