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When Choosing a Bank, What Matters Most?

By Cathy Planchart, Senior Project Manager


Many people consider banking a commodity; what each bank offers is pretty much interchangeable. So, when a person goes shopping for a bank, what attributes factor into their choice? To explore this question, I took myself shopping for a new bank. Being middle-aged and more of a traditionalist, I narrowed my shopping list to four banks in my town which I could personally visit. I’ve been thinking of opening a retail store, so I decided to inquire about a business checking account.

Bank #1 – a regional bank. I was personally greeted and then referred to the branch manager, “as she knows more about business checking accounts than I do.” The manager introduced herself and invited me into her office. She asked many questions, showing a genuine interest in my new business, and shared a lot of good information. She explained the paperwork I needed to open an account and provided excellent product recommendations. I left knowing they have great services for businesses and carrying a flyer she printed off outlining a special package of products for small businesses with attractive pricing.

Bank #2 was a national bank. Again, I was personally greeted and then referred to the assistant branch manager. I explained I wanted to know about business checking accounts. He responded, “There isn’t enough time to open an account right now.” It was 4:45pm. I said, “I’m just inquiring.” So, we went to his office, and he asked a lot of questions, even the name of my potential store! He shared with me a very comprehensive saddle stitched brochure about business banking products, highlighting what turned out to be the highest-level checking account. Before leaving, he gave me three business cards: his, one for merchant services, and the branch manager’s. He added, “He [the branch manager] is really great at helping small businesses.” I asked, “How much time is needed to open a business checking account?” He replied, “30-40 minutes.”

Bank #3 was a community bank, based in my home state. It had that community bank feel with five different styles of 2023 calendars on the counter for the taking and signs announcing their current food drive. I was greeted upon entering and after presenting my request, the person walked away, got a brochure, opened it to the page describing the business checking accounts, and laid it down on the counter. I proceeded to read it to myself. She was silent, didn’t ask any questions, and never mentioned her name. I thanked her and left, taking the brochure with me. It does have a lot of information about all banking services, but this was never pointed out. The employee was very disengaged.

Bank #4 was also a community bank. There was just one person working behind the counter, helping a customer, with another waiting. To pass the time I picked up a Business Banking brochure from the counter. When it was my turn, again I was referred to the branch manager. She walked me through the account options using some laminated sheets. I was surprised to learn there was a $10/month fee for online bill pay and she recommended I get checks from a 3rd party, “not our expensive vendor.” She did most of the talking but did ask a few questions and explained the documents I would need to open my account.

After reflecting on these experiences, for me the most important attributes in choosing a bank were my personal interaction with the banker, the level of interest they took in me and my business, receiving service recommendations matched to my needs and having a comprehensive offering of tools and services. So, who did I choose? Bank #1.

I found it interesting that in all instances, the person greeting me could not handle my inquiry about business checking accounts and referred me to someone else. Perhaps this is a process banks have instituted to get a “warm lead” to someone who has more experience at closing the sale. Certainly, employees receive product and sales training. Are they further supported with product information guides and sales tip sheets to which they can refer? In all instances I was able to leave with some printed information about available products and services, which I found helpful. It was obvious the bankers found the brochures equally helpful for leading our conversation.

MKP communications inc. is a New-York based marketing communications agency specializing in merger/change communications for the financial services industry.