Why I’m Looking for a New Bank

On December 18, 2012 Mr. Paul Downs of the New York Times wrote an interesting article about how small business owners are often forced to change bank relationships after being a loyal customer for many years. How many of you have had a similar experience?

It started with little annoyances, the kind of stuff that you overlook when you are truly committed to a relationship. But lately I’m having a hard time pretending that things are O.K. Certain behaviors stick in my mind for weeks at a time — some of them blatant, some half-hidden and even more worrisome. But the most recent incident was the last straw.

I’ve tried to forgive, and I know that the actual breakup will be messy. We’ve been together for so long. I’ve been telling everyone about us for years. I can’t just make a clean cut — there’s going to be an extended period when I need to notify everyone I know that it’s over. That, more than anything else, keeps me from pulling the trigger. But the love? It’s long gone. I’m back in the market. I’m looking for a new bank.

I’ve been with the same big regional bank for many years, since 2003. It has an extensive presence in my area, with branches that are very convenient for me. We started using the bank for credit card processing services, and it provided quick posting of transactions — days faster than our earlier provider.

In the years leading up to the Great Recession, I was very happy with the bank. It provided nice face-to-face service at the branches. I had a $100,000 line of credit, which wasn’t hard to get, and the interest rate was reasonable. I never got much pressure from the bank to make principal payments, and it never seemed to worry about whether the debt would be repaid. (It was — my former partner took care of it one night in 2008.)

The first sign of trouble came when I applied to re-establish the line of credit last fall. I was looking for a bread-and-butter, $100,000 credit line as a backstop while we completed a large job for the World Bank. I won’t go into the details, but in the end the bank made it clear that it didn’t much care whether it did business with me or not. As it turned out, I never came close to needing the short-term cash, so I shrugged and put it out of my mind.

Then, this spring, I spent some time talking to an independent credit card processor, Emerald World, and its salesman showed me exactly how the bank was overcharging me for credit card processing. Again, the details are complicated, but it was clear that not only was the processing overpriced but also the merchant statements were written in a way that made it very hard to track down the exact cost of each transaction. We run a lot of credit card transactions, for very large amounts, so I was interested to learn that we could potentially save thousands of dollars. I have not switched to Emerald World — I had some questions about the company’s terms — but it was an eye-opening meeting.

To add insult to injury, the lease on our credit card terminal ended in June and the bank representative who called me about it was very unpleasant. I had agreed to lease the terminal out of stupidity, basically, and have been paying $48 a month for four years. Not only is that a ridiculous amount to pay for a terminal — you can buy the same terminal for a couple of hundred dollars — but I think the bank should be willing to cut a deal with a longtime customer who has been providing it with substantial revenues. The encounter left a bad taste in my mouth. (For now, I’m sticking with the bank’s terminal on a month-to-month basis while I try to make time to look for a better deal.)

O.K., some banks are greedy and don’t care much about their small customers. But what happened next was more worrisome. In late September, anonymous hackers attacked the Web sites of several major banks. I found myself unable to obtain access to my business accounts. Not just for an afternoon, as happened with my Wells Fargo personal accounts, but for three days.

In fact, service was still intermittent the following week. It happened again on Dec. 2. And again last week. Unlike the first time, these recent incidents have not made the news. And the bank has done little to reassure me that it has things under control. As I said, I have personal accounts with Wells Fargo, so I have a handy point of reference when I can’t get into my business accounts. Either the hackers aren’t attacking Wells Fargo — seems unlikely, but who knows? — or my business bank’s response has been inept. I’m guessing the latter.

I drive by one of the bank’s branches on my way home every night. If I saw a broken front door and flashlights inside, I’d be worried about my bank. Having my online banking taken down by hackers three times in the last three months doesn’t feel much different. I think it’s time to go.

Here is what I’m looking for: a bank with convenient branches that is big enough to have excellent technology (A.T.M.’s and Web site) and good security. I’m thinking Citizens Bank. Anyone have a better suggestion?

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