Active Rain March 23, 2010

Are Credit Unions the Answer?

George Mantor’s article “Is It Time to Go on The Offensive?” has me thinking. Mantor echoes the dissatisfaction most of us have with both the government and large banks, and he announces that he is switching to a credit union for his banking. He is using his economic vote. Should we all? 

In 2005, when I started my company, I grew dissatisfied with Chase. I thought I’d stay local and started an account with a community bank in town. Checks took a long while to clear, my ATM card incurred a fee everywhere, and Internet banking wasn’t available. That account was closed within a year. It wasn’t convenient. I elected to go with a large institution. So, my accounts and money went to Washington Mutual. They were friendly and convenient. What I didn’t know was that they were going bankrupt. 

Chase absorbed Washington Mutual in late 2008. After 2 1/2 years of happy banking, I was back with that large, uncaring monolith. Little changed at first- it was the same branch and staff. Today, however, I am back to 2005 with Chase. The branch staff are new and uncaring save for one (nervous) holdover teller from the WaMu days, and customer service is an exercise in futility. 

Is Mantor’s method the way to go? Is switching my business to a credit union or smaller local bank going to make a difference? If thousands of us switched billions of assets away from the Giants, would they change their tune? And would we be able to put up with less convenience, slower processing and other disadvantages of a smaller place? Or have the smaller operations caught up? To me, a credit union with Internet banking would sound perfect. 

Would we do better with smaller banks in spite of small inconveniences? And would it make a difference if we did?