Editor's Note: This post is part of an ongoing series in which customers from different demographics describe what they are looking for from the financial firms they do business with.
Let me put it this way: I prefer the old-fashioned banking model. I don't care for mobile banking. I don't own an iPhone. I like my BlackBerry and I'm fine banking in a physical branch. The absence of mobile banking will not prompt me to change my bank. I live in the city. It's not a big deal for me to walk into a branch; they're all over the place. I appreciate the friendly staff and I almost never have to wait in line. If I lived in the suburbs and had to drive, then perhaps, I would use mobile banking more often.
I pay my bills online, but prefer to make deposits and withdrawals (over $500) with a person. I also need a live teller when I manage my brokerage and retirement account. My bank has assigned a person to oversee this account. Sometimes they call me to discuss my holdings, which is unnecessary because if I wanted to do something, I would've approached them myself. I think they got the message because after a while they stopped calling me, which I also appreciate. I don't like to be hustled. In short, a good bank has to be there when I need it to be, no more or no less.
I'm generally suspicious of any banking innovations. Any creative banking is an automatic blinking red light in my book. New products and services rarely are directed at making my life easier. Instead, they are meant to improve a bank's bottom line at my expense.
The two primary functions of banking should be to take deposits and to make loans. All other services should be supplementary to these two primary activities. I wish banks would refocus more on traditional services. This is particularly true when it comes to making loans, given all that money from the Federal Reserve sitting on the banks' balance sheets
For instance, I have about 70% equity in my apartment, but I'm unemployed which automatically disqualifies me from getting a new loan. Do banks seriously expect me to become delinquent? At 70% equity, they should want me to default! If I were a bank, I'd follow me around with offers to refinance! Refi-loans to the unemployed with a lot of equity – sounds like a great new business.
Unfortunately, it seems the current-day banking model adheres to the following pattern: Interest rates are low; investment opportunities are scarce. Profits are lower. Something must be done! Let's ramp up the fees on poor customers.
I've been privileged to be able to maintain a balance that keeps me from being charged all kinds of fees. But it's easy to forget how expensive it is to be poor. Back in my student days, I always walked a fine line paying for groceries while trying to avoid overdraft fees. My occasional single-digit overdrafts usually resulted in a $25 fee, which was devastating for a student just trying to scrape by.
Banking on the poor and the weak to make a mistake seems unethical. Banks these days are in the business of maximizing profits; serving customers comes second. In modern day banking, customers are just a means to make shareholders happy. It seems like a myopic, unsustainable business model, but, I guess, that's the new zeitgeist.
Katya Grishakova left the financial industry after spending more than a decade at various Wall Street firms. She is now a board member of ACT NOW, a New York progressive organization.