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.
Television grew up with me. That's right; I'm a baby boomer, leading edge.
I remember TV in its infancy. I also remember a time when banks were jam-packed full of customers. They were centers of activity manned by full-time staff. There was always someone on duty to help you. To be fair, it wasn't utopia. In fact, by today's standards, banking was a bit primitive. To conduct your business, you actually had to enter a bank. But once you did, there were scores of tellers and platform staff to help you. Novel idea, wasn't it? Why, banks even had hostesses.
Don't ask me how, but the staff could always tell a novice customer from a veteran. If they sensed you were unsure of how to proceed, they would offer assistance, listen intently and direct you accordingly. To be even fairer, a price (not a fee) had to be paid for the attention and service. Yes, there was a time when bank customers had to stand on long, winding lines. Oh, how I miss those.
You see, it wasn't all that bad. It was a bit like Disney World. The lines were always in motion and, when you reached their end, you were rewarded for your patience with a correct and completed transaction. The lines, the crowds and the activity all added a sense of community. I remember the sense of belonging to something worthwhile every time I visited my bank. The crowds gave me confidence that my money was safe and that my transactions would be handled with competence. My bank cared for my business; they did so by investing in me. They designated the resources to ensure that when I left the bank, I was satisfied and would return.
That's what I want from banking today. I want my bank to care. I want to be satisfied. I want to look forward to doing more business with my bank, not less.
My dear wife absolutely loves electronic banking. If she's on her smartphone, she's banking. If she's on our computer, she's banking. If she's on the computer behind locked doors, she's doing secret banking.
Believe me, I get electronic banking. I also get the growth in the number of banks in my neck of the woods. Back in the day, we had two, maybe three, savings and loans and two commercial banks. Now we have a plethora of community banks and branches of regional and national banks. A few of these banks reside in the stately brick-and-mortar edifices of yore, albeit under different banners. Many of the newer banks in town have set up shop in former retail establishments. To my taste, I still prefer entering a structure built for the express purpose of being a bank.
I can do the math: more people engaged in electronic banking across more financial institutions equals no more jam-packed banks. The long lines are gone, but, thanks to technology, we now have virtual lines. I can still take comfort in them.
I must admit that, for the most part, the closest my wife gets to a bank is the outside ATM. But there are times when we do suit up and head for our local branch. We do this to handle what we consider life's exceptional transactions. You know what I mean: the sunrise to sunset transactions; the ones that do or should require human contact; the ones that require at least a little knowledge of our part, but a whole lot of knowledge on the part of the bank staff.
With no more lines and far more banks to choose from, I want the bank I select to handle my exceptional transactions exceptionally. I want to begin and end my business with a handshake. I want to leave my bank knowing that my visit was and always will be worthwhile.
Reginald Skowronski retired from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in 2004.