Guess what? Banks are in business to make money!!

Okay. I can hear you laughing at me from here. Stop that.

When I was a kid my family had a change jar. Lots of families have them. You take whatever change from your pockets at the end of the day and put it in the jar. Change adds up and when you need some, you take it. For most of us, this was our first taste of banking. We learned that when we put money away it’s there for us when we need it. That’s simple.

I’ve been in bankruptcy twice. Obviously there’s something about this system I don’t understand. I put my money in the bank and… wait… what do you mean it isn’t there? Where’d it go? Fees? Fees for what? Banking fees. Oh. I see. Now, a bank has to pay its staff to do their jobs and help you understand their system and get the most for your money. I get that. I’m willing to pay what’s fair, for the services I use. Except I don’t use them.

Other than today, the last time I was physically in a bank was about a month ago. The bank had switched me from my student status to their regular status without telling me. Instead of putting my account in a low fee account (which would make sense since I just graduated school), they put it in their regular fee account. The result was that my habit of paying by debit cost me nearly $70. Yes, you heard me, $70. I’m not kidding.

I discovered they had a flat rate account that would accommodate my debit use and would only cost me $13 a month. When I asked why they didn’t revert me to this account they said it wasn’t their policy. When I asked why I was told simply that changing it to the regular fee account was their policy. Huh? Redundant is redundant.

Now, as I said, I do think that I should pay a fair rate for the services I use. Except, I don’t use them. I have mentioned before that I’ve gone paperless in my life and that means doing banking by phone or computer. Rarely, very rarely, do I ever go into the bank itself. Yet, I just realized today that I’m being charged to have a bank there.

Today I went into the President’s Choice Financial Bank. I’m sure you’ve seen them, they’re tucked away in the corner of your local Real Canadian Superstore. They’re tiny, little corners, usually a desk, a cabinet, a bank machine and a computer. Not much more than that. They’re kind of cute, actually. However, this small little office made me feel more welcome than the bank I’ve been dealing with for more than 20 years.

Let’s do a comparison, shall we? My regular bank is a nation-wide financial institution. If you enter into the bank you will see a main reception desk where a lovely lady sits. Unfortunately, due to the placement of her chair and me standing above her, I can usually see directly down her shirt. I’m not opposed, but I don’t think I need to pay for that. Keep moving in the bank and you will see rows of offices where the bank managers sit. Move a little further and you see rows of tellers. Men and women positioned behind a large shelf-like counter. It’s all professional and clean and cold. This is what a bank is, isn’t it?

I went into the President’s Choice Financial Bank and there was a lovely young lady using a rug sweeper to make sure her area was clean. Just her. No rows of managers and tellers. One computer. Not banks of them. Wait a minute. Where were the managers advising me on how to give them my money? Where were the tellers taking my money? Hmm…

This woman was wonderful. She was one-stop shopping. She advised me on saving my money, different account types and what would suit my needs best. She talked about interest rates and how to save for the future. She even advised me on GICs and RRSPs. I don’t get that when I go to my regular bank. I have to make an appointment and wait. Sometimes for days. This woman joked with me and talked about the events of the day. I discovered she has an 11-year-old son and is a single mother. As a writer, I love these details. She’s a real person with real cares. In turn, I felt as though she cared about me.

That’s when I discovered that President’s Choice Financial doesn’t have any fees. Like the change jar, I put my money in, I take my money out. My money. I’m not paying to have a teller I never see or managers who never do anything for me. As I said, I do everything myself with an occassional phone call to straighten out a glitch or error. I like doing it that way. Gives me a greater sense of control over my money. I do believe it’s a lack of control that led to my two bankruptcies.

There was one last problem with my regular bank. I’ve been banking with them for almost 20 years and have let them have their own way for that time. I was told something was policy and left it at that. Recently I’ve been trying to recoup my credit rating and get back on steady footing financially. That’s where a bank comes in, right? Not in the case of my regular bank. Many times I’ve tried to find a solution for myself that the bank will help me with. Turns out, bankruptcy twice means “we don’t have to do crap for you.” When I tried to apply for a line of credit, my regular bank drew a line in the sand. I couldn’t even get the five-day hold on my incoming cheques released. My regular bank will do nothing.

At President’s Choice Financial, I still have the five-day hold for now. However, that depends on me. If I deposit money on a regular basis, don’t bounce checks and keep a positive balance, that hold should be released in about six months. Not only that, but President’s Choice Financial also helped me to apply for a line of credit. I wasn’t simply turned away and told there was no sense in applying. The woman at this bank offered me solutions that the bank can help me with. Real solutions. I may not get the line of credit, but I’m closer than I was before.

Bankruptcy has taught me a lot about myself and my finances. I’m far more careful now than I was before and I’m much more savvy than I was. This isn’t to say I’m a financial genius. Numbers still confuse me. However, I now realize that paying for services I’m not using is stupid. I don’t mean this blog to be an advertisement for any one financial institution. Banks do need to know, though, that their ways aren’t going to cut it for much longer. People aren’t going to keep paying for them to line their pockets.

It’s my jar. It’s my money.