This essay is one in a series written by GTA students for American Banker magazine’s Bank Think blog.
Ever since the financial crisis and news of banks’ home loan sharking, I have been edgy about going to banks for any kind of service.
I have used financial services in the past at banks and credit unions. I opened an account with a credit union because of the lack of professionalism at a specific bank where I was a customer. A while ago, I incurred and paid a fee to this bank, but it showed up as unpaid when I was trying to open an account somewhere else. I made a ton of phone calls and sent emails to no avail. The bank never helped me remove the fee from my record.
Honesty is the best policy. Banks sincerely need to practice this by introducing fair, straightforward products with no hidden fees of any sort. This will make their business more ethical and make it more likely that people will choose to walk through their doors.
I’m not the only person who no longer trusts banks enough to do business with them. Back in 2011, people came out in the streets during the Occupy Wall Street movement and demanded change from government and banks. They wasted little time waiting for the banks to react and put matters into their own hands by holding “Bank Transfer Day.” An estimated 214,000 moved their money from banks to credit unions around that time.
Unless someone is knowledgeable about banking, and how it works, they feel reluctant to even approach a bank. I would feel better about banking at a place that took an active role in educating the public on the financial system and how it works. In counties around the U.S., there should be free workshops on Banking 101. These workshops should be funded by the bank themselves. They could address topics like money management, avoiding overdraft fees, the rules and regulations of the banking industry or how to determine what bank is right for you.
Banks can afford to sponsor these programs. In 2012, the banks in the U.S. made a net profit of $141.3 billion according to Bloomberg. I’m sure they could spare some of that money for a greater cause.
I would also like to see banks do community outreach in impoverished neighborhoods. I know many have worked with non-profit organizations in the past, but I think they could go further. A bank could, for example, sponsor public health programs or support schools and their after-care programs.
Before the banks can go into the community, they need to make sure they hire the right people. My previous experience with the bank I mentioned made me feel disregarded. The bank didn’t seem to care much for my business.
I would suggest hiring people who have a passion for ethical work: people who want to do honest business with the average man or woman and give them a complete breakdown on any puzzling paperwork, confusing mathematics or common bank-related mistakes when they sign up for an account.
Community outreach, public education, a focus on ethics and honesty, and straightforward services would help banks regain my trust. These are practices that can become a way of life passed down from a person, to family, to generations.
Demetrius Phillips is a student in Oakland, California, and an alumnus of Game Theory Academy.