I'm a minimalist when it comes to banking. Basically, I just want low fees, a debit card that works and a customer service rep to answer the phone when it doesn't. I only go to the ATM about once a month and into a branch about once every six months or so. In other words, my primary objective is to have my checking account occupy as little space in my brain as possible.
But I understand there are plenty of folks out there who want more from a bank. They want cushy branches, "high-touch" service and other perks. To please those looking for a bank willing to take a broader role in their financial lives, an outfit called First Cherokee State Bank is creating a retail banking franchise called "Acru," starting with a location in Woodstock, Ga.
More a financial services store than a branch, a typical Acru location will feature a coffee bar, share space with local nonprofits looking for places to meet, and even have a "Wisdom Bar" modeled on Apple's Genius Bars. That last bit, and the idea of providing lite financial advice to the masses, is to me the most interesting part of Acru's pitch. From the press release:
To accomplish this truly personalized service, an Acru wealth strategist is dedicated to managing their client’s entire portfolio of financial needs. Regardless of a client's socioeconomic status, the strategist will navigate them through meetings with an array of Acru experts from various financial services disciplines to contribute to and implement the client’s holistic plan.
Lots of banks have "wealth management services" available by appointment, but this concept seems unique in that the adviser is an integral part of the bank's everyday services. I'd be curious to find out how these "strategists" are going to be credentialed, and whether there's going to be a suitability or fiduciary standard applied to them. The latter basically comes down to whether they have to recommend products that are in the client's best interest, or products that are simply "suitable."
Matt Hames, certified trust and financial adviser and president of Acru, promises in the press release that the advice will be "product-agnostic," meaning advisers won't be expected to push Acru products and services. If that's true, then, what's the compensation structure? Are they going to be paid hourly fees or a commission? Are bank customers going to be asked to pay an hourly or per-visit fee at any point?
These questions are important. As much as the Genius Bar is nice, the worst thing that can happen if your Genius doesn't quite live up to his or her title is you've got a screwed-up computer or MP3 player. On the other hand, a bad adviser can screw up your entire life in a way that a broken computer would have a hard time matching.
Still, I like the idea of providing some kind of "coordinated financial care" akin to a primary care provider in medicine. In my experience, a lot of people's financial lives are fragmented, disorganized and haphazard, and a lot of that is because they don't have any formal financial adviser to help them tie it together.
People could stand to get more sound, individualized financial advice, and if having it available during the course of their weekly banking chores helps them get that, then it's a good thing. The question becomes, though, how, and to what end, is that advice provided?
What do you think? Would you want to see a financial adviser at your bank?