In this world of mobile and electronic banking, the idea of actually heading into a branch may seem like an anachronism. But depending on where you bank and what products and services you’ve been using, you may find a visit is well worth the trip.
Earlier this year my mom sat down face-to-face with someone at her bank, and the results were pretty dramatic. She emerged post-checkup with a no-fee safe-deposit box and free foreign ATMs (neither of which she realized she was eligible for). She also got a boost on her money market rate and the promise that if she finds a better deal elsewhere, her bank will match it.
Some banks are aggressively pursuing this checkup approach. PNC, my mom’s bank, is a prime example. "We invite people in to spend a half-hour," says Todd Barnhart, head of retail distribution for PNC Bank. "We review where they are and if the products they purchased from us a year ago, or 20 years ago, still fit."
Even if your bank isn’t offering a PNC-style checkup (call your local branch to ask) you can gin up one of your own. Here’s how.
Get organized. Sometimes a banking checkup works simply because time has passed and you no longer need the products you’ve signed up for or other services may be more appropriate. For example, you may not need the same overdraft protection you once did, thanks to electronic bill pay. Or, you may find you can eliminate fees by linking your separate banking accounts. Are you taking advantage of online tools and other things that may lower your fees? "First make sure the basics of your banking life are right," advises Barnhart.
Research the competition. Once you’re organized, start shopping around to see what else is out there, advises Greg McBride, CFA, chief financial analyst at Bankrate.com. Find out what competing banks are offering for money market and CD rates. Do competitors waive overdraft, ATM and other fees for customers who maintain a certain balance? What is that balance and is it more or less than what your bank requires? What perks are competing banks offering to draw new customers?
Start negotiating. Now that you know what’s out there, you can easily go back to your bank and ask what they can do for you. "Banking is an intensely competitive business and as consumers we can exploit that competition to our benefit," McBride says. Tell your banker what you’ve found and ask if they can match it.
Keep in mind, the higher the balance you have on your combined bank accounts at an institution, the better your bargaining power. "Fee income is important to banks, but so is scale," McBride says. Customers with $100,000 in deposits are extremely valuable, and the bank will likely make concessions to keep them.
Be prepared to walk. If you start the process of negotiating with your bank and it isn’t part of a formal checkup program such as the one at PNC, you need to be aware of the fact that a competing bank may, indeed, be offering better rates and fees. "You have to be prepared to follow through and actually leave," says McBride, even if there are some short-term paperwork hassles to take care of.
Negotiate with your online bank. If you use an online bank without brick-and-mortar branches, you can still use these negotiating tactics. The only difference is you will have your conversations via email or on the customer service phone line. Try to get the name and contact information of one person you can work with who is high enough in the chain of command to make changes in your account. That way when you need to follow up you won’t have to start over again with a stranger.