Why Entrepreneurs Should Embrace Bank Transfer Day

November 11, 2011

Big Bank Little Business

In the first few months of working with me, clients get this advice: “move your banking to a small bank and develop a relationship with your banker.” Unfortunately, clients rarely take the advice. The reasons I’m given are everything from the obvious “I like the convenience of ATMs everywhere” to the inane “but I’ve been banking with them since high school.” Yes, you’ve been banking with them since high school, and you’ve had a business account with them for 20 years. Does anyone there ever talk to you? Help you? Advise you? I didn’t think so.

When I started seeing momentum building around Bank Transfer Day, I was excited. Not because I embrace the philosophy behind the movement, though I do, but because I knew that one outcome of the movement would be that thousands of entrepreneurs would end up in stronger, more supportive banking relationships.

Big banks do not support small business owners. They just don’t.

Whenever I see banking slogans, I imagine myself in a conversation with the president of the bank. So, Mr. Brian Moynihan, how is it that through banking with Bank of America, my service-based client with annual revenues under $500,000 will “get just what [he] needs for [his] business?“ And, Mr. John Stumpf, how is it that Wells Fargo will help my small not-for-profit client who is “working to build a successful business?“ When you go to Chase.com, they clearly delineate the playing field for you. Business banking is for those with revenues up to $10,000,000. Is your business nearing $10,000,000? If so, that’s great. Perhaps you should be banking at a big bank. But for the rest of us, the 99% of business owners if you will, we’ll be ecstatic when our revenues reach $1,000,000, or even $500,000. And until your business starts to approach those million dollar numbers, your banker is not likely to spend much time thinking about you, or even bothering to remember your name.

That is just one small reason I’m a huge fan of local banks and credit unions. My other three favorite reasons are:

  • Big banks have a revolving door for employees. Just when you get to know your bank manager, she’s promoted to some bigger branch or department and you’re left building another new banking relationship with another green bank manager.
  • Employees at small banks are given the latitude to make decisions and use their judgment. Employees at big banks rarely have the ability to override bank policies and procedures, even the most minor ones.
  • You matter. Even if your business is very small, a small business bank values you as a customer. There is almost always going to be an actual human being who truly wants your business.

The turning point for me, the moment that I became clear that all small businesses should be with a small bank, was when I learned first hand what my favorite Manager at PriceWaterhouseCoopers once told me: “Being a bank manager at a big bank is akin to being a manager at McDonalds. You have very firm policies and procedures, and it is your job to ensure that they are followed. There is no room for judgment or reason.”

I had seen this play out with clients in my first few years of advising small business owners. I’d have conversations with their bank managers about some decision that didn’t make sense, one that was hurting my client’s cash flow or ability to borrow. There was always a policy behind the decision. It was annoying, but I’m a big fan of systems so it generally made sense and I learned in those first few years that you can’t budge a big bank.

And then something happened with my business at my big bank. I made a mistake. I deposited a very large check into the ATM. I knew better. I was in a hurry and wasn’t thinking. And the minute that happened the time clock went off on a 14 day hold. But I needed the cash in 7 days. It was the experience of talking to the branch manager and department heads who could have reversed the hold (they knew the check had cleared) that implanted in my mind, I will never bank at a big bank again.

I moved to Sacramento’s River City Bank. I am a tiny client there, as are a number of my clients. The reason why all entrepreneurs should move to a small local bank or credit union is this: at River City Bank, when one of my clients needs something to happen that is outside of the bank’s policies and procedures, I can pick up the phone and talk to my bank manager. She knows me. She’ll talk to me. She can’t always override a policy, and I wouldn’t expect her to. But she does always explain the reason for the policy, talk through options, and in instances where it has made sense, she’s overridden policies and assisted clients with their banking needs. I have newer client who also banks with River City Bank, but their reserve funds are at ING.com. When I asked why, they said that their bank manager advised them to move their funds to ING.com; that the rates were better at that point in time. River City’s bank managers have done, as have other local bank managers, what I have never seen a big bank do: “gotten my clients just what they need for their business“ and “worked with them to build successful businesses.”

That is the kind of service you should expect from your banker. And that is why, political reasons aside, you should make a smart business decision to participate in Bank Transfer Day.


Stacey Powell builds financial muscles at TheFinanceGym.com, creates financial clarity at CreatingAnswers.com, and shows off Financial Art at Facebook.


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