A Comparison of Financial Institutions

Today I had the good fortune (perhaps misfortune is a more appropriate term) to experience first-hand a textbook example case of good customer service versus bad customer service and its effect in the business-customer relationship. It could very easily have come right out of a management case study…

As luck would have it, this experience dealt with financial institutions. The comparison was lateral in the sense that I was making a similar-sized deposit to my own account at each bank. By the rules of common sense, the experience should have been perfectly equal. In reality, however, the service I received was anything but comparable.

One of the players in this case is new to my locale, but advertises itself as “The Hometown Bank” with “Over a hundred years of experience in the New York Area.” The other, a much larger conglomerate who dominates the financial landscape, has an unfortunate acronym that also happens to be a type of serpent which constricts life out of its victims.


I first arrived at the trusty “Hometown Bank,” mainly because it was closest to my point of departure. Their facilities greeted me with a big, spacious parking lot and easy access to the door. Their establishment was nothing fancy, just open and easy. When I walked in, there was a nicely dressed gentleman behind the desk who greeted me. The teller greeted me and welcomed me back (noting that I had not been there in a while), even though it was only the second time I had been to that branch (the first was when I opened that particular account). I made my deposit and she commented on my shirt (nothing special, just a standard designer white button-up).

I asked her if she could write down my account number because my deposit slips were “starter” slips with spaces to write in the relevant account information, which- true to my nature- I had misplaced somewhere and did not know. Instead, she took a stack of slips, went over to some kind of bank machine and fed them into it one-by-one… then came back and gave me a freshly minted stack of deposit slips with all my information printed neatly on their face.

I then asked her for an ATM card, a nicety that would allow me to make deposits after hours. She told me that my account (a basic savings account) did not qualify for an ATM card, but then walked me out to the lobby and showed me how to make a night deposit in the “commercial” deposit box. On the way out, the fellow at the desk mentioned that I could get an ATM card if I opened a checking account, and that- because I needed an ATM card- he would open it with a low initial deposit and that there would be no minimum balance requirements or monthly fees.

Overall, the encounter was every bit as pleasant as one would expect from an evening with friends; far more than anyone would expect from banking in the profit-centric 21st century. I left the establishment refreshed with a new sense of appreciation for customer service. The experience harkened back to the experiences my mother once enjoyed at the local bank in the town where I grew up- an institution of friends willing to do what it takes to succeed by making their customers happy.


The mammoth financial institution at which I hold the majority of my accounts was second on my list of errands. When I arrived, a line of cars three deep was waiting in each of the drive-thru lanes, and a cone had been set up in front of the ATM. Relegating myself to going inside once again, I waited for a space to become available in their cramped lot.

When I finally walked in, there were two bank employees talking to my left, a lady at a desk to my right and two tellers. Of these five individuals, not one bothered to acknowledge me, even though the lady at the desk stared directly at me as though I had just returned from deep space exploration (I was still wearing my designer button-up dress shirt, slacks and shoes; a vagabond I was not).

I went through the bank’s cattle herders (which, looking back, I realized that Exhibit A did not have) and waited. There wasn’t anyone in front of me; I was waiting for the one available teller to get off the phone (the other was doing something or didn’t notice me, either way unavailable to my use).

When I was summoned, I went up to the counter and the girl nonchalantly inquired about my day; my return inquiry received no response. I gave her my deposit slip and my deposit, which she processed fairly quickly, though no further conversation ensued. Finally, she handed me my receipt and said, “There you go.” No thank you, no acknowledgement of my existence of any kind. I took it and left; again walking by at least three bank employees couldn’t be bothered with the simple act of noticing me. On the way out, I held the door for a fellow customer, a pregnant lady who was about to endure the same treatment. For her, I held the doorâÂ?¦ even though there was a bank employee standing immediately to my right, too involved in his conversation to notice.

This experience highlighted a difference in approach between two institutions which, although it began as subtle, now represents a glaring disparity between customer-centric and profit-centric establishments. Over the years, customers have become more and more accustomed to the less-than-personal treatment doled out by increasingly larger and impersonal corporations. After decades of this type of neglect, a side-by-side comparison shows just how valuable (or, more appropriately, incidental) an individual person has become in the eyes of big business.

There was truly an amazing difference between today’s two experiences. So much of a difference, in fact, that I am considering closing out my savings account and three checking accounts with Exhibit B and entrusting them to the friendly folks at Exhibit A. Oh, and when I refinance my mortgage next year, it’s a fairly safe wager on which establishment will more easily get my business.

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