No Such Thing As the Perfect Bank

"A bank is a place where they lend you an umbrella in fair weather and ask for it back when it begins to rain."
-Robert Frost

It’s not surprise that small business owners have a thing against banks. We don’t usually have a ton of money in the bank to begin with, so seeing it all disappear because of service charges and high interest rates is incredibly frustrating.

We all try our best to find the “perfect bank”; well, I know I sure do. I’ve got bad news for you.

There isn’t one.

I’m not trying to come down on banks universally. That’s too easy. There are a lot of great people working in our banks. I’ve had the pleasure of working side by side with many of these people. One good bank teller or loan manager can completely turn your day around; it’s happened to me several times.

The problem is that what we need, as small business owners, becomes a contradiction. We all want the features of a big bank, with the charm and personal attention of a small, local bank.

Maybe I just haven’t looked hard enough. Perhaps that “perfect bank” has been right under my nose the whole time. If that’s so, please let me know. I’m not too proud to admit when I’m wrong.


Bank of Nova Scotia, Halifax

From a big bank, I want the following things:

  • email money transfers
  • iPhone app
  • powerful online features
Greylock Federal Credit Union

From the smaller bank, I want:

  • efficiency
  • personal attention (they actually know my name)
  • policies not driven by mindless bureaucracy

In the 20 years I’ve been a bookkeeper, I have worked with a lot of banks. My needs have changed over the years. I have yet to find that perfect combination.

The big banks do a great job at the first list. RBC has a really good iPhone app, and features on their online banking site that no other bank has. However, it still takes me 20 minutes to get one bank draft done every time I go in. Why? Because they don’t remember me from last time, can’t remember where to find my name on the authorized list, and have to go through the same mindless procedure…for a bank draft.

When I banked at ATB, I could go in and have that same bank draft done in 1-2 minutes, even if it was a new employee behind the counter. But, when a friend wanted to email me money they owed me, I was out of luck.

In the end, the problem with the bank is not unique for us small business owners. We’re in that strange “no man’s land” between individual and big corporation. Our bank fees cost more, our insurance costs more, and (if you live in Lethbridge) our business licenses cost a lot more.

When you find yourself in this situation, you need to make a decision. Instead of sitting around getting bitter, you have to decide what is more important to you. In this case, it’s features vs. customer service. In my case, I have chosen features. I do 95% of my banking online. Having an iPhone app lets me transfer money at 3:55 from the cereal aisle at the grocery store instead of having to rush down to the bank before it closes. Email money transfers means I don’t need to write a cheque or get hit by PayPal’s fees for small purchases.

It doesn’t mean I don’t hate going in to get those drafts done. It just means it’s the price I’m willing to pay for convenience.

Do you have decisions like this that need to be made? Are you focusing on them more than you should? Share them with us in the comments.