Thoughts, ideas, suggestions and education from financial adviser Jim Ludwick, Founder of MainStreet Financial Planning, Inc. of Odenton, MD; Washington, DC; New York City, and Santa Barbara, CA

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Friday, November 23, 2012

Why I Fired My Bank

Seems like a catchy title doesn’t it?  Well let’s see if you think I did the right thing by the time you get to the end of my story.
My personal bank is USAA Federal Savings Bank. This story is not about them.  I love USAA’s one and only San Antonio, Texas branch which I have never visited, but they always seem to be the top rated bank in the United States.  I know why.  Whenever I have a question, need, or problem, I just pick up the phone or email them and ….BINGO, I get a resolution.
Several years ago USAA started letting us drop our deposits off at the local UPS store.  Then they let us scan checks at home and deposit them over the internet.  Then came their iPhone app and I was in heaven.  Wish I could do this with my business account.
Now I run a small business and USAA doesn’t have business accounts.  I asked the owner of the local UPS store where I should open my new business account ten years ago.  He pointed me to the local bank just down the street.  Nice manager, friendly staff and good hours especially for drive in deposits.
Several years later our local bank got bought out by the regional bank from New York State.  Not much changed except the manager got promoted and the teller staff retired or moved on.  Things seemed to be working ok but going to the bank every day to make deposits became a chore for my assistant or my wife, but it was usually either done on the way home or during errand time at the beginning or ending of the work day.
A couple of years ago the big bank (P**) bought out the regional bank. You know where I’m going, don’t you?  More staff turnover. Everyone was a part timer or so it seemed. They all wished me a nice day, but when anything went wrong I had to find it, no one ever called to tell me there might be a problem.
Now banks make a lot of money on the deposit float.  I should know, I’ve worked for two of them. Our business has a nice five figure float where we don’t make a dime, but P** bank does.
Last year I noticed that the big bank was letting people make deposits with their iPhone but they had a limit.  We have five offices around the country and really enjoy making deposits on the iPhone since we travel for business. I found out the monthly limit was very low for our kind of business and for our average deposit. So I went in the see the branch manager - the new branch manager. I observed they had cut back the lobby hours and the drive in hours.  No early or late drive in business at all.   (Our local grocery story bank branch is open seven days a week!)
I explained to the new manager my needs. He listened, but it was obvious he had no power to amend the low limits even though our float was ten to fifteen times larger than any conceivable check we might deposit and then bounce.  We asked him to elevate the issue and have P** make an exception.  A week later the “business banker” called.  He listened to my story.   He said couldn’t change anything, but would call my first branch manager (from 10 years ago) who was now in some elevated position in the bank and address the issue with her.
A week or so later my voice mail message told me sorry, no change in their limits. Guess how I felt? Guess what I did?  Right, I went to Google “business banks that let their customers bank remotely and use their smartphones to make deposits”.
BINGO. EverBank is now our bank. The monthly limit for smartphone deposits is 2.5 times our normal amount of deposits. FedEx delivers the paperwork the next day.  New checks come in a week along with the debit card.  They call to see how we’re doing.  A month later they call again to check on us.
We are winding down our relationship (sic?) with P**.  Somehow the auto payment for the Amex bill didn’t get changed in time so we are overdrawn.  Does the big bank call, email, text us to let us know they’re charging us $25 for the overdraft and $7 a day for a beginning $141 negative balance? You can guess the answer. 
Today I paid the big bank $231 in cash and they said they would close the account in a few days.  Can’t even close an account on the same day!!  Well, goodbye big bank.  We admit we should have done this sooner, but it’s a pain to switch banks.
Sure do miss all the old employees from the local bank. In ten years, they were the only ones who seemed to really care about our business.
Conclusion: Every three years or so look around and comparison shop your vendors. There are companies out there that really want to listen to your needs and will do what it takes to exceed your expectations.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

It's Never Too Late: But Get Going Now!

We are in the goal business. Helping people define, refine and achieve their financial goals.

What does it take to achieve and surpass financial goals?

1.     It takes willpower.  Remember the “protestant work ethic” of delayed gratification?  Starting early and staying with a plan is a key component to attaining financial success.
2.     It takes resources.  Income in excess of expenses is the primary means of developing resources to put towards goals like retirement, housing, education and travel.
3.     It takes knowledge of knowing where you’re going and if you’re on track to get there.  That’s called feedback.  You need a mechanism to keep you informed of your progress and to alert you to altering your actions to stay on track or ahead of schedule.

Now what are the most frequent obstacles we see that prevent goal achievement?

1.     Procrastination.  Lower priorities take over disposable income and not enough resources are directed to higher priority, but longer-term goals.  Parties, video games, you name it. In our society it’s easy to become diverted by slick marketing, peer pressure, and poor habits.
2.     Lack of resources.  Decisions that affect expenses whether they are day-to-day living expense decisions or long term debt decisions like student loans lead to an inability to save adequately for long term financial goals.
3.     No goals in the first place.  We call this the “seat of the pants” plan.  Without a roadmap any highway will take you there.  The majority of baby boomers might fit into this category.  For most of them it’s too late and they are going to work many more years and retire at a much lower standard of living than they otherwise might of because they never planned ahead.

So what can we take away from this discussion?
1.     It’s never too late to plan although the longer you wait the harder it is.
2.     It takes discipline and a denial of other counterproductive opportunities.
3.     It takes a feedback mechanism, including coaching in some cases, to stay on track and know when to hold ‘em and when to fold them (thanks to Kenny Rogers).

As this year comes to an end.  We want you to be thinking of goals and what you will be doing next year to achieve them.  Good Luck.