If you feel like a faceless number when you walk into your bank, you wouldn’t be the first. Dealing with the big banks may have its advantages, but a marked disadvantage is that few people really feel “known” when they bank at the gleaming towers of glass, also known as the big banks.
Credit unions are one of the more popular options for people searching for an alternative to a big bank, with an estimated 25% of Australians being a member of a credit union. Essentially credit unions are collectives where people put their money together in an effort to benefit every member within the union.
You’re more likely to receive better customer service and be treated as an individual rather than just a number. In most cases, credit unions are non-profit, which means they’re less likely to charge as many fees as banks.
The downside: Most credit unions charge a membership fee to cover their operating costs. And unfortunately, as most credit unions are regional, you may find it difficult to find somewhere to bank if you’re travelling interstate.
Building Societies are similar to credit unions, although they have a stronger focus on providing loans and mortgages, rather than general banking services.
In recent years, building societies have become less popular than they once were, as many of the smaller ones were either bought out, amalgamated into other banks, or became banks in their own right, such as St.George.
Many of the big Australian banks reduced their banking services in some rural and outer suburban areas in the past ten years. This allowed smaller community banks to open a new business model that focused on local banking.
Perhaps the best known of these is Bendigo Bank, which began as a community bank in regional Victoria before it amalgamated with South Australia’s Adelaide Bank. This has made the once-small community bank a large corporate bank that has retained some of its community banking feel with its customers.
No matter how hard they work at it, promote it, and teach it, the fact is that big banks frequently fall short when it comes to service. Bigger often means busier, and overly busy workers tend to be less friendly, less courteous, less willing to go the extra mile.
If you’re fed up with the big banks, or simply ready for a different – more personal – banking experience, think small. There are alternatives to the big bank status quo.