In Banking, Americans Lean Local

I won't tell you the name of my bank, but I will tell you this: it's the oldest in the state; it didn't use account numbers until the Federal Reserve forced it to; it has 25 branches, all within easy driving distance of one another; and every employee at the branch I use - from manager to teller - knows me by name.

Not only that, the tellers all have baskets of lollipops and bags of dog biscuits at the ready, and if you have any kind of problem or complaint - as I did when the bank installed a coin-counting machine that automatically deducted a 3 percent fee for what tellers do for free - you can get a vice president on the phone in maybe a minute. (The machine disappeared sometime after I emailed him a Wall Street Journal article that pointed out how often such machines are inaccurate.)


I found this little institution after my original bank was swallowed up a bigger bank that was in turn swallowed up by a yet bigger bank. Smaller, at least for me, worked better.

Now comes a survey that shows I'm not alone. Overall, it found that 41.2 percent of respondents prefer local community banks, 34.4 percent credit unions, 22.9 percent national banks and 1.5 percent "other."

I have the most company, it turns out, among people 65 and older; 50.5 percent of them prefer local community banks to national banks or credit unions. I have the least company among 18- to 34-year-olds; only about 33.5 percent of them prefer local community banks.

"Considering the thousands of banks that failed during the 1930s, it's not surprising older Americans who grew up in the aftermath of the Great Depression would value institutions with deep roots in the community over national banks," says Casey Bond, the managing editor of, which conducted the online survey. "Though Gen Y experienced a similar scenario in the late 2000s, this generation, influenced by corporate branding and convenience, has a much different set of values than their grandparents and great grandparents."

For sure. My dad set up a savings account for me when I was 6 or 7 years old, and I rolled up coins in eager anticipation of the teller recording the impending deposit in my passbook with a rubber-stamped date at the end of the line. It was a beautiful thing. Some years ago I set up a savings account for my daughter and asked if she could get a passbook, just like the one I had.

Even my swell little bank, I was sad to learn, gave up on those some time ago.

What type of bank do you prefer? What do you miss about the banks you grew up with? (Post your thoughts in the "comment" box below.)


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