Your Banker's 6 Dirty Secrets

By Andrew Beattie | May 31, 2010 AAA
Your Banker's 6 Dirty Secrets

There is a fine line between telling a lie and avoiding telling the truth. It comes back to intentions - you can be hurt by a clever omission as easily as you can by an outright lie. It won't come as a surprise, but there are some things your bank would rather not tell you. We'll look at six dirty secrets your banker has been keeping.

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  1. You Probably Don't Need the Insurance
    Banks offer insurance, sometimes marketed as "balance protection", on every debt instrument they offer. You can get insurance on a credit card, line of credit, plain vanilla loan and so on. In return, your payments are covered in certain cases and a death benefit is paid if you die with the debt.
    Going through the contract can be interesting and enlightening for consumers. Often many conditions have to be met to receive the "hardship" qualifications to cover payments and the death benefit is capped at a maximum that may be much less than the value of the loan.

    Your banker isn't to blame for that, the bank is. Where the banker's omission comes in is in not advising clients that their life insurance policy may already be enough to cover the new debt already - and if not, adding coverage for the amount of the debt will be much cheaper in the long run than paying an extra percentage of your balance on top of the interest. (For more, read The Ins And Outs Of Bank Fees.)

  2. Even if I Like You, the System Decides
    Many banks market the fact that you can go into any branch and have a productive conversation with their representatives - the human touch. If you are looking for a loan, however, there's little human element to the decision process.

    Large banks use a computer model that takes inputs such as income, current debt levels and assets, and decides whether you qualify for a loan and, if so, how much. For most people, this process is flexible enough that they don't notice. For farmers, entrepreneurs and business owners, though, this process can be enraging because it discounts elements of their business and often paints them as credit risks.

  3. I'm a Salesman
    There are many different terms for it - complete banking, one-stop-banking, holistic service - but when it comes down to it, your banker is there to cross-sell you other products from the bank. Have a checking account? How about a savings account, credit card, savings bond, car insurance, retirement account and a free mortgage appraisal? Banks want to lock in a customer as much as possible.

  4. We Offer a Complete Package to Get Complete Fees
    Once a customer opens an account, the pressure is on to open three more. Holding more of a customer's financial life at the same bank gives banks the ability to encourage the customer into more fee-bearing accounts without having to worry about the customer shopping around for a better deal. Your banker will never tell you that the bank down the road charges less in service fees and offers the same interest. Instead they emphasize the ease of transferring funds between your accounts within the branch, the transfer fees they wave and the deal they have on balance protection insurance.

  5. We Make More Money from Fees Than Banking
    Banks have been pulling an ever-larger slice of their revenues from fees. The tipping point came in the late '90s, when fee income climbed to over half of revenue for the largest banks. Most people, your banker included, will tell you a bank makes its money off the interest it earns from loans to customers. And, given how important fees are to revenue, take three guesses at which direction they will be heading in the future. (See Cut Your Bank Fees for more.)

  6. You Should Check Out a Smaller Bank
    The biggest secret your banker is keeping is that a smaller bank may be a better fit for you. Instead, your banker will focus on the convenience of having lots of friendly staff wanting to serve you. All those people and buildings cost a lot to keep going. This cost is one of the reasons banks need to tighten their lending models and up their fees. By contrast, a smaller bank has a smaller market and less of an eye to expansion. This allows them to charge less in many cases, while also giving the customer more. (Learn more in Tired Of Banks? Try A Credit Union.)

The Bottom Line
Your banker is there to protect the bank's interest, not necessarily yours. They are not bound by the same fiduciary duty that a financial advisor would be, so it's important to do some thinking for yourself. Tally up all your fees, add in the interest on any loans and compare them to the returns on your interest bearing accounts. If you don't like what you see, maybe it's time to look into alternatives like a credit union or online bank. Just don't ask your banker for a recommendation, that's another of those things he just won't say. (To learn more, check out Bag The Best Bank Account.)
Get a rundown of the latest financial news in this week's Water Cooler Finance: Buffett Buzz, Toxic CDOs And Facebook Privacy.

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