31 August 2004


US banks are quite different to Australian banks.

In Australia we have four major banks and a few smaller ones. They all operate on a branch system, whereby you can go almost anywhere in the country and access your funds. Internet banking is well advanced – to the point that you can pay anyone with a bank account via the internet with no human interference. Checks (cheques) are extremely rare and costly. Most people now use cash, credit card, debit card (known as EFTPOS), BPAY (electronic bill payments) or direct bank transfers. I had to ask the local bank tellers to go through the routine of writing a check the US way as it had been such a long time since we had written cheques.
However, whilst the electronic services are very good, the personal service is lousy.

In the US, banks are amazing. In our smal town, we have about 5 banks, some with multiple branches. Upon entering the main doors, you are confronted with a person who greets all comers and the tellers (two or three). Managers or bank officers are normally pretty available, there is coffee, refreshments (and a warm fire in winter) as well as the TV and some local papers and reading to keep you occupied if you need to wait. Some days they provide free popcorn, or breakfast, and there are lollies (candy) for the children. You can see right into the safe from the teller’s bench and there are no guards or bars to be seen. It’s like being in a fancy house, rather than a bank.

Inside one of the local banks

All these banks also compete for business. This is unlike the main Australian Banks which couldn’t care less about the small customer and compete to charge the most fees in a complex way as possible. ANZ does not even publish the local branch phone numbers anywhere. Customers must call the central office who will then arrange an appointment at the local branch. The central office is in Melbourne, about 800 km (500 miles) from our local branch in Moss Vale, NSW.

Each bank here has “Customer Appreciation Days”. Everyone in town (customers or not) get to come along, listen to music, eat food, free soft drinks, snow cones (shaved ice), cotton candy (fairy floss), give-aways (if it doesn’t move it has the bank’s name on it), popcorn, and a free raffle. Also, the bank had Rock Climbing for the children. Can any of our Australian readers imagine an Australian bank having a “Customer Appreciation Day”?

Banks also charge differently. In Australia you are typically charged for any teller transactions, and if you exceed a certain number of electronic ones. Each cheque you write you can be charged a tax of between 80 cents and $2.00 as well as a bank fee for the privilege. Meanwhile, here checks are written for anything from shopping to video hire. One of our friends mentioned that the smallest check they had written was 27 cents!

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