Loss of local control hurts Chester County banking
Change is not always good and when it comes to banking, local banks, smaller banks, and credit unions may be found to have significant advantages over many of the larger behemoths that have been created or that have grown to unmanageable proportions in the past several years.
Chester County may have experienced this with acquisition of two of its more familiar banking destinations – First National Bank and National Penn.
Longer time Chester County residents would remember fondly a local bank of distinction, First National Bank of West Chester, which later morphed into First National Bank of Chester County. National Penn began as National Bank of Boyertown. In times gone by, bank officers met with clients and negotiated deals here and then went out to lunch together or inquired about families. Not to sound too old fashioned or Norman Rockwell but that was when banking was personal. Bank officers did not need to call distant cities when making even the most routine decisions. These are only some results related to larger size and greater distances. More of this later.
First National Bank of Chester County first briefly became the strangely named 1N Bank, a Division of Greystone Capital. 1N Bank was acquired by Susquehanna Bank, a bank headquartered west of the more metropolitan Chester County area but user friendly and easy to deal with. It was assumed that the Susquehanna acquisition was the end of the line for First National customers. It was not.
In 2015, Susquehanna was acquired by an extremely large bank holding company, BB&T, described as “one of the largest financial services holding companies in the U.S. Its base is Winston Salem, North Carolina. National Penn, the former Na-
tional Bank of Boyertown was acquired by BB&T in 2016. These times, based on my experience at least and the experience of others to whom I have spoken, there were massive changes. You could judge.
• Transition Issues. Some transitional glitches could be expected. So, when shortly after BB&T came on board I ordered a salad at Panera Bread and my old Susquehanna debit card was declined, it was a shock but I quickly signed on with my new BB&T card and moved on. However, I did need to contact every vendor where there were automatic debits from the old card and change information.
Thirteen digit accounts were less convenient than easy to remember seven digits and needed to be reflected on new checks and deposit tickets but the bank did give customers additional time so checks and deposit tickets would not be declined. The real issues came later.
• Loans. I had a small home equity line of credit with Susquehanna with favorable terms. When BB&T came on board I received a letter stating that the line of credit would mature and I should renegotiate. This was a surprise and I went to the local BB&T branch which confirmed that the loan was not maturing. I ignored the notice as a mistake.
Next I received a notice that the line was being shut down because my credit score was not high enough. I requested the name of the Credit Reporting Agency, printed my credit score and returned to the local branch with the result which was at that time approximately 100 points higher than stated by BB&T. The local branch began the paperwork to reverse the prior decision but was told instead it would be necessary for me to submit financial records every quarter with no promise of keeping the line of credit.
The answer was easy. I turned my car and drove to Citadel Federal Credit Union about a mile away and was greeted with open arms. The line of credit was replaced.
• Access to Information. Banking online is a convenience. When an account no longer appears on a drop down menu it is troubling. I was told by customer service that it was inactive. When I pointed to several recent deposits I was told that deposits did not count. Withdrawals were necessary for the account to be considered active. I closed the account.
• Fees. I learned the meaning of bank fees. In addition to the expected non-BB&T ATM fees, recently on purchasing standard software I was treated to a “Foreign Transaction Fee.” At one point a charge was debited from an account simply stating “Back Bank Charges.”
Banks considered too large to fail should at least be required to be client friendly.
Listen to radio WCHE 1520 “50+ Planning Ahead” with Phil McFadden, Home Instead Senior Care, and Janet Colliton, Colliton Elder Law Associates, on Wednesdays at 4 p.m. Janet Colliton limits her practice to elder law, life care and special needs planning, Medicaid, estate planning and administration and guardianships. Address 790 East Market St., Suite 250, West Chester, PA 19382, 610-436-6674colliton@ collitonlaw.com. She is also, with Jeffrey Jones, CSA, co-founder of Life Transition Services LLC, a service for families with long-term care needs.