Loss of lo­cal con­trol hurts Ch­ester County bank­ing

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - BUSINESS - Janet Col­li­ton Colum­nist

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.

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