wells-fargoI used to think that a bank is a bank is a bank, that the difference between them was whether they were large or small and whether they greeted you by name or by a number. This simplification is far from reality. ?What I have learned over the last few months while shopping for a new bank is that each bank is unique and functions unlike any other bank. This may sound obvious, but for me, it was eye-opening, even though I have ?been around the block.? Here?s a small sampling of the banks I encountered in the Raleigh-Durham area:

Square One Bank: Durham, NC
Bank agent: ?We loan to startups and tech companies that have already been funded by an angel investor or venture capital group. About 85% of the companies we loan money to make no money at all?. Huh? ?For real? That makes no sense to me. Wait until those firms burn through their funding, and Square One Bank will be in a world of hurt. My company makes (some) money and has been around for 20 years, so I guess we don?t meet their criteria.

Silicon Valley Bank: Morrisville, NC
Bank agent: ?We loan to tech companies looking for a minimum $500K initial round, and with revenues of at least 2.5M.? Ok, we don?t need that much. Next.

Capital Bank: Raleigh, NC
Bank agent during lunch: ?Do they speak Mexican in Venezuela?? ?This was after I mentioned that I was born and raised in Venezuela, where, by the way, they speak Spanish. ?Mexican? is not a language. Also from bank agent: ?We can loan you back your own money on a 1:1 basis.? Ok, I don?t want to pay interest to use my own money. Next.

Coastal Federal Credit Union: Raleigh, NC
Bank agent: ?We have some pretty cool technology, including iOS apps that allow you to take a photo of a check and have it automatically deposited into your bank account. But we don?t have some of the banking services you might be used to, such as online ACH capability.??Note to self: great institution, maybe for a personal account.

Park Sterling Bank: Raleigh, NC
Bank agent: ?We are a unique bank in that we are over-capitalized, and we only have 5 clients in the Raleigh branch right now.? Strange…not sure I understand this bank yet.

Wells Fargo Bank: Raleigh, NC
Ida Young (bank agent who has been with the same bank for 30 years): ?You need a line of credit? How much?? Two days later we were in business. And that started a relationship that hopefully will last a long, long time.

Don?t Assume
I didn?t think about Wells Fargo when initially looking for a new banking relationship because they are the big kid on the block, the giant tower overlooking downtown Raleigh, casting its huge shadow like a blanket over the city. I figured that Wells Fargo would most certainly treat you like a number, like just one more clone of the guy in front of you waiting in the teller line.

But I was completely wrong. Everyone there is super friendly, and they even recognize and smile at me when I walk in. The atmosphere in the bank lobby is a cheery one, a bright one. And Ida has made everything easy for me. Not to mention that her office is across the street from mine, making it even easier. Needless to say, I intend to move every single bank account we have, and every banking need, to Wells Fargo.

My lesson was to never judge a book by its cover. ?In this case, I assumed that Wells Fargo would be a typical, impersonal large bank that?s too big to fail, with huge lines, and no customer service except via some sort of horrible automated phone system or curt tellers. But the truth is that, after 2 months banking at Wells Fargo, I do believe that their employees follow the Henry Wells quote on the wall in giant print that says ?We have a powerful rule: It is concentrated in one simple word: Courtesy.?

Shop Around
If you are in need of banking services, shop around. Don?t assume anything. Take a look around, even if you think you already know what you will get. Because odds are, you don?t really know until you know for sure. After all, not all banks are created equal. In fact, they are all very different, and there?s bound to be one out there that will fit your needs just right, the way that Wells Fargo does for me.

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