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Such personal banking may not be the best choice for everyone, but more and more people are choosing a bank that harkens back to analog times when a teller asked about your kids and knew you well enough to make an exception by cashing a check without ID. It can be hard to remember that banks were once full-service operations where the employees were available to help with all banking needs as well as any financial questions from IRAs to Money Market accounts. Speaking of which, First Federal is currently offering exceptional rates for both an IRA and Money Market, a signal that being a customer-friendly institution doesn’t limit great financial products.
“We have mobile banking, online banking, and every other modern amenity,” says Whiting, who manages First Federal’s San Francisco location on Lombard Street. “But I find people still like to pick up the phone and get assistance when they need it. Even the millennials like a little human contact: ‘My mom wants to wire me money, can you tell me what I need to do?’”
The Marina District location in the City is First Federal’s vision of future banking, an intimate setting with WIFI and a tablet station, coffee, and space to relax a little before returning to one’s day. The old fashion stories keep rolling in from this modern style bank, like the mom who brought her daughter in to open a savings account for the first time. We assume that everyone knows how to use a checking or savings account, given readily available information about pretty much everything on the Internet. However, Whiting says that, like most teenagers, this young woman had never thought about a bank account before she entered First Federal.
"Her mom wanted the act of opening a bank account to be special for her daughter: the first step toward financial responsibility," he says. "We take it for granted to write out a check, fill out a deposit slip. After I walked her through the whole process her mom said I should have been a teacher. It was important to set her up for success, to show her the bank, to demonstrate safety when using the ATM, including common knowledge like shielding your PIN.”
The lessons Whiting taught this young woman may inform her banking decision for the rest of her life, creating a mutual trust between client and banker and an awareness that every element of handling one’s money should be taken seriously and performed cautiously. She also knows that, at any moment, she can call or come in and say, “Hey Bill, I need help with this or that.”
“Too many banks assume that people don’t have questions,” says Whiting, who started in banking directly after college in 1988. “And too many people assume that their bank can only take care of mobile and ATM deposits and the occasional loan. I have one client who banks with us and also several large national banks. She owned a series of bonds that she wanted to convert to pay for her child’s tuition. She had a bank officer actually tell her they were unable to help her, so we visited these other institutions together and I told them exactly what they needed to do to cash in the bonds. It isn’t overly sophisticated when you know what you’re talking about, but I was surprised that nobody at the bank knew how to do it.”
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Get to Know First Federal, a Modern Bank with a Traditional Approach
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Bill Whiting first learned about First Federal when a former colleague who was working there told him he should check it out. Though it was twenty years ago, he could see where commercial banking was heading and was drawn to a more personal bank, a financial institution based on customer relationships rather than the sale of financial products and other impersonal interactions. Clearly, many clients in the Marina, Marin, and East Bay value the same relationship. Visit the First Federal Savings & Loan of San Rafael website to learn more.
Whiting says he doesn’t expect his clients to know that much about banking, that is his job and the job of bank employees. What surprises him is when, as in the case of the bonds, people who work in banking don’t know what to do, they’re focused on selling to customers not helping them.
The sole remaining mutual institution headquartered in California, First Federal is mutually owned for the exclusive benefit of the community, depositors, borrowers, a significant difference from banks that are beholden to profits and their shareholders. In addition to the Marina and Portola branches in San Francisco, First Federal maintains branches in Fairfax, San Rafael, and the Rockridge District in Oakland. Personal and business checking accounts feature a first box of free checks and a free Mastercard debit card, among other benefits. There are also competitive rates on savings and certificate of deposit accounts.
“Your bank, knowing you, puts you into products that work for you and your life changes, a clear benefit of the relationship,” Whiting says. “There’s a misconception because we are small that our clients lose the benefits of a national bank. It isn’t true. In fact, one of the big benefits of our debit card is that we don’t charge our clients when using another bank’s ATM. We’ll even reimburse you the ATM fees the other bank charges nationwide.”
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“We know our customers,” says Whiting. “So, if they have a problem they don’t have to dance around, we can just cut to the chase and find the solution. This type of intimacy is rare in banking, but it makes a world of difference in the everyday lives of our clients.”
It seems most “modern” banks have substituted call centers for customer service, prerecorded responses in lieu of knowing a client’s personal preferences. Contacting a bank these days means a phone call followed by incessant pressing of the 0 key until a live someone, anyone, actually answers our questions. And, if we’re honest, few of us have any idea what these banks do with our money, whether our savings supports our local community, and who benefits from our financial trust. If you prefer a local bank that offers a close-knit community with modern financial tools and products, branch manager Bill Whiting suggests you check out First Federal Savings & Loan of San Rafael.
We have mobile banking, online banking, and every other modern amenity...But I find people still like to pick up the phone and get assistance when they need it.
- Bill Whiting, Manager
Too many banks assume that people don't have questions.
- Bill Whiting, Manager
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