Since moving to British Columbia in 2002, my awareness of local credit union Vancity has been exponentially heightened. This May 2008 Strategy Magazine special report by Carey Toane explains why. Its staff are out there on the community relations front, explaining banking to fledgling entrepreneurs and creating some truly innovative micro-credit products. Vancity’s working hard for my business. Or is it?
When No Spin PR wanted to open a business bank account, Vancity was its first choice. Fees for small business bank accounts at Vancity are low (at time of writing, late November 2008, you can still open a small business bank account there with monthly fees of only $6 and up to eight free transactions per month). There is, of course, the $50 membership fee to become a member of the credit union, but that’s a one-time cost, and in keeping with Vancity’s slogan “We all profit” I was willing to invest this relatively modest sum.
Until I actually tried to open an account, that is.
There was a toss-away line on the Vancity web site about needing to make an appointment to open a business bank account. I downloaded and printed all nine pages of forms and found the documentation on my business registration necessary to open the account. When I finally got some time (and in anticipation of receiving a cheque or two made out to No Spin PR), I went back to the web site to get the phone number for my local branch. I couldn’t find it. The address (which I already knew, since I walk and drive past it on average six times a week) for my local branch was on the web site, but not the phone number. There was, instead, a general phone number.
So I called the general number around 10AM Thursday morning (November 27, 2008). I was on hold. I was on hold for about 20 minutes before my phone dropped service, and I had to call back and get into the hold queue yet again. Perhaps this is a good time to mention that other local companies, like Shaw, my internet service and cable television provider, have this nifty little thing set up on their phone system so you can leave your number and a customer service representative calls you back. The technology exists, in other words, and I for one really appreciate not having to listen to someone else’s musical choices while waiting for service.
I was on hold even longer for my second call – about 25 minutes. When I finally got through to someone I was able to confirm that yes, indeed, I did need to make an appointment to open a business bank account. I pointed out to the (very pleasant) customer service guy that I needed the branch phone number in order to do this, and I couldn’t find it on their web site. Oh no, he said, while apologizing for the unusually high volume of calls that had led to my being on hold for 45 minutes, we don’t publish the branch numbers on our web site because people would call their local branch numbers for their balances and they’re not supposed to, they’re supposed to call this number for that service. What I hear you saying, Vancity, is that your customers – erm – members – aren’t very bright. The conversation is pleasant, even though I’m a little startled to be informed it’s Friday and given the local branch hours for Friday. I know I slept late on Thursday morning, but I didn’t realize I’d lost an entire day. Some merriment ensues when I make this statement, and I am reassured that it is, in fact, Thursday in Metro Vancouver.
Armed with the number of my local branch, I make the call and request an appointment to open a business bank account. Would you prefer a morning or afternoon appointment? I’m asked. Afternoon, I say, do you have any appointments this afternoon? No, I’m told, Friday morning at 11:30 is the first appointment I could give you. Fine, I say, thinking I can juggle all the other things I need to do (like get my car’s front headlight fixed, which means driving to the repair shop in the few precious daylight hours we get at this time of year in this hemisphere) and still make this appointment.
I have a moment or two of satisfaction after making the appointment. Opening a business bank account is one of those irritating, one-time only chores that, while necessary, has little to do with my day-to-day operations but is a task that, since it requires my signature, only I can do. I can’t delegate or outsource this, but it’s time consuming and not a whole lot of fun, although I’m hoping that during our meeting I’ll lay the groundwork of establishing a good relationship with a banker, which can never hurt, especially when it’s your banker.
The moment doesn’t last long. Less than five minutes after I’ve made the appointment, my phone rings and it’s Vancity. Friday won’t work as the person will be on vacation. Would I like to come in Tuesday morning or Wednesday morning instead? Well no, actually, I wouldn’t – I have an appointment with a potential strategic partner on Tuesday morning and yet another dental appointment on Wednesday morning. That’s part of why, when asked if I preferred a morning or an afternoon appointment, I said ‘afternoon.’ I announced, rather snottily, that I’d open my account with Coast Capital instead, another local credit union with hilarious commercials, a no-fee policy for many of its accounts, and a small business account package that’s highly competitive with Vancity’s best offer.
So what’s wrong with this whole scenario?
Vancity’s been getting praise among the marketing communications and social media marketing communities for the last few years for its innovative products and campaigns, the number of visitors it gets to its various web sites and the ‘stickiness’ of those sites (amount of time spent on site). It’s positioned itself as the credit union that cares about community. Despite the dubious appeal of its ads (this one is particularly tasteless, I find, on a whole lot of levels: smug, unattractive people, and a message I can only interpret as the individual equivalent of the oft-slammed concept of big polluters buying carbon offsets), Vancity has continued to pour money into social and traditional media advertising campaigns instead of investing its money where it is obviously most needed: in its staff, in staff training, and in technological infrastructure.
There’s only one person per branch who can open business bank accounts? You need to invest in a little cross-training there, Vancity. You think your members will willingly wait 45 minutes on hold? Don’t count on it. Get a call-back system that works. You think social media is the way to go? Until you understand that big, feel-good campaigns don’t mean a thing if you’re not walking the walk as well as talking the talk, until you understand that you can’t neglect your core business at the expense of creating ersatz pat-yourself-on-the-back social media sites and ads, I’m afraid I can’t support you and I don’t want to be a member of a club that isn’t trying very hard to get me to join.
I did succeed in opening a business bank account this week. I dropped in to a ‘regular’ bank on Thursday afternoon, a branch where I have a chequing account with a balance of less than $100. I was able to speak to a financial adviser there (after no more than a five-minute wait in the lobby, where I was able to read The Globe and Mail) and make an appointment with him for the next morning.
By noon on Friday I’d made my initial deposit, received my access card, and been given half a dozen cheques for the No Spin PR account. I also had my hand shaken four times, was smiled at, had all my questions answered, was thanked for my business, and was given support and encouragement regarding my business goals. Oh, and I found out I have a stellar credit rating. Way to give back, HSBC. The extra $3 or so I’m going to pay you every month in banking charges is money well spent. And ‘the world’s local bank’ is a slogan I can get behind, particularly when your actions match your tagline.