Recently I decided it was time to switch to a local bank. Previously I’ve had ING Direct and Shitibank and decided I’d had enough with all corporate banking. Too big to fail? Well that’s an easy fix, I’ll just move my money and put a dent in that size of yours.
There’s several local banking options though many of them seem kinda crappy. I opened an account at Mission National but barely use it because in-person visits are required for so many tasks. That doesn’t work for someone who, you know, has a job.
SFist had a poll for the best local credit union and SF Fire CU won. Figured it was worth a shot.
Now that I’m gradually settling in to my new bank, I’m finding myself more and more glad that I made the switch. Because the SF Fire CU rocks.
1. Online banking.
Many small or local banks advertise “online banking,” but what does that really mean? If you mean a web interface set up by a group of middle school students for a class project in 1997, then you’ll be happy with any small, local bank or credit union.
But some of us want to do things like enroll for an account without leaving our chairs. Even many of the national banks fail at this.
Thankfully, I was able to sign up for SF Fire CU online. In fact, I have never visited either of their branches but I was able to sign up and setup my banking all in about 30 minutes. They also let you order your banking cards online (see #4 for details.)
Their website isn’t as slick as some banks, but my only real wishlist would be a username instead of using your account number.
2. Customer service
Most places I go I feel like I get good service because I try to be pleasant. I figure if you’re dealing with hundreds of customers every day, you’re not getting paid enough for them to be a dick to you.
That said, the corporate banks tend to have really bad phone support. Some banks outsource it and it shows.
SF Fire CU has both a phone number and a web chat. They were able to help solve my newbie questions really quickly on both, which I appreciate.
And none of my calls went to India.
3. All ATMs are free
If the ATM owner charges you a fee, SF Fire CU reimburses you.
Does your bank do that? If so, you probably have a major bank. Many smaller banks and credit unions pay you back for ATM fees.
It might not sound like such a big deal, but imagine you’re at your favorite dive bar and want to order your buddies a round. Oops, no cash: and the bank is too far to walk. Do you use the bar’s ATM and pay $3? You know you HATE paying that fee. That’s a beer’s worth of money down the tubes.
4. Visa credit/debit cards with photos
SF Fire CU does both credit cards and debit cards. Best part is you can get whatever photo you want on the card, though someone does review it so don’t upload a photo of the Goatse man or whatever (you sick bastard.)
My cards are inspired by two infamous San Francisco eccentrics:
Now if only I could find an ATM that dispensed Norton Dollars…
5. Smartphone app (eventually)
Many people who were born before 1960 like to use these pieces of paper called “checks.” It’s kind of like a prehistoric version of PayPal, only more obnoxious.
In recent years bank ATMs added this slot where you slide a check in and it somehow magically knows how much the check is for and deposits it in your account. And yes, I know it’s magic because it can read my handwriting — something even I cannot do. That all seemed fine until banks started letting you deposit checks with their smartphone apps. Suddenly you didn’t have to go outside to deposit checks, you could simply snap a photo with your iPhone! Yes, it was like the future, except a future where something went horribly wrong because we were still using checks.
Now the bad news: I’ve got you all hyped up for nothing, because SF Fire CU still hasn’t released their app. But they claim it’s coming soon. I have a check sitting on my desk from some jerk who still writes checks and wanted to give me money, so this can’t come soon enough.
Well there’s really nothing more to say, if you haven’t read this and just skipped to the conclusion you’re a cheater and cheaters get what they deserve: nothing.
But here’s the deal: if you live in SF or the neighboring counties, you’re eligible for this credit union and it’s worth checking them out. Their website is here.