Do you see big banks as dinosaurs that are failing to keep up with changing times and certain to become extinct? If you're like most Americans, the answer is yes. In a survey of more than 2,000 Americans released today by early stage venture firm Blumberg Capital, 57 percent of respondents believed traditional banks as we know them today will cease to exist within our lifetimes.
If this prediction turns out to be right, most of us won't be a bit sorry. A whopping 80 percent of respondents say big banks are too focused on serving the 1 percent and big businesses at the expense of small businesses and average consumers. More than 60 percent of respondents said banks are charging them too much interest on their debt, and 76 percent believe banks don't properly serve those with low credit scores or bad employment histories.
They also think traditional banks are failing at supporting entrepreneurs. Fifty-nine percent said they would rather either borrow money from or lend money to a family member or friend to grow a small business--instead of paying, or have their friends pay, high interest to a bank.
It's pretty clear, we Americans don't much like our big banks. And, it turns out, we don't have to bother with them if we don't want to. If you'd like to say bye-bye to your own too-big-to-fail financial behemoth, here are some attractive alternatives:
1. Credit unions.
In the last few decades, credit unions have really come into their own as full-fledged financial institutions that provide most or all of the same services big banks do. They differ from banks in some important ways: First, they are not-for-profit organizations intended to benefit their members rather than rake in the cash. That means they usually offer lower fees or no fees for account, lower overdraft fees, better interest rates on credit cards, and better savings account rates than traditional banks.
Credit unions are governed democratically by their members, and they all have membership requirements. But for some, those requirements make it very easy to join. For instance, I bank at BECU, the Boeing Employees Credit Union, which anyone who is a Washington resident can join.
2. Community banks.
Another great alternative to big banks is small, community-based banks, such as local savings bank. Before moving to Snohomish, Washington from Woodstock, New York, I did most of my banking at Ulster Savings Bank in Ulster County, and paid my mortgage to Rondout Savings Bank, named for the Rondout Creek and historic neighborhood of Kingston, New York. Both banks offer most of the services you'd expect from a large bank, with good service and lower fees.
3. Internet-only financial institutions.
Blumberg has an interest in funding fin-tech companies, which of course is why it commissioned the survey. But internet-based no-branch banks are a great way to get away from traditional bank fees. My husband is a veteran, so we get our car and home insurance through USAA, for instance. Although you can't, say, drop in and pick up a cashier's check if you're making a large cash purchase, you can do most things you could do with a bricks-and-mortar bank. The bank saves a lot on overhead by not having physical branches, and those savings are often passed along in the form of higher interest rates on savings, lower interest rates on credit, and lower or no fees. Here's a list of the top ten online banks to get you started.
4. Online brokers.
Tony Robbins basically wrote a whole book to tell you that you don't need a big fancy brokerage firm or traditional bank for your investments. Instead, consider low-cost online brokers which provide you with research and let you pick your own stocks, buying and selling at will. Or if you want to follow Warren Buffett's get-rich-slow advice and invest in exchange-traded index funds, you can do that as well.
5. Alternative investments and credit.
These days, there are all sorts of ways to circumnavigate big banks when it comes to investing, borrowing, and other traditional banking functions. PayPal and other online financial institutions provide good alternatives to a traditional checking account where you can make deposits and payments. (You need an underlying bank account to make deposits to PayPal, but it can be a savings account.) As for investing, here are several alternatives to big banks and brokerage houses that you can use even if you have less than $500 to invest.