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Do the Local Banks Feel Like Home?
By Denise Minor
When Home Savings of America took over Coast Federal Savings in March, many patrons feared that moving up a notch in corporate stature meant slipping down a notch in personal service at the savings and loan's 24th Street branch.
"There were some things about Coast Federal that made a difference for me, such as the fact that when most banks started charging for using their ATMs, Coast Federal was one of the few that didn't charge," said customer Ann Rovere.
Coast also sold Muni Fast Passes, which was a great convenience to Noe Valley bus riders. Home Savings has discontinued that service.
But despite these changes, and the fact that it's a much larger chain, Home Savings insists that it will stay a neighborhood bank. And its public relations people have been quick to assure customers that the personal touch will not be lost.
"Customers will see most of the same faces and get the same service they got before," said Adrian Rodriquez, vice president of Corporate Communications, from his office near Los Angeles. "Except for one person, who transferred to another Home Savings, the staff [in Noe Valley] will stay the same."
The neighborhood might want to look at the positive side of the merger, he said. Before, Coast Federal customers had access to 98 branches. Now with Home, they can bank at more than 400 outlets.
Some of the other extras Home Savings offers Noe Valley are cash management and payroll services for businesses and consumer loans to individuals, Rodriguez said.
But for Rovere, that's not enough.
"I like a bank that has a feeling of smallness and is noncorporate," said Rovere, who lived for many years on 28th Street and still spends most of her free time in Noe Valley.
She would have liked to keep doing her banking in the neighborhood. But after considerable research she has decided to move her account to Community Bank of Oakland, even though it will be an inconvenience. "It will be harder for me to access my money because they have no ATMs right now. I'll have to bank by mail or use the ATMs of other banks which have an agreement with Community Bank," said Rovere.
Still, she thinks it is the best move, both for her money and her conscience. "I investigated a number of banks, and I think Community Bank is the most human being oriented," she said.
A combination of factors influenced Rovere's decision, including Community Bank's commitment to investing in poor communities and providing services for senior citizens. The bank also offers a spectrum of accounts. "They have an interest-bearing checking account which I like very much," she said.
Rovere said that Community Bank is the only bank in Northern California certified as a community development financial institution by both federal and state government.
"I believe there is a balance between making money and being socially responsible," she continued. "I think a bank can do both."
Managers Try to Stay Connected
Is banking in Noe Valley getting too impersonal? Are the larger banks less involved in the neighborhoods where they operate?
The Voice talked to managers from the three neighborhood banks, and only one-- Barbara Keeley of the Wells Fargo Branch Center at 4023 24th St. -- was allowed to speak unfettered.
Manager Tony Lyau of the Bank of America branch at 24th and Castro could only be interviewed over the phone with a corporate public relations person listening in on the other line.
Home Savings manager Martha Sainz had to refer Voice calls to the corporate headquarters in Irwindale near Los Angeles. She was later permitted to answer a few questions.
Still, all three stressed that a customer could get the same friendly service in a bank with hundreds of branches as she could in a bank with only a handful of outlets. And all three said they were committed to being closely involved in the neighborhood.
Lyau of Bank of America is the treas-urer of the Noe Valley Merchants and Professionals Association. He has participated in fundraisers for local churches and has processed grants for neighborhood programs such as the senior lunch program at the Noe Valley Ministry.
He said that BofA tellers make an effort to take care of problems personally. "We don't send people to the customer service phone all the time," said Lyau.
Bank of America's late hours are also a service to the community, he said. The branch is open Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Friday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.; and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Sainz of Home Savings said she too is an active member of the Noe Valley Merchants Association and that her bank will continue to contribute to neighborhood programs, as did Coast Federal.
Rodriquez pointed out that Home Savings earmarks funds for regional banks to invest in community projects. In addition, this year it will invest $35 billion to revitalize low- and moderate-income neighborhoods. "For instance, last year Home Savings gave a $500,000 grant through the local NAACP to the Freedom Fund in Oakland to invest in commercial areas in Oakland to revitalize business and provide jobs," Rodriquez said.
The Home Savings at 3998 24th St. (285-3040) is open Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Barbara Keeley is the manager and only employee at the Wells Fargo Branch Center on 24th Street (near Noe). She said that either she or the automatic teller machines, both inside and outside the office, could meet most of her customers' needs.
"I can open accounts for customers and process personal loans," she said. "If you need to see a personal financial officer, I can make an appointment for one to come in to meet with you."
At the ATM machines, customers can transfer money between accounts, pay bills, and do a number of things other than just making deposits and withdrawals.
"Many Noe Valley residents are also interested in our online banking service, where you pay your bills from your home computer. I can give them information about that," Keeley said.
Her hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday (phone: 550-0128).
Crucial for many customers are the types of accounts available, and the fees the banks charge for them. All three neighborhood banks offer a variety of checking and savings accounts. Here are a couple of the basics at each bank.
Home Savings of America
ATM Value Checking: This account has no minimum balance, but it has a $3 monthly service charge with Direct Deposit (automatic electronic deposit of your paycheck), a $5 monthly service charge without Direct Deposit, and a 50-cent charge per check if more than 30 checks are used per cycle.
Convenience Checking: There's no monthly service charge with this account if you maintain a $750 balance or do Direct Deposit. Otherwise, the fee is $7 or $8 per month.
To non-account-holders who use its ATMs, Home Savings charges $1 or $1.50 per transaction, depending on the type of ATM.
Bank of America
Versatel Checking: This BofA account has no service charge with Direct Deposit. Otherwise, the fee is $5.50 per month. No minimum balance required.
Standard Checking: This account has no service charge as long as you keep a $1,000 minimum balance. Otherwise, the fee is $8.50 per month.
Bank of America charges $2 to noncustomers for use of its ATMs.
Wells Fargo Bank
Custom Access Account: This checking account is free with Direct Deposit. (Accounts that stop receiving an electronic deposit for three consecutive months convert to ATM Checking.)
ATM Checking: The monthly service charge on this account is $5.50 ($3.50 if you normally do Direct Deposit).
Stagecoach Checking: This account is free with a minimum balance of $1,000. Otherwise, the fee is $9 a month ($7 with Direct Deposit).
Wells Fargo charges $1.50 per transaction to noncustomers at its ATMs.
Call or drop by the local branches for more information.