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Dennis Santiago

Dennis Santiago

Posted: January 8, 2010 09:57 AM

Walking the Talk

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Nine days since launching the Move Your Money (MYM) zip code tool. Over half the country's zip codes have been searched and the phone at my office rings off the hook mostly from bankers calling to find out more about "the list". I apologize that I can no longer answer all of them. I am trying to take as many as possible. Since Monday, bankers have graciously assisted in identifying and plugging holes in the MYM zip code tool. As of Thursday night it is a vastly improved analytical filter from the one that came online on the 29th of December. It now covers a broader range of small and mid-size banks. The branch listings have more of the recently opened banks covered.

The 'B' or better criteria continues to hold as a good cut off point for inclusion in the list. According to the IRA databases, we've determined that the MYM tool includes just under 5,100 small and mid-size banks and excludes just under 2,800. That means two thirds of the banking industry is being acknowledged as worthy of the public's consideration by the system. These bankers are energized! Many literally start the phone call saying it's like a new ray of hope has arrived for the industry. And they say it whether their bank is listed or not. Sometimes they'll help by anecdotally confirming that the list is indeed identifying good banks in their operating areas. And who should know if a list of good banks is right if not the bankers in that area themselves? All I can say is thanks so much for helping.

Help comes in other forms as well. The conversations I've had with bankers from the one third of the industry that have C, D and F grades confirm that the stress test outcomes indicated by the IRA computations are indeed very real and on the whole accurately pinpoint where the problems are within these banks. I must tell you that many of these have been heartfelt conversations. What many people probably don't realize is just how hard working bankers really are. I've gotten calls well into the evening Pacific Time from people still working on the East Coast. I do feel the deepest sympathy for those bankers who tell me just how heartbreaking it is to when an external economic shock puts them further behind the eight ball even as I tick off the checklist about why IRA's computers says they didn't make the list. Yes, for those of you with colder hearts, some of their problems are self-inflicted. Others are systemic. I'm beginning to get an inkling that might yet lead to a clearer understanding of what can and should be solved by normal market disciplinary measures and what might require some new corrective vehicles to prevent the issues from lingering like sea anchors on the rest of the economy. I am grateful to these bankers in particular for their candor.

"And now for something completely different."

I've always loved that old Monty Python line. It makes me impish. Yesterday I got the yen to try an experiment. What does it take to put that MYM tool printout into action? How much bother and time? What's a reasonable first step?

So I typed in the zip code of my office in Torrance, Califorina. It's 90501. The list generated makes me smile. It includes some of the oldest and most respected regional banks in the Los Angeles area and they've got branches located within five minutes of the office. So I grab my checkbook and I.D. to head off to "walk the talk". Here's the timeline.

1:05pm Leave office. Hit traffic. I hate traffic.

1:15pm Arrive at the local branch of City National Bank.

It's in a cluster of buildings of housing several banks. In the "theme park" I recognized one that failed and has been taken over by another institution. I take a quick look at the services brochure so I can figure out what it'll take to make the proper initial deposit to be above the bank's monthly minimum to qualify for a fees free checking account. A very helpful person fills out all the paperwork and loads the computer while we chat about the pictures of my kids that come up when my iPhone rings, and how I need to use a different email surname for her if I need anything because she just got married and the IT department hasn't updated her email address yet. Pleasantries done. Account's set up. Deposit hold expires and checks and a debit card will arrive in about 10 days. It's been about 20 minutes.

1:35pm Back in the car and off the local branch of Farmers and Merchants Bank of Long Beach.

1:40pm Arrive.

F&M is one of the oldest banks in California going back to the days when Los Angeles was an agricultural ocean of citrus. This F&M branch stands alone on its corner, just south of the Del Amo shopping mall. Again a friendly greeting and a quick look at the services brochure to identify the minimum initial deposit to start a fees free checking account. Ooh, this is green! I elect not to have paper checks for now, just a debit card and online banking is plenty fine for this 21st century consumer. This time it's, chat your way through as the friendly face types in your information directly into the terminal. Review the printout to make sure everything is OK, write a check and wait as they photocopy my drivers license. Back comes a deposit slip. Again, the deposit hold expires and the debit card and other info should show up shortly. This one took a little longer, about 25 minutes.

2:05pm
Leave F&M and head back to the office.

So: it's possible to begin a new banking relationship in a lunch hour. Not much fuss at all. Now most people don't really need multiple bank accounts at multiple institutions but if you do as you can see even this can begin on a lunch break. In practical terms, what you've done is start a process. As the sun sets, you'll be on a journey instead of watching one. Now there's a week to ten days to ponder how you really want to move your money around.

"Mischief managed. Nox."

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