Alternatives to Big Banks in Australia
If you're not happy with the Big Four, there are plenty of smaller banks to choose from.
Banking with one of the Big Four has its advantages - many branches and ATMs, a wide product selection, well-designed apps and asset security, just to name a few. However, if you're fed up with your current bank and are looking for a smaller or independent provider there are plenty of options available to you.
Offering similar products to the Big Four, there are plenty of smaller banks you can consider. As technology advances, many of these banks don't have branches or ATMs. They provide service and advice online or over the phone, and rely on other infrastructure for physical transactions.
Credit unions are one of the more popular options for people searching for an alternative to a big bank, with an estimated 25% of Australians being a member of a credit union. Credit unions are collectives where people put their money together in an effort to benefit every member within the union.
You're more likely to receive better customer service and be treated as an individual rather than just a number. In most cases, credit unions are non-profit, which means they're less likely to charge as many fees as banks.
The downside: Most credit unions charge a membership fee to cover their operating costs. And unfortunately, as most credit unions are regional, you may find it difficult to find somewhere to bank if you're travelling interstate.
Building Societies are similar to credit unions, although they have a stronger focus on providing loans and mortgages, rather than general banking services.
In recent years, building societies have decreased in popularity, as many of the smaller ones were either bought out, amalgamated into other banks, or became banks in their own right, such as St.George.
Many of the big Australian banks reduced their banking services in some rural and outer suburban areas in the past ten years. This allowed smaller community banks to open a new business model that focused on local banking.
Perhaps the best known of these is Bendigo Bank, which began as a community bank in regional Victoria before it amalgamated with South Australia's Adelaide Bank. This has made the once-small community bank a large corporate bank that has retained some of its community banking feel with its customers.
There are many reasons why you might prefer an alternative to the big banks:
- Customer Service. No matter how hard they work at it, promote it, and teach it, the fact is that big banks frequently fall short when it comes to service. Bigger often means busier, and overly busy workers tend to be less friendly, less courteous, less willing to go the extra mile.
- Personalised Service. Remember the classic television show Cheers? The show's them song was "where everybody knows your name." There is a timeless appeal to being recognised and acknowledged by name. Think small-town. Smaller banks know their customers and treat them as friends.
- Fees and hours. Smaller banks still want to meet your needs. Your chances of finding a bank that's open on Saturdays or charges a monthly fee of only a few dollars are dramatically increased when you deal with smaller, local banks. It's easy to feel trapped by all the corporate red tape that goes on in our world. Big banks are no exception; in fact, they're sometimes the worst culprits.
If you're fed up with the big banks, or simply ready for a different – more personal – banking experience, think small. There are alternatives to the big bank status quo.
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