We caught up with Alex Matjanec, one of the site’s founders, for his thoughts on the state of banking and what he hopes to see in 2012. As MyBankTracker’s Media and Communications Manager, he is a firm believer in the possibilities that can exist when personal finance meets digital connectivity.
What made you want to start MyBankTracker.com?
We started it because we were helping institutions and other financial companies update their conversation with what they knew was a growing online audience. But when we were doing that, we saw what we felt was a need for a level of third-party transparency. So we launched MyBankTracker.com in August 2008 — and right after that, a bunch of things happened in the financial industry regarding transparency that made us feel we had the right thinking.
Transparency is about helping consumers make knowledgeable financial decisions. We’re not all about helping people change banks — we’re trying to help them get the information they need so they can go to their bank and feel comfortable having a conversation.
What advice would you have for someone who’s looking for a new financial institution?
The first thing is not to jump ship right away just because you’re scared of all the fees you’re hearing about. It’s really important to understand your banking habits and how you interact with your bank. We’ve seen people on our website make comments that they switched banks because of one fee, and then they didn’t consider other fees at the bank they were switching to. They ended up paying more than the fee they were trying to avoid.
Something we’re big on at MyBankTracker are bank reviews. Many consumers make decisions on everyday purchases by looking at reviews, but when it comes to choosing a bank, they don’t talk to anybody — they just make a decision based on marketing. We think you should go online and look at reviews, and visit MyBankTracker.
We talk a lot about banking nonsense on the Straight Talk blog. What banking behavior do you find nonsensical?
Three things jump out to me. The first is forcing consumers into relationship accounts to avoid fees. This is when banks tell customers they need to have a checking account and a savings account with them, or they need to have checking account that’s connected to a mortgage, in order to avoid late fees. I think consumers should have the ability to mix and match the products that best fit their needs.
Another one is charging for convenience. The new big thing with banks now is mobile deposit capture for checks. But there are banks already out there charging people to use this feature. I think it’s unfair to introduce things that make it easier for the consumer and then start charging for it.
The last one is charging for actions only when they’re performed in a certain way. An example is making an ACH transfer over the phone. There are banks out there that will charge you as much as $3 for making this transfer over the phone because you can do it online. If it’s going to be free, make it free across the board.
We all know how certain financial decisions can reveal their true value over time. Are there any decisions from your financial past — a product you opened, a piece of advice you’ve followed — that you find are still paying off?
Automation is probably the biggest one. There are too many variables in personal finance, and there are a lot of tools that try to make it easier. But automation, and setting up alerts, really do that. It’s been a huge time saver for me, and it’s helped me avoid penalties and other fees and allowed me to focus on making smarter money decisions. It’s also how a lot of people save: They don’t see the money — it comes in and it goes out.
2012 is just around the corner. What financial trends would you like to see in the coming year?
I would definitely like to see more of the online banking experience shift to mobile. I think we’re getting there, but I’d like to see an overall richer experience. If you think about mobile in a smart way, you can eliminate the need to go online.
Do you look online for reviews of banks and their products? What financial trends would you like to see in the coming year?