I have worked at the same job, in the same building, for three and a half years. During that entire time, I have never ventured in to the mysterious tiny office next to our cafeteria. It only ever has one or two employees working inside and just the occasional customer. It contains a branch of the NARFE credit union, open exclusively for Federal employees and their families, and I’m their newest member.
Before last month, I was never curious about what a credit union could do for me. I’m not sure why. I had a small loyalty to Bank of America, but they were often more trouble than they were worth. Fees that changed year-to-year, clunky online management services, and, worst of all, poor customer service all put a bitter taste in my mouth. Yet, I’d never considered switching until a coworker told me he used NARFE to help grow his savings. That caught my attention.
In my first year at my job, I briefly considered looking into NARFE but a few things about how they operated, or my perception of it, kept me away. They weren’t a “real” bank so there weren’t tellers, a large safe, or many staff members. The concept was foreign, and I couldn’t see how it would work. It also had very few branches, meaning I wouldn’t have access to someone in-person when I wasn’t at work. I hated the concept of something so seemingly unstable. Especially in my first few years out of school, I craved stability in every way I could get it. Switching banks seemed like a risk I just didn’t want to take.
But once I had a better financial plan and a clearer head about what makes good customer service (hint: it’s not fancy tellers and tons of branches, I promise you), a new bank became a much more attractive option. Saving and I have always been in a love/hate relationship, and it’s only been in the past two years or so that I’ve come to understand the real value of it. So, one Sunday a few weeks ago, I sat down and looked up all NARFE had to offer. Every credit union is different, but let’s just say my mind was blown.
The great thing about credit unions is that they are, for lack of a better term, low maintenance. Because they don’t put a lot of money into branches and staffing, they are able to save money on actual services. The big kicker? Their interest rates. They were the lowest I had ever been offered, especially while still developing credit.
As I knew I was going to buy my first new car soon (update: It’s bought! Name suggestions in the comments, please!) this piqued my interest even more. Then I looked at the rates they offered for checking and savings as well as their fantastic gap insurance for cars, mortgage rates, and other services. After that, I was raving to everyone about how much I love credit unions.
But the truly best thing was the customer service. The branch manager, who also happens to service most of the branch’s customers, is one of the nicest and most accommodating people I have ever met. His sense of humor is fabulous and his determination to help you no matter the situation is truly impressive. He actually makes an effort to know all of his customers and go the extra mile for them whenever possible. Since our first meeting, he now calls out to me when I pass by with my lunch, he helped me carry a heavy whiteboard he saw me walking with, and he stayed a half an hour late one day to help me with my application because he knew I had meetings that delayed me getting to him. That never happened at any of my Bank of America branches.
There are definitely a few down sides, the biggest being the limited branch hours and locations. But because so much of the services I need are online, and most ATM fees are refunded, I don’t really require a branch for my day-to-day needs.
I’ve been proven wrong many times in my life. I swore I would never own a Mac, move to California, or adopt a cat. Well, I love my Mac, I hope to move to California, and my two cats are very fond of me. So I should have known my disinterest in credit unions would change over time, too. It feels good to be wrong.