I’ve been a loyal VanCity customer since I moved to Vancouver in the mid-90’s. I wanted a local bank whose values seemed to match my own politics. I was swayed by their enviro-visa give-back program. I loved the annual $1,000,000 community-project fund. I loved that they were very progressive in their LGBT (or however you want to organize that acronym) support. So I switched. And for the first few years, I felt smug knowing that I banked with them. But then I tried to get a loan to buy a new computer. And sure, I didn’t make much money, but more than enough to cover the monthly payments. But I was self-employed, so they said no. Eventually, after having my parents co-sign it, I got a loan. I should note I payed it off early. When Leah & I first bought a car, VanCity refused to loan me money. We ended up leasing through Ford Finance, which was a horrible experience. At the time, I figured it was ok that they refused us, because I didn’t make much money, but I felt I made enough & was definitely disappointed. Because I was self-employed, I wanted a Line of Credit to help deal with months where maybe cheques didn’t come in on time. That was flat-out refused – despite having good credit, a long history with them & my having a decent ‘salary’. At work, we re-arranged our company from a Partnership to a Corporation in part so it I could list myself as an employee of a company rather than an owner. Work did well, I started making more money. After Liam was born, we wanted to buy another car. Toyota jumped at option to give us a loan to buy a car, at a great rate. I called Vancity, who not only would not match the rate offered by Toyota, but wouldn’t even approve me for a loan without a co-signature. So we used Toyota financial (which was a great experience, for the record). When we bought a house, we used a mortgage broker who got us a great rate. Again, because I was loyal to Vancity, I checked with them to see if they could match the rate. Again, no, they couldn’t. It’s just endless frustration when dealing with them.
My experience with them for business banking has been if anything, even worse. Every time we asked for things like a Line of Credit, we were refused – in part, as far as I understood it, because they needed Jeff and I as co-owners to co-sign for it, and so it was based on our credit rating. But our credit rating was suspect because we were business owners of a company that was looking for credit. What??? And it seemed like every time we needed them to help us, by quickly clearing a cheque, or whatnot, they couldn’t. And despite being heavy bankers, we could not get a personal banker assigned to our account. We eventually switched to HSBC, in part because we were immediately assigned us a banker to look out for us – who has, simply by helping us get a better US exchange, likely saved us thousands of dollars. But is also a single person we can call and ask business-banking questions to. And who gave us a line of credit, without issue, quickly. And as anyone else who runs a small business knows, having a line of credit is one of those essentials for doing business. I have friends who run a local small business, who also bank at VanCity. According to them, they weren’t able to get a line of credit with VanCity until they met, and became friendly with the CEO of VanCity at a conference, and all of sudden doors opened for them. That shouldn’t have to happen.
Leah and I opened a BMO account also to have a joint account, and also because my parents banked there, and I’m lucky enough to have parents who were able to help me with a down-payment on my house – and because it was going to be so tricky with VanCity for my parents in Toronto to transfer me money, it was simply easier to open an account at BMO. But dealing with BMO has been so much less painful than dealing with VanCity, the chances of me talking to BMO next time I want something are pretty high. When I next buy RRSPs, I doubt it’ll be VanCity. Or when I next buy a car & want a car loan. Or line of credit. Or want investment advice. So why do I stick with VanCity? Particularly when I look at their community involvement, it seems to have dropped to the same level of tokenism as the big banks, so why should I stay?
Here’s what I want in my bank. I want to have a person with a name & phone number & email to whom I can ask questions. Who’ll review my info at least once a quarter and suggest things – new investments, or more optimal account packages, or suggest an RRSP loan, or whatever. Ideally, I’d like a bank that I could also do my business banking with that seems to actually understand how my small business works and is willing to work with us to find solutions. Maybe I am asking for the sky, but I don’t feel like I am. I feel like I’m asking for something quite reasonable, but maybe not. But I do think that I might be done with VanCity. I’d love to be wrong. I want to love VanCity again, but at the moment, I just don’t see that happening.