Our visit with a Wells Fargo business banker

In a previous workshop update we made a throwaway remark about visiting a banker that generated a lot of comments. It was nothing sinister, but here’s the full story.

We went to a branch of Wells Fargo bank in Manhattan to add a new signer to the company account. Plan was to be in and out in 10 minutes, but we ended up getting a 2 hour consultation.

When we started the business account an “online banker” gave us a personal checking package. Not a personal account, we’re all official, just the ‘product’ they sell as a personal account. Awhile ago it started costing $5-$10 a month in fees out of nowhere. The nice banker guy moved us to a free business account.

A few months ago strange iTunes and World of Warcraft charges showed up on the company Visa debit card. The card probably wasn’t stolen, seems more likely it was a random guess by a botnet. We opened a ‘burner’ account for internet stuff, it’ll only have limited funds in case of fraud. For incoming wires and cash storage we setup two additional account with no access via a debit card at all.

We were offered a company credit card and encouraged to apply for a line of credit. Never, ever, in any circumstances would we use credit card debt to fund Dangerous Prototypes. It is almost impossible for an LLC like us to get a credit card anyways. However, sometimes car companies, et. al. want a real credit card. Usually they give us some out (huge cash authorization, personal credit card, etc), but it gets old jumping through hoops to get a business rental car.

Many commenters suggested we check out a credit union as an alternative to the big evil banks. We’re sympathetic! We’ve checked them out, including the Tech Credit Union, but it would cost a fortune to use one. We move money by international wires. Big bank fees for sending and receiving international wires are extortion, but the only thing worse is a little bank (or credit union) reselling wires from a bigger bank. Tech Credit Union charged $50 to receive a wire last time we checked. Wells Fargo is $10 (plus an extra $10-15 amount that always seems to go missing…). Still way too much for a simple database update, but not fifty bucks!

Wells Fargo got our business primarily because they let us do everything online, including setup the account. Until this meeting we had never actually set foot inside a Wells Fargo bank. Sure we talk on the phone to our nearest Iowa branch, but we never actually had to go there. We’re a modern, lightweight online business, trundling into the bank is for suckers (so we thought). A local bank we’ve used for decades said flat out it would be illegal to setup an account online – but it was no problem with Wells Fargo.

Credit where credit is due. Our “local” branch of Wells Fargo is 45 minutes away from the office in Davenport, Iowa. We showed up unannounced to a Manhattan branch and they spent two hours working with us. Wells Fargo and the big banks have many faults, but the guy who helped us was genuine and spent a lot of time. He could have just added another signer and booted us out the door. Nothing we did cost any money, in fact Wells Fargo is now out $120-$200 year in fees. It was really impressive and worth mentioning.

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  1. Per year $120-$200 fees for a business account!!!
    Here in India, my bank IDBI (Industrial Development Bank of India)doesn’t charge me any fees like that, even no charges for currency conversation if I use my card to pay bills in different currency. There are some little fees associated with transfer, withdrawals beyond a limit,etc, but all fees are waived off if AQB maintained above 3lakh rupees(5500$).
    A negative point is that professional tax is directly debited from account on basis of incoming funds if return file is not submitted in time to income tax dept.

  2. Interesting, my credit union only charges $10 (plus of course the part that goes missing, which is actually taken by one of the correspondent banks along the way) to receive international wires. On the other hand they don’t allow me to initiate wires online.

  3. A decade or so ago Wells Fargo was a pretty decent bank. There are still older branches with older managers who run things “right”. The problem is that the umbrella corporation started taking cues from Goldman Sachs some years back and they became rapacious bastards who would sell their own grandmothers for a nickel. Do not be fooled by the velvet glove…

  4. Not related to business accounts but still… I wasn’t happy with them when I tried to draw money in San Francisco with my credit card – $5 fee. City and Bank of American ask for $3.

    1. No doubt that’s awful, and we get the same on company card but never use it for cash. Why when I was a kid there was a law against atm fees in Iowa totally, and I think California too, uphill both ways! :)

  5. In order to combat fraud, you can use keyscrambler which essentially scrambles what you type on your computer and feeds gibberish to identity thieves.

    It is hard to find a bank with free checking anymore.

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