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All banks could trim fees if they wanted to.
OneUnited Bank is not only the largest Black-owned bank in the US, but it is also one of the most innovative. When the bank’s customers began to ask for more access and control of their money, the bank leadership responded.
Teri Williams, President and COO of OneUnited, explains, “We’re really low to the ground. When customers tell us what they want, we try to figure out creative ways to meet their needs.”
The result of that creative thinking helped pave the way for the bank’s new Empowerment Network, with more surcharge-free ATMs than any other bank in the country.
What customers want
OneUnited customers live primarily in urban communities, areas of the city that rarely become home to a new bank.
According to Williams, even if a member of the community keeps their money with a national bank, there’s a good chance they’ll have to go out of their way to use that bank’s ATM. Unless they’re willing to go out of their way, they’re likely to get stuck with an out-of-network surcharge.
“It drives up the community’s cost of banking,” Williams said.
When gaining access to their money began to feel problematic, OneUnited customers made it known to the powers that be.
Two surprise partners
OneUnited now has over 100,000 surcharge-free ATMs, including those at all Chase Bank and Citibank branches.
“I have to give them credit,” Williams said of the two big banks. “They’ve been reaching out to Black banks to learn how they can partner with us.”
OneUnited went on to expand its ATM network by allowing customers to make surcharge-free withdrawals from ATMs in retailers such as 7-Eleven, Costco, CVS, Target, and Walgreens.
The ability to withdraw money free of charge while shopping at Target or stopping by Walgreens for a prescription helps OneUnited customers hang on to their hard-earned money.
Answering another complaint
In response to customers asking OneUnited to help them gain greater control over their bank accounts, the bank launched OneUnited Card Command. Now, customers can instantly turn off and on their bank debit card. They also receive real-time transaction notifications, add their debit card to their digital wallet, create travel plans before leaving home, and set spending limits to control their budget.
Williams said, “Frankly, We’re elevating the BankBlack Movement by offering best-in-class services and state-of-the-art technology to better meet customer needs.”
How to save money yourself
Out-of-network ATM fees run, on average, between $2 and $3 per use. While that doesn’t sound like a fortune, it’s a painful reality for anyone living paycheck-to-paycheck. And according to Vox, it’s profitable for banks to charge fees. Due two bank feesAmerican banks raked in $279.1 billion in 2021. That’s $132 billion more than the year before.
Here are two ways to find a bank that will allow you to pay less and keep more money in your account.
Bank with OneUnited (or a bank of its caliber). You don’t have to be a minority to become part of a minority-owned bank. Go over your last bank statement with a fine-toothed comb, looking for fees. If your bank deducted fees of any kind, consider closing that account and opening a new one at another bank or credit union. Many credit unions charge no monthly maintenance fee and also provide a network of available ATMs through partner credit unions.
The challenge of letting go
The fact that fees earn billions for banks each year makes offering a huge network of surcharge-free ATMs a bit of a financial sacrifice.
Asked if OneUnited is going to miss the income it used to pull in thanks to ATM fees, Williams answered, “It’s costing us. There’s no question. But we recognize that it’s important for our community to have access. The benefit to our customers outweighs the cost.”
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