Wednesday, September 21, 2011

I went in to Apple Bank

Never Done: I went in to Apple Bank

What an interesting experience it is to walk into a bank, not knowing anything about it, considering becoming a customer. I had in fact never done that before. Usually it's either been some big corporate bank that everyone knows is horrible -- like Bank of America or Citibank (where I currently have my accounts) -- or else it's a community bank or a credit union that I knew about because I lived in the neighborhood.

For some time now I've wanted to open an account at a less pernicious bank, but I haven't found anything that works. I don't qualify for any credit union I know of (there's no freelancer's credit union) and there are no community banks in my neighborhood. So when I noticed that I walk past a beautiful Apple Bank building every day, I decided to go in and find out what kind of bank it is.

First of all, it's gorgeous, cavernous, stately, solid, cathedral-like. It is constructed of stone and wrought iron. It feels conservative and safe -- which is, I suppose, exactly what a bank wants to project. I was there late morning, and it was almost empty. I walked all the way across the shiny floor to the other side of the huge room, and spoke with a customer service representative.

Hi, I'm considering opening a new account, and I'd like to know what kind of bank this is.
What kind of account are you interested in opening?
What kinds of accounts do you have?
This is a savings bank. What kind of account are you interested in opening?
(Not completely sure what bank isn't a savings bank.) So you have savings accounts?
We have all kinds of accounts. What a you interested in?
I'm interested in a bank that functions on a local level and supports the community it's based in. Is this a community bank?
This is a private bank.

At this point I realized that 1) I was not going to get the answers I wanted in this conversation, and 2) I barely know anything about banks and banking. I stood up and told her I would do some more research, and at that point she offered me some brochures. Brochures about branches, kinds of accounts, about the bank itself. Perfect, I thought, this will tell me everything I need to know. I thanked the woman and left through the substantial door. As I walked away, I looked at the brochures, and learned ... almost nothing. With the exception of branch locations, the info on the brochures was as opaque as the info from the woman. What I did figure out from that is that if it were a community bank with community-based values, they would say so right on their brochure. I was getting the impression that maybe it's a high-end bank for discreet clients, because they said so little.

When I got back to my office, I Googled Apple Bank to see if I could figure it out. Right off the bat, this picture

reconfirmed my sense that it's a conservative bank for conservative people. And then I went on to read the history of the bank which let me know it used to be a community bank in Harlem but now it's acquired many other banks, and then I read Apple Bank's Wikipedia page which told me that, and here I quote directly from Wikipedia, "In 1985, Apple converted from a mutual savings bank to a stock-issuing public institution, selling 4.6 million shares for a total of $53.5 million. In 1990, a prominent real estate developer and investor Stanley Stahl became the sole stockholder of the bank when he paid about $170 million. In August 1999, Stahl died and the bank is controlled by his estate."

So this isn't my groovy community bank, but I have to admit, I was so seduced by the building's interior that I wanted to look past common sense and likelihood and everything I know about New York real estate (that building was not really going to house a credit union) and pretend that it was the place for me. I pictured myself doing my personal banking on the way from the subway to the office. I pictured my money going to support ... what? ... Central Park Conservancy maybe? But the truth is I knew the truth as soon as I entered, and I didn't need the woman and the pamphlets to basically tell me that if I didn't already know what it was, then it wasn't for me.

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