Whitney?

July 13th, 2009 by Editor B

When we moved to New Orleans ten years ago we set up a bank account with Hibernia. We wanted to bank local, and we heard Hibernia sponsoring the local NPR affiliate, so we figured they were as good a choice as any. They had branched out to Texas and Mississippi and Arkansas, but their headquarters were in New Orleans. It was the largest and oldest bank based in the state of Louisiana at that time.

However, Hibernia was acquired by Capital One in 2005. (They say Katrina knocked a good $300 million off the purchase price.) Capital One of course is not a local bank. They are headquartered in Virginia.

We’ve stuck with them so far, more out of inertia than anything else, but I’d rather use a local bank. (Why bank local? For the same reasons it’s good to shop local.) Also, I’m kind of put out by some of Capital One’s questionable practices.

And another thing: I’m still ticked off about the way Capital One configured their Mid-City branch when they rebuilt after the flood of ’05. They’ve got an ATM in the lobby, but of course that’s only available when the bank is open. I asked them (both before they built and after they reopened) to consider allowing extended access. No dice. Most of the time when I come by to use the ATM I’m locked out. I have to stand in line with the cars. Obviously that’s not the worst thing in the world, but it is an annoyance. I said to Xy that I’d move our account to the first bank to open a 24-hour walk-up ATM in Mid-City.

That brings us to Whitney Bank.

Whitney

They have just built a new branch office at the corner of Canal and Jeff Davis, quite close to our house, much closer than Capital One. This is on the site of the old Walgreen’s that never reopened after Katrina. It’s a much better design than Walgreen’s, as they built to the corner in a pedestrian-friendly fashion. In fact, that whole intersection is looking halfway decent now.

But what’s that on the side of the building? Could it be?

Walk-Up ATM

Yes, a walk-up ATM, available anytime. Be still my heart.

Whitney is a local bank. With Hibernia out of the picture, it’s now the oldest bank in the state.

So why am I not rushing over there to deposit my pennies and nickels? Well, in part I’m given pause because a few years ago I read Rising Tide by John Barry. This is a fascinating history of the big flood of 1927. (Buy it from a local bookseller.) And it does not paint Whitney in a very good light. In fact it makes the institution look positively evil. But then again, Hibernia was characterized in much the same way. Also the Times-Picayune, yet I’m still maintaining my subscription. Then again, the T-P is the only daily paper in town. There are other banks — but none so convenient.

Also I have a friend, not the most progressive-minded person in the world, who nevertheless seems to think Whitney is a regressive old-line elitist institution that is holding New Orleans back.

So I’m curious what other people might think. Is Whitney really that bad?

30 Responses to “Whitney?”

  1. HammHawk Says:

    I suppose it’s a bit like oil companies–they all have some shadiness just by virtue of what they do. I have the same inertia you describe, after having intentionally hooked up with Hibernia back in the day. Now it seems like such a pain to try to transfer all the auto-bill-pays and stuff, but I figured I’d go with Liberty because they’re based here and have a black CEO who’s been good to our employer and seems like a real stand-up guy. But I haven’t looked into convenience issues like ATM availability.

  2. alli Says:

    I use Whitney, but I have admittedly not looked into the kind of history/shadiness you describe.

  3. elbuzzard Says:

    Pretty much all banks are evil, aren’t they? The real question is “Is Whitney more or less evil than Capital One?”

    I would say that Capital One, being much much larger has more opportunities to do evil.

    But then again, Whitney, being local, has more opportunities to do evil locally….

  4. Ed Says:

    Aren’t there any credit unions? Those are usually really local. And have ATMs.

  5. Lee Says:

    While there are no real local banks around here anymore, I use one that is as local as possible and because of that I have been given service that a non local bank would probably not provide. I had an overdraft due to paypal. When I told them the issue, as soon as I got to the word paypal they said they would reverse the charges. You can’t beat that. Have you actually went in and spoke with the bank about what you’ve heard Bart?

  6. Ed Says:

    Did a Google and found this:

    Credit unions are member-owned. If you have an account at a credit union, you’re a part owner in the enterprise. That may not entitle you to use the executive washroom — your CU probably doesn’t even have an executive washroom — but you’re likely to be seen as a person rather than as a “cost center.”

    Credit unions are not-for-profit. This status helps explain why interest rates tend to be significantly better, and fees fewer and smaller, at credit unions than at banks. Any profits credit unions do make are distributed as dividends to their members. Contrast that with banks, which continually invent new fees and policies to boost profits (and to pay those stunning executive salaries).

    Banks hate — hate — credit unions. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Federal Credit Union Act into law in 1934 to “promote thrift and thwart usury,” and banks have been gunning for them pretty much ever since.

    From: Ditch your bank for a credit union
    http://articles.moneycentral.msn.com/Banking/BetterBanking/DitchYourBankForACreditUnion.aspx

  7. slate Says:

    I’ve been w/Whitney since I moved here before K. I know nothing at all about their history, (need to it would seem), but have never ever had any problems with them. In fact after years of bank takeovers in New Mexico (you’d literally wake up one morning to find your bank had a new name, then start the whole thing all over again six months later), Whitney’s service on everything I’ve ever asked of them has been great. I’ll also say that most of the folks I’ve gotten to know banking at the FQ/Chartres St branch have worked there for 25-30 yrs and love it. If the people working for them like being there, it can’t be all bad IMO.

  8. Laureen Says:

    I am a local bank person myself . . . having jumped out of First NBC when they came to town to join Whitney. Whitney has invested in community development in areas around town, which ranks high with me since Katrina.

    However, I am completely baffled as to why they built this brand new, non-descript building while leaving the old one vacant only some six blocks away at Canal and Broad. A building which is now recognized as an especially great example of charming modernist design, obviously no longer affordable in new construction. They even have signature ironwork on this site. This photo from the Regional Modernism Flickr site.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/xxno/2347893863/

    So I am completely stumped as to why they bailed on this old site. By comparison, the new bank is a boring nightmare architecturally and leaves a huge void at a busy intersection. We are at the point where we’ll settle for anything these days.

  9. Owen M. Courrèges Says:

    I used Whitney previously and switched to Capital One. They were ok before the storm, but they offered very, very bad customer service for much longer than was warranted after the storm (the last straw was when they canceled my ATM because I hadn’t used it in a while without telling me, and then took a week to get me a new one even though I went directly to the branch in the Whitney building itself).

    I imagine other people have had better experiences with Whitney and indeed they may have improved since I pulled my accounts, but you should be forewarned.

  10. Cathy Says:

    I second/third the posters about checking out local credit unions. We use the UNO credit union, where some of the same people have worked since they started it in the 70s. They offer personal service, fees are low, and the money stays in the community, not sent off to some corporate headquarters that may or may not be in LA.

  11. JC Says:

    Why don’t you use the Greater New Orleans Federal Credit Union branch (GNOFCU) which is closer to your front door than the new Whitney National Bank branch? This credit union also has an outside ATM for pedestrians, and when you join a credit union you are classified as a “member.”

  12. Anne Says:

    I have always been with Bank of New Orleans, which is small (all of the Uptown tellers know me, and the one time I bounced a check, the bank manager called me on the phone and let me make a deposit to cover it. They even recognize my signature and call me if they think it’s forged.) But I think they have some “regressive elite” thing going, too, and the major stockholders appear to be other bankers or politicians. The “small” aspects are probably not for you, either– they have a brank Uptown on Magazine at Octavia, another in Gentilly, and another in Metairie near Bonnabel. No Mid-City locations. We have had dealings with Liberty Bank as well, and while they are good supports of local projects, they are as tied up with politics as all the rest and were terrible to deal with day to day for me. So I went back to the credit union at work and Bank of N.O.

  13. MAD Says:

    My guess is that Whitney left the old Broad Street location since post-K it was way too large for the down-sized neighborhood. Whitney has stubbornly stayed local, and that counts for a lot in my book.

  14. dsb nola Says:

    We opened an account with Whitney when we moved here in ’98. We have since moved to a credit Union and we’re now with Cap One. I’ll bore you with all of the details.

    Whitney: Back then we lived on Elysian Fields in Gentilly. What turned us off at Whitney was the hassle they gave us over having different last names. This was 11 years ago, but come on. It was like we were on the terror list before there was such a thing. (Or, it was the Old South uncomfortable with the quirks of our union.)

    Tulane-Loyola Federal Credit Union: Once we ran out of checks we left Whitney for the Tu-Lu Fed Credit Union. Sure, it’s member-owned (yeah, well, sort of) and all that, but that personal touch inevitably varies from person to person. I found myself hoping I got certain tellers and not others because of their varying practices (like how long checks would be held before clearing, etc.).

    Cap One: When we got sick of all the variations in policy at the credit union, we switched to Cap One last year. Cap One works in mysterious ways. I’ve had a couple instances where they’ve made errors that required weeks to fix. Frustrating that. And a person cannot walk up and use any of the 5 lanes (or is it 6 or 7?) of drive-thru at the new St. Charles and Napoleon location. An ATM awaits, behind a door.

  15. David Says:

    I agree with the credit union suggestion, though the obvious downside to a credit union is a limited distribution of ATMs. Losing money simply to get my hands on my money drives me nuts.

  16. E.J. Says:

    Any southern corporation that’s been around as long as Whitney and Hibernia and the T-P have shady histories; that goes doubly for N.O. institutions. But that’s history, and it can’t be erased; but I like to think that these businesses have changed with the times. I’d even go so far as to guess that the banks have changed for the better even more than the T-P.

  17. Clay Says:

    http://righthandthief.blogspot.com/2007/04/risk-of-not-beginning-now-is.html

    Whitney’s president is still along the lines of what you read in Rising Tide. I’ve been thinking about switching, but I’m still with them for now.

    There’s also John Hancock (based in coastal Mississippi).

    If you’re really concerned, join a credit union. You’re a shareholder of the bank. It’s basically a banking co-op.

  18. David Says:

    And another thing, credit unions haven’t experienced the failures that other for-profit banks have (ala, “ShittyBank” and “Skank of America”), though I don’t think the Whitney has been bad in that regard either.

  19. GentillyGirl Says:

    I hate Whitney. I moved all of my money to them when I returned home back in ’02. I couldn’t even get a real debit card since I was receiving “disability” payments. The only ATM near my home was locked in a building.

    In my humble view, Whitney Bank is just as evil as Liberty Bank, I’m sticking with Chase since they treat me right.

  20. mominem Says:

    I’ve been a Whitney customer for more that 30 years. I’ve had a good relationship because I’ve always had an “officer” I can call. Sort of old school personal banking. They are still very much a local relationship bank.

    If you believe in ethical business you need to look past century old politics and into who was making unsustainable/predatory loans

    I’m not hung up on history, only service.

    That said my local credit union (Riverland) is far more friendly. I once arranged a 100% car loan over the phone on the way to the dealership on a weekend.

  21. Vicky Says:

    Do I have an answer for you? Not really. Hibernia was a good, local bank. The new Barbarians who drive Pintos (I think it’s so sad that when the Pinto tips over in the commercial that it doesn’t catch fire) like to work their employees all night and weekend, like Toyota was accused of doing, and make them do endless BS paperwork, which keeps them from doing their job – which makes them have to work more and more outside of work. Who needs a life or sleep when you have the endless prestige of being a salaried bank employee?

    Whitney just recently started telling long term employees of layoffs.

    Bank of New Orleans seemed impressive, but then, after Katrina, they told their employees they would be paid “for the foreseeable future.” Well, it seems they could only see a week into the future, and then at least 20 employees suddenly had no more money coming, no explanation (because the layoff notices went to their flooded houses), and they could not get in touch with the bank for a month.

    You know that I applaud you for trying to bank locally. I was doing the same thing, but of course, my bank has mushroomed into a behemoth, just like the rest, and double-credited me for a deposit I made over the weekend. Of course, I’m not spending the extra money, because you never come out ahead when dealing with banks, insurance companies, or anything involving health care.

    My suggestion would be a credit union.

  22. Anne Says:

    The other good thing about Bank of New Orleans is that it is CHEAP. I only pay $2 per month for Economy Checking, and have a minimum balance requirement of $10. Of course, I don’t get any interest or anything, either, but that’s why I have my saving account in the credit union at work– we get good interest rates but have no ATMs. BNO does have no/low cost deals with ATMs with a certain logo around town, and I assume that credit unions which are larger than ours do, too.

  23. A Says:

    I bank at GNOFCU and have been very happy with them. No fees for any of their services, if you accidentally bounce a check they’ll cover it for you rather than returning it, etc. The only drawback is that they have a grand total of about 3 ATMs, so you have to pay the other bank’s fee when you withdraw money from someone else’s ATM.

  24. Carol Says:

    Bart,
    I’m on the board of the GNOFCU and have banked there for years. Definitely a local, non-elitist choice. By the way you can use any Capital One ATM for free. The closest branch is on Canal across from RTA. Main branch is in Metairie.

  25. candice Says:

    Another point about credit unions – the credit union service centers network means that if you are a member of one of the participating unions, you effectively get to use any of the other credit unions’ ATMs and lobbies at no cost.

    I have an out of state (MA) credit union and have been able to just bank there with the GNOFCU, Tulane/Loyola, and Shell branches. And the UNO atm is free.

    Clay has had Whitney for his entire life, and one of his grandparents was an officer there way back when… And my parents’ bank on the northshore just got gobbled up by whitney but they are OK with the transition – which means a lot since they have all the business accounts to wrangle with as well.

  26. Fred Says:

    I have banked with Fidelity Homestead for years. They are local and small and have free checking. The pain with them is that there are not that many branches. None in Mid-City. So there you have it.

  27. Lynn Says:

    If the past of Whitney concerns you and credit unions may not be your best option, why not wait and see if the new Gulf Coast Bank being built on Carrollton Avenue has the walk-up ATM you are seeking.

    It is going up next door to Wit’s Inn, just a block from the Capital One where you are banking now.
    They are local and don’t have the long history of Whitney.

    Personally I don’t bank there (I’m with a CU), but I have quite a few clients that bank with Gulf Coast and they highly praise the service there.

  28. Anonymous Says:

    I would say Whitney is still an elitist, regressive institition. As a former employee, I would say that “old-school” racist and sexist attitudes still prevail. In their “Diversity Training,” they had a little note that said something along the lines of “Some people believe in affirmative action for diversity, but that establishes quotas which hurt us all. We aim for a diversity of IDEAS.” Yeah right.

  29. s Says:

    Thanks for this great discussion. I share your values — I want a local institution, a bank headquarter in New Orleans and committed to the area. And I hate the idea of a bank at all, but it’s some sort of necessary evil. Show me a bank that cares about the area, that gives back, and they have my business.

  30. Editor B Says:

    For what it’s worth, when I was a board member for the Urban Conservancy, I learned they’d researched local banks trying to find one that best measured up to the values of localism. The bank they ultimately selected to keep accounts with was Omni Bank, if I recall correctly. And now Omni has hired Drew Brees to do their ads. So I’d give them good look.

    I’m still at Capital One, alas. My recent move puts me in closer proximity to their Mid-City branch, and I’m lazy.

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