Whitney?

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?