All banks could reduce fees if they wanted.
- OneUnited Bank now provides customers with access to the Empowerment Network of more than 100,000 ATMs at no additional cost.
- No surcharge applies to all withdrawals.
- The bank also introduced OneUnited Card Command, allowing customers to control their debit card on the fly.
OneUnited Bank is not only the largest black-owned bank in the US, but also one of the most innovative. When bank customers began to demand greater access and control over their money, bank management responded.
Terry Williams, president and CEO of OneUnited, explains, “We’re really down to earth. When customers tell us what they want, we try to find creative ways to meet their needs.”
The result of that creative thinking helped pave the way for the new Empowerment Network bank, with more ATMs without surcharges than any other bank in the country.
What customers want
OneUnited customers live primarily in urban areas, parts of the city that rarely become home to a new bank.
According to Williams, even if a community member keeps their money in 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 make the effort, they’ll likely be stuck with an out-of-network surcharge.
“It increases the cost of community banking,” Williams said.
When getting access to their money became problematic, OneUnited users let the authorities know.
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 contacted black banks to find out how they could partner with us.”
OneUnited continued to expand its ATM network by allowing customers to withdraw cash from ATMs at retailers such as 7-Eleven, Costco, CVS, Target and Walgreens without surcharges.
Being able to make free withdrawals while shopping at Target or stopping by Walgreens for a prescription helps OneUnited customers keep their hard-earned money.
Responding to another complaint
In response to customers asking OneUnited to help them gain more control over their bank accounts, the bank launched OneUnited Card Command. Now, customers can switch their bank debit card on and off instantly. They also get real-time transaction notifications, add their debit card to their digital wallet, create travel plans before they leave home and set spending limits to control their budget.
Williams said, “Honestly, we are elevating the BankBlack movement by offering best-in-class services and cutting-edge technology to better serve our customers’ needs.”
How to save money yourself
Offline ATM fees 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 Vok, it’s profitable for banks to charge fees. Due to bank fees, US banks earned $279.1 billion in 2021. That’s $132 billion more than a year earlier.
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 has denied fees of any kind, consider closing that account and opening a new one at another bank or credit union. Many credit unions do not charge a monthly maintenance fee and also provide a network of accessible ATMs through partner credit unions.
The release challenge
The fact that banks make billions each year from fees makes offering a huge network of ATMs without surcharges a bit of a financial sacrifice.
Asked if OneUnited would miss out on the revenue it was collecting from ATM fees, Williams said, “It’s costing us money. No doubt. But we understand that it’s important for our community to have access. The advantage for our customers is higher costs.”
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