"I want my money close to me, but my husband and I have worked with a large bank for more than 30 years. Is it easy to switch to a local, community bank?"

— Cindy R., Tucson

If you've been thinking of switching your deposit accounts from a large national bank to a local community bank, the change doesn't have to be a daunting or confusing task.

Community banks have identical services and products that nationally operating institutions provide, but with the personalized customer service that is rare in today's fast-paced world. Recently, many customers have lost faith in the banks on Wall Street and are moving their deposits to America's Main Street community banks in an effort to avoid the "too big to fail" institutions. This trend has strengthened community bankers' knowledge to better service new and existing customers.

Many local community banks now have "switch kits," which help customers with smoother transitions when opening new accounts, closing old accounts, transferring balances and setting up automatic payments (mortgage, vehicle, utilities) and direct deposits (social security, payroll, etc.). Local community banks have also seen an increase in home mortgage, small business and other types of financing requests. These banks typically have loan requests reviewed by committees whose members are part of the community.

The future looks bright for customers who seek one-on-one customer service reminiscent of the "hometown bankers" that past generations enjoyed. There are now more than 6,000 community banks and 50,000 branch locations across the nation (Markets and Markets, July 2010). In addition, there are thousands of ATMs available, plus free on-line banking and bill pay is offered by many.

Humberto N. Stevens is a vice president at Commerce Bank of Arizona, a locally owned community bank specializing in serving residents and small to mid-size businesses in Southern Arizona. Humberto may be contacted at (520) 382-5578, or hstevens@commercebankaz.com.

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