Favorite things, day 10: First Republic

For the days leading up to Christmas, I’m counting down a few of my favorite things. These are not in priority order. The closest thing there is to an order is least surprising to most surprising.

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I had somehow left my card in Hong Kong and was on my way to Zimbabwe. ATMs are common, but few businesses take credit cards. So I needed cash. I emailed by banker and she offered a couple of options.

She said, “If you need cash now, we can work through the Visa network and get you a bank that can give you cash today … or we can get new ATM cards printed and sent to you at your hotel in Zimbabwe. Pick which is best for you.”

“I can wait for the card. Please send it. Can you also send some water bottles? I keep losing those things.”

“Let me check.”

“They’re worried that the water bottles will slow things down because they’d have to go through customs. We printed the cards, here’s the tracking number. We’ll get you those water bottles when you’re back home.”

This has been a typical experience for me at First Republic. It’s one of the few large institutions I work with where I feel like a person, not a number. I never have to provide an account number. My banker knows me. Not having to deal with annoying phone menus is reason enough. In 2019, who calls to get their bank balance? But many banks make you say representative four times.

You never have to deal with an automated system here. Stop by the bank and chat with your banker, or email or call your banker. If you stop by, you can get fresh-baked cookies. Not sure if you have to be a customer to get free cookies, but I don’t think they’ve carded me for cookies. (I opened my account in Oregon, so I do most of my transactions by email.)

First Republic has treated me better when I had $5,000 on deposit than Chase or Wells with more than $500,000.

The star account here is their ATM Rebate Checking. A $3,500 minimum average balance gets you a solid checking out with unlimited worldwide ATM rebates. Some months, when I’ve been traveling extensively, I’ve received more than $30 in rebates.

There’s a detail buried in that sentence that illustrates the philosophy. Most banks use the minimum balance, not the minimum average balance when calculating fees. That means that if at any point in the month, you had a balance of $3,499.99 or less, you’d get hit with the monthly fee. Because FR uses the average, dipping below for a day won’t trigger the fees.

Instead of the gotcha, they play fair.

I’ve also never had to pay for things like cashier’s check or notary services.

Whenever I get service this good, I’m always suspicious. I know some companies have me flagged in their CRM systems as an influencer. (I had amazing service from Comcast!) But the feedback I get from friends who are also First Republic customers is that they also get similar service.

First Republic’s slogan is, “It’s a privilege to serve you.” That sounds like one of those made up slogans which falls apart when given any scrutiny.

This is a rare case when it isn’t.

Deadweight loss quotient: This should only be a gift to yourself, or spouse/significant other with their consent. Though I’m sure that if you want to give a CD full of money, the deadweight loss there would be zero.

About Rakesh Agrawal

Rakesh Agrawal is Senior Director of product at Amazon (Audible). Previously, he launched local and mobile products for Microsoft and AOL. He tweets at @rakeshlobster.
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