Founded in 1959, the Association of Military Banks of America (AMBA) operates in partnership with the Department of Defense to “protect the financial future” of military members and their families.
Believe it or not, the banking industry is served by non-profit and/or not-for-profit organizations. Bank Administration Institute is one such entity, as well as organizations like Military Banks of America, which operates as a not-for-profit association of financial institutions located on military bases stateside and overseas, but also for facilities not located on bases but still serving military customers.
Military Banking Options
Why military banks? Why don’t service members and veterans use “regular” bank accounts like everyone else? For the same reasons that firemen, police officers, and other professionals have credit unions, trade organizations, and other consumer-oriented operations.
Military members have unique financial needs and considerations; military banking is designed to take these factors into account and offer specific services to help.
Not All Military Banks Are Created Equal
Let’s compare some features offered online by different financial institutions. The information you read below is current at the time of this writing, but financial offers change, expire, get canceled, or modified. Always double-check with a customer service representative.
Not all military banks offer the same programs, perks, or benefits. Much depends on the financial needs and goals of the consumer, so some features like ATM access or mobile check deposit may or may not be as relevant to an individual account holder.
Comparing Basic Features
For example, if ATM access is important to you as a military member (especially one who travels frequently), ATM access for U.S. Bank includes being able to use your ATM card at “4,700 U.S.Bank ATMs.” USAA offers 60,000 “preferred ATMS” nationwide.
Bank Of America (BofA) makes a point to inform military consumers that using a BofA ATM card overseas can incur fees unless you use one of the BofA international partner ATM machines. The U.S. Bank version of this is a policy that includes the following in cases of non-U.S. Bank transactions:
“U.S. Bank will assess a fee for each ATM Transaction conducted at the Non-U.S. Bank ATM.” An overseas ATM may also apply surcharge fees unless the ATM is part of the MoneyPass Network.
Confusion With Some International Branches?
Some financial institutions have military banking that functions differently than the main bank or lender. Bank of America is one such organization, and if you are unfamiliar with its approach, it can be confusing.
BofA operates bank branches on military bases overseas, but even if you have one of these accounts, you may not be considered a “regular” BofA customer.
Why? BofA is a Department of Defense contractor with an agreement to run community-style banks at overseas bases. The Bank of America official site says, “Community Bank customers are not automatically customers of Bank of America and vice versa.”
You will need to contact customer service to determine the nature of your account and whether it is a community bank version or the “full” BofA account.
Enter The AMBA
AMBA exists to serve the military banking community. Member entities can be “regular” members, associate members, or corporate members.
- Regular members = on-base military banks
- Associate members = organizations that feature military banking programs and serve a military population
- Corporate members = those who provide financial services/products for financial institutions and a military population
There are so many options between civilian accounts and military-oriented banking that it is no surprise that third party agencies would be needed to bring predictability and dependability into the mix.
With so many banking options open to veterans, it can be it difficult at times to choose. AMBA is pro-military banking and makes a point to promote the perks and features of these accounts over “ordinary” features that aren’t veteran-specific. Military banks provide many services AMBA is keen to promote, including:
- Community Partnership: On-base banks partner with local military command communities via activities and programs.
- Financial Education: Military banks may be an important source of financial education to base personnel and their families.
- Responsible Lending: Military banks may offer features to military customers such as “advance pay” that, in the eyes of the AMBA, eliminate the need for predatory pink slip loans, payday loans, or other types of high-interest loans.
- Command Support: According to the AMBA, “most military banks” participate in something known as the Treasury General Account program, which enables the bank to provide financial services to federal agencies on-post.
- “Expeditionary” Access: Military banks go where the troops go, via on-base options or electronic banking such as the Armed Forces Financial Network.
How AMBA Partners With Government
One great example of how AMBA teams up with the Defense Department can be found in a 2019 press release from the Department of Veterans Affairs. That release announced a partnership between the two agencies to offer veterans and beneficiaries more direct deposit options.
The Veterans Benefits Banking Program offers resources for vets and eligible family members to “safely, reliably, and inexpensively receive and manage their VA monetary benefits” with participating financial institutions.
At the time of the press release, prior to the partnership, available banking options included “direct deposit into an existing bank account,” electronic funds transfer onto Direct Express prepaid debit cards or paper checks sent to “pre-approved beneficiaries.”
But more was needed and the partnership was established to provide additional services, specifically to provide more options than the paper check, Direct Express, etc.
The VA official site explains that the partnership allows veterans to sign up with partner banks to receive VA funding electronically. But for some, the real benefit is that it allows vets to get “other benefits” from banks that would otherwise not be available.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News.
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