If you're like most people, you probably have at least one checking account, a savings account or two, and a couple of credit cards -- possibly up to three or four. I fancy myself among the average, and I have a checking and savings account, three credits cards, an IRA, an employee-sponsored 401(k), and a brokerage account spread across eight financial institutions, including BB&T, Citigroup (NYSE:C), Capital One, PNC Financial Services, and Discover Financial Services. That's eight usernames, eight passwords, eight sets of security questions (sigh), and eight balances to keep track of.
Diversify your money, not your attention
The Motley Fool certainly champions diversification... in your portfolio. By diversifying your holdings, you protect yourself from potential losses from something unexpected going wrong with any one company or investment you hold. However, when it comes to where you hold your accounts, less may actually be more.
A recent post on Citigroup's blog points out that when your money is spread out across multiple accounts, it becomes more difficult to get a handle on your overall investment mix, and you may find you're less diversified than you think. It can also be difficult to remain diversified when buying and selling new securities in one account or another, as you may not be able to keep in mind your investments across all accounts if they aren't right in front of you.
Citi's goal here is pretty transparent: Convince customers to consolidate their accounts... with Citi. It's certainly a plus for the bank if customers do so, but just because it's good for one of the big banks doesn't mean it can't be good for you, too.
Finding fantastically low fees
You may think it's best to find the lowest operating fees for each service, even if that means a different bank for each service, but consider the discounts a financial institution may offer you if you have three products with them as opposed to one.
Wells Fargo (NYSE:WFC), as some investors may know, is widely known as the king of cross-selling. On its website, the bank proudly states that the average retail customer has six products. That's good for the bank, but again, it may also be highly advantageous for those customers, too. In banks' efforts to create deeper (and more profitable) relationships with customers, the incentives they offer to this effect might allow you to pay less in account maintenance fees if you hold your checking and savings accounts, your mortgage, and maybe a credit card with just one bank.
But don't consolidate all of your accounts just because it's easier. You still want to get great service -- and the services you need -- but sometimes you may need to choose between convenience and simplicity for you, or absolutely top-tier service. To make that decision, you may want to consider how much time you have available to spend managing your finances, how much you actually enjoy doing it, and the opportunity cost of spending your time that way.
Don't work harder for your money than it works for you
With a full-time job, hobbies, friends, and family commitments, the time I manage to carve out to devote to my finances usually goes toward paying my bills and checking on my savings goals (hello, trip to India!). If I'm lucky (and honest), I probably log in to my investment accounts once every eight to 10 months. And if they drop the ball in sending me emails, it might be even longer than that between check-ins. After all, "out of sight, out of mind."
As a 20-something who is new to the game of managing my own money and making investments for my future with intent (as opposed to passively accepting whatever 401(k) options my employer offers me), I am often overwhelmed not only by the investment choices, but by the different ways of managing them. If I'm honest with myself, I'm much more likely to check in on my investments and keep them up-to-date if I only have to log into one account to do so.
So for me, simpler may truly be better. But these choices are often very personal decisions, and given people's varying interests, time available, and industry knowledge, my choice might not be at all similar to yours. And that, fellow Fools, is what makes us motley.