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Pittsburgh bank clings to free checking

Heidi Moore Mar 1, 2011
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Kai Ryssdal: OK, we’re recovering from the financial crisis, and banks are supposedly healthier, so why are there all these new fees just for having a checking account? Banks, as we’ve reported, are on the lookout for new ways to charge their customers. Customers are apparently on the lookout for new banks. JD Power and Associates said today that more of you are voting with your feet and leaving banks you’re not happy with.

Our New York bureau chief Heidi Moore takes a look.


Heidi Moore: By now, bank customers know that “free” is a relative term. PNC, a Pittsburgh bank, said its customers will keep free checking. But they’ll lose other perks. Higher fees are a fact of life for customers as banks try to keep up with new regulations this year.

Kevin Travis is an analyst with banking research firm Novantas. He says higher fees won’t necessarily cause customers to abandon their banks.

Kevin Travis: If you know people at your local branch and you like them, that is a real incentive for you to stay. But price is not the number one consideration people have when they go shopping.

Rockwell Casey, an executive with JD Power, says his company’s survey shows the reasons people shop around for banks are bad service and things like moving to another state. For most of the financial crisis, people stuck with banks they may not have liked.

Rockwell Casey: Similar to employees during a downturn tend not to switch employers because it’s the devil I know is better than the devil I don’t.

This year, new regulations will cause banks to lose more than $40 billion in revenues on debit cards and overdrafts. So banks are hiking fees and using blunt instruments like reward programs to lure customers.

Casey: The industry is more stable and people are more comfortable with switching and not putting up with what they put up with in the past.

But customers should be careful why they switch. Brian Riley, an analyst with TowersGroup, says rewards programs and free checking don’t mean you’ll be happy with a bank.

Brian Riley: Don’t let the reward programs distract you. Don’t let the free checking distract you. Because there’s going to be money that has to be made elsewhere.

In New York, I’m Heidi Moore for Marketplace.

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