The apparent pullback last week by Bank of America and Wells Fargo on debit fees does give credit unions a pause in strategy but the momentum on Bank Transfer Day continues largely unchecked, CU consulting houses agreed Monday.
“My belief is that credit unions need to continue to promote their value regardless of how big or small Bank Transfer Day ends up being,” maintained Bill Handel, vice president-research/development at Raddon Financial Group in Chicago who added, “the difference between the mega-banks and community-based financial institutions was significant even prior to the imposition of debit card fees and so the imposition of these fees was a means by which this difference could be driven home.”
If debit fees are softened as put forward by BofA, Wells Fargo and Chase over the weekend, then for CUs, “the ability to differentiate may lessen” but the fundamental difference does not go away.
BofA has said its Jan. 1 $5 fee is now “evolving” with different customer criteria while Wells Fargo said it was suspending its $3 “test” fee in half a dozen states in November.
"The big mega banks that are now starting to pull back from some of their earlier announced checking fees are responding to the fact that they realize they are vulnerable to a significant loss of some of their most profitable accounts to credit unions and community banks,” argued Dennis Dollar, the former NCUA chairman and principal partner of a Birmingham, Ala consulting firm.
The battle for checking accounts, said Dollar, “is the battle for desperately needed fee income, and it will be fought for the next several years. It will not be settled on Bank Transfer Day."
Over the next 18 months credit unions, he forecast, “will pick up a sizable number of checking accounts when the comparison shoppers - reading the publicity about Bank Transfer Day - begin to recognize the credit union checking advantage that many progressive credit unions are offering in an attempt to seize upon this growing dissatisfaction with the big bank overreach on fee increases."
In a Filene Research Institute blog last week entitled, “The Day After Bank Transfer Day,” D.C. consultant Robert Hall warned that “assuming” BTD is successful then CUs need to “convert these new deposits into earning assets—loans.” Proper preparation for BTD requires “cross selling success during the new account opening process in refinancing auto loans held by banks” as well as a switch into lower irate credit cards.
Commenting on the ongoing industry debate about CUs using BTD for tough anti-bank ads, Ben Rogers, Filene’s research director, said its research shows that “even when the public is angry “ over such a phenomenon as the bank fees “there is not always that follow through” in actually making the account switch to a CU.
And customers, he said, do not necessarily move accounts “based on explicit bank bashing.” Accounts are moved when consumers can see “there are tangible benefits such as $200 savings on a car loan," said Rogers.
Handel of Raddon said also “the challenge for credit unions is always going to be making their difference relevant to the consumer. Those who are practitioners in the financial services space understand the differences that exist between large banks and credit unions, but the average consumer spends such a minor part of their day thinking about financial services that they have no time to differentiate between financial service providers - until they have an issue.”