HOW TO CHOOSE A BANK IN A RECESSION

n warm-fuzzy newspaper ads and billboards across town, they do their darnedest to look user-friendly, [outing new customized accounts and services in four-color tableaus of average Joes queuing up for above-average banking services. The assortment of new and improved banking services is vast, offering something special for Everyman and his buck: if you’re over fifty-five or under eighteen, if you can’t remember to pay your utility bills, or if you want some extra cash for Christmas, there’s someone in worsted wool who wants to help.

Like never before, Dallas’s megabanks are abandoning their single-track quest for corporate fortunes and courting instead consumer accounts. The once stodgy, sure-thing institutions are wearing new names like a bunch of June brides. Scarcely a Monday goes by without headlines of bank closings and reopenings, of reorganizations and bloody bottom lines. But how friendly, how capable, and how efficient are these banks?

To a point, there’s nothing to worry about. If you don’t keep more than $100,000 in a single institution, the FDIC has you covered. But if you have a mild to wild interest in what happens to your small change up to $100,000, it pays to examine your bank and then size up a few others.

What you’ll find is anything but dull. With deregulation, you may have guessed, came variety. And variety begat confusion, not all of it accidental. While in years gone by almost all banking institutions offered identical checking and savings services, now the consumer is presented with a veritable cornucopia of services and accounts. There’s vast potential for earning money on your money with a whole spectrum of interest-bearing accounts. And banks are experimenting with tactics to win consumer attention and add pizazz to an inherently boring business. The trend now is for banks to become financial shopping centers, with insurance agents in the lobby and fetching layouts to lure the shopper.

Naturally, change requires consumer reeducation. According to Gaylynn Garrett of Bozell, Jacobs, Kenyon & Eckhardt, which handled advertising for First RepublicBank (now NCNB Texas National Bank), the advertising action these days is in banking. “It’s a whole new way of thinking, a whole different ball game,” Garrett says. “We have a product to sell and we’re applying normal commercial and advertising principles to bank marketing. We’re looking at the audience and breaking it up into demographics-seniors, first-time bankers, etc.” Garrett says advertisements for First Republic products such as High Yield Plus CDs and the bank’s Investment Fund campaign brought immediate and obvious results to the tune of millions of dollars.

o the good news is that the consumer is king. The bad news is that royalty has its price. National banking statistics show that bank charges for minimum balance requirements, costs per check, fees for inquiríes, and charges for insufficient funds are costing consumers as much as 10 percent to 20 percent of their money.

And talk about gall. Texas banks, with all their aches and pains, are charging some of the highest fees in the nation. A July Consumer Reports article on banking takes particular note of the fees Lone Star banks are getting away with. For instance, the $20 fee Texas banks commonly charge to stop payment on a check is the highest in that magazine’s national survey-“more than you’d pay for a barrel of West Texas crude these days”- and we discovered some Dallas banks charging as much as $25. By comparison, the national average for a stop payment charge is $11.36.

Texas’s high banking fees simply reflect the historic emphasis on corporate customers at the expense of consumers, banking experts say. Former president of First Texas/Gibraltar Savings Association Robin R. Glackin, now a financial consultant, wrote recently in The Dallas Morning News that in Texas banks there is “a failure in the executive suite itself. CEOs and boards of directors are still trapped in the prejudices of their past-as they view the average working man and woman as more of a nuisance than an opportunity.”

Despite that view, the consensus among bankers and consultants seems to be that consumer treatment is going to improve. Financial consultant Glackin says that the influence in Dallas of outside players such as Chemical Bank and First Interstate will make a difference for consumers. Now that everybody, not just banks and savings and loans but even General Electric and Xerox, is selling financial services, Glackin says, we can look for fees to drop. With Dallas banks in disarray, bank management may now be preoccupied with reorganization, Glackin says. But soon they’ll come around to notice the consumer, and competitive pressure will drive fees down. We can even start looking for premiums again. Imagine, a free toaster with a new account.

The bottom line: these days, it pays to shop around.

GOING RATES

HERE ARE SOME AVERAGE FEES AT DALLAS BANKS. NATIONAL AVERAGES ARE 1987 statistics gathered by The American Bankers Association.

INSUFFICIENT CHECK CHARGES Dallas average: $15-$20. National average: $11.36. On the low side: Grand Bank, $16. On the high side: Willow Bend National Bank, $25: Preston North National Bank. $25.

AUTOMATED TELLER MACHINES Most institutions have no charge for ATM on-premises use. although many banks invoke a $1 monthly service fee whether you use the machine or not. Some, such as MBank. charge only if the minimum balance on the account is not maintained. At Fidelity National bank, withdrawals cost 50 cents off-premises, with no charge for inquiries, which is rare; most banks charge from 20 cents to $1.20 for balance inquiries. All of the banks we compared assess ATM use charges, usually $1, for off-premises unless, in some cases, certain account averages are maintained. Concorde Bank’s Pulse cards can be used at any Pulse machine free of charge-but you have to make a deposit of at least $2,500 just to get in the door.

BALANCE INQUIRIES At most banks, the first request each month is free: after that it’ll cost you. Dallas average: $1 to $2.50. National average: $1. On the high side: NorthPark National Bank, one free request, then $2.50; Brookhollow National Bank, two free inquiries, then $3 a shot: First Lakewood National, one free request, then $3 per inquiry. On the low side; Independent Bank doesn’t charge for inquiries.

STOP PAYMENTS If your Hummel plates still haven’t come in the mail and you want to make a stop payment. . . Dallas average: $15 to $20. National average: In smaller hanks. $8.10; in larger banks. $11.18. On the high side: Willow Bend National Bank. $25. On the low side: Founders National Bank. $10.

TRAVELERS’ CHECKS All of the banks surveyed, without exception, charge 1 percent of the check amount for processing.

RESEARCH FEES There are many reasons to request account research (if you forgot to record a check amount, for example, or your account is hopelessly out of balance), and there are many charges as well. Dallas average: $15 per hour. National average: Not available. On the high side: Willow Bend. $25. On the low side: NCNB Texas National Bank, $10: MBank, $10; and First Interstate, which will pick up the. tab if there is a bank error.

SAFE DEPOSIT BOXES We compared rates on the smallest boxes offered, usually three inches wide, five inches high, and twenty-two inches deep. Dallas average: $15-$20 a year. National average: In smaller banks, $9.58: larger banks. $13.90. On the high side: Willow Bend National Bank. $30 a year. On the low side: BancTexas, $10 a year.

SENIOR

ATTRACTIONS



The on-uppies-adults fifty-five years of age and over-are a banker’s dream customer pool. As a group, they generally have lob of money. They are net savers, having stopped borrowing and investing. In choosing a senior account, consider; can you use the services offered? Are they worth the cost, if there is one? Here are some of your choices:

BANK OF TEXAS: For those sixty-five and over, free checking, checks, stop payments.

FIRST NATIONAL BANK OF PARK CITIES: The First Courtesy Account for those fifty-five and over offers free checks, cashier’s checks, money orders, and travelers’ checks with no monthly service charge.

FORESTWOOD NATIONAL BANK: 65 Plus Account is offered with no minimum balance and no monthly service charge for customers who are sixty-five and over and opt for direct deposit of Social Security checks.

MBANK: MPrime is for those fifty-five and oven a 5 percent interest-bearing checking account with a $100 minimum necessary to avoid a fee. Offers free travelers’ checks and discounts on optical wear and Pharmaceuticals.

FIRST INTERSTATE: Emerald Club Account is available only to those individuals fifty-five and over who have $3,000 combined balance in checking and savings accounts at First Interstate. Membership brings free interest checking, overdraft protection (subject to credit approval), no service charge, preferred loan rates, and VISA and MasterCard with no annual fee.

BANCTEXAS: Club 55 is for customers fifty-five and over with funds in the bank totaling $5,500. Membership earns you a no service charge, non-interest-bearing checking account. 200 free checks a year, notary service, travelers’ and cashier’s checks, and overdraft protection.

INDEPENDENT BANK: For those sixty years of age and over, a standard checking account with no service charge checking and no balance requirement is offered.

PACKAGE DEALS

Bundled or packaged accounts are sets of services usually attached to a checking account and used to build the look of value, consultant Glackin says-the same way a new, fully loaded automobile has appeal over a stripped-down new car. The obvious snare is that you may be buying services you don’t need. These two are representative of many offered in Dallas:

Founders National Bank: With 3100 minimum balance, The Founders Club account allows unlimited checking plus accidental death insurance and a discount on hotels, movie tickets, tours, theme park admissions, rental cars, and restaurants. If your account balance fells below $100, there’s a $9 monthly fee.

First Interstate: The Select Package, an interest-bearing checking account, offers free checks, no fee for MasterCard or VISA, a free ATM card, special rates on consumer loans, free travelers’ checks, and overdraft protection (subject to credit approval), all for either a flat monthly fee of $7.85 with no minimum balance requirements, or no monthly fee if the combined balance of checking and savings accounts totals $3,000.



OTHER PERKS (Usually for a Price)

Student Accounts: North Dallas Bank: Student/Teen Account has no minimum balance, unlimited checks, and a monthly service charge of $5. Independent Bank has a student account with no service charge for students whose parents bank there; 20 cents per check.

Infrequent Checks: First Interstate’s Merit Checking offers free checking for the first fifteen checks, 50 cents per check after that. Texas Commerce has a Basic Banking Checking Account with a $2.75 monthly maintenance fee for eight checks or withdrawals; additional checks are 75 cents each; no minimum balance.

Saving Graces: There are plenty of breeds of NOW accounts and other interest-bearing checking and savings methods, but some banks offer unusual ways to save. An automatic savings plan at Fidelity National lets you specify not only how much you save but also the date on which the bank automatically transfers your funds to savings. And a twist at Premier Bank lets you accrue not interest but “earnings credit,” at the rate of 50 cents per every $100 in collected balance.

Overdraft Protection: Many banks offeroverdraft protection, albeit at a price. North-Park will make transfers from savings tochecking accounts in $100 increments for a$2 monthly fee that is charged to your account whether you use the service or not.And with no monthly fee and charges assessed only when a transfer occurs, GrandBank will make transfers in $50 incrementsbetween any two accounts.

Newsletter

Keep me up to date on the latest happenings and all that D Magazine has to offer.

Comments