Community Bank to pay, not charge, $5 a month

Bank with several local branches taking different approach than debit charges planned by bigger banks of late

chawes@bradenton.comOctober 12, 2011 

MANATEE -- Community Bank, which has 17 branches throughout Manatee and four other southwest Florida counties, is joining the outcry against bank debit fees by offering new customers the opposite: a monthly payment.

The $5 per month Community Bank is offering anyone who opens a Value Checking account is a direct response to the $3 to $5 monthly debit card fees larger banks are starting to charge, bank officials said.

“We needed to do something to help consumers who are under attack from behemoth national banks charging fees that just don’t make sense,” said Katie Pembles, Community Bank president. “People have a choice of where to bank, and at Community Bank, we thought paying people $5 per month rather than charging them $5 per month was a good way to set us apart.”

Pembles said Community Bank “doesn’t think we have to charge $5 a month to make an account profitable.”

The need to make up for revenue lost through regulatory reform is the reason Bank of America has given for its plan to charge customers who use debit cards for purchases. New rules that slash the amount banks can collect from merchants for debit card payments have cost banks up to $10 million, according to bank experts.

Bank of America isn’t the only nationwide bank responding with additional fees.

Wells-Fargo and Chase soon will begin pilot programs to charge debit card users $3 a month.

Pembles said Community Bank has received an overwhelming response to its offer, with customers opening up accounts in every branch. She said even existing customers had expressed support for the special offer, even though it applies only to new customers.

“This is consistent with what we’ve been trying to do over the past several years, and that’s grow relationships over the Tampa Bay area,” Pembles said.

“We’re trying to show the community that we’re unique.”

The offer is good through the end of the year and includes a monthly payment of $5 for the first year.

Bank analyst Philip Van Doorn with TheStreet.com called Community Bank’s offer “an interesting strategy.”

If the bank has lots of liquidity and is growing loans, then offering consumers money back makes sense, he said.

But it’s not a new trend. Larger banks like Bank of America and Chase just a few years ago were trying to increase deposits and offered $100 for each new account holder.

But times have changed. “Banks are facing revenue challenges on all fronts” with all the new regulations that limit their fees, Van Doorn said.

How consumers will respond is up in the air, he said.

Credit cards and more cash transactions may be in the offing.

Christine Hawes, Herald business writer, can be reached at (941) 745-7081.

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