These Smug Citizens Bank Ads Show Exactly What’s Screwed Up About Banking

If a bank wants to offer a checking account that isn’t as terrible as most of what’s out there, that’s fine. But that bank shouldn’t pat itself on the back and act like it’s doing consumers a favor just because it gives them a slightly easier way to avoid being nickel-and-dimed.

Rhode Island-based Citizens Bank recently started running a series of TV spots to let people know about its “One Deposit” checking program, which waives the monthly maintenance fee for customers who make at least a single deposit, of any amount, each month.

That in itself is not a bad thing. It’s certainly better than the growing number of checking accounts that either come with unavoidable monthly fees or require minimum average monthly balance of a few hundred to a few thousand dollars.

So why is the Citizens Bank ad problematic?

Because it assumes that you should be absolutely delighted — to the point of giving the bank gifts — for merely offering a program that isn’t entirely evil.

The ad above features Citizens Bank employees sitting in the break room surrounded by customer-given cakes, treats, flowers, and sporting hand-knitted “Number One Banker” sweaters.

In the ad below, a customer is so overwhelmed by the possibility that she might have something that vaguely resembles free checking that she gives her dog to the banker.

The presumed message of the ads is, “Hey, here’s a product that is so awesome you’ll love it!”

But the reality is that free checking used to be the standard for personal accounts. The fact that these ads stop just short of a fireworks celebration for a checking account that still has a monthly maintenance fee is a sad reflection of the state of banking these days.

A recent study found that a growing number of banks no longer anything that counts as truly free checking, in spite of the fact U.S. consumers currently have a record amount of cash on deposit in basic checking accounts, the overwhelming majority of it in accounts that accrue no interest.

Meanwhile, in the last 30 years, more than 10,000 banks have vanished, mostly through acquisition. So more money is being stashed in fewer banks with most people not expecting anything in return except for the ability to occasionally access their funds.

The remaining banks — the fewest since before the Great Depression — currently hold nearly a trillion dollars in money in no-interest accounts. The banks have access to these funds to loan out, invest and (hopefully) make a positive return on.

Rather than suggesting that customers should be orgasmic with joy about the prospect of affordable checking, it is the banks that should be thanking American consumers for letting them hold on to their money and not only ask for nothing in return, but be willing to pay for it.

You can now follow Chris on Twitter: @themorrancave

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  1. jaredgreenwald says:

    Maybe I’m just naive but I saw that ads as I live close to RI and I took them more as a joke than anything else.

  2. GoldHillDave says:

    My Credit Union has free checking, has since they started having checking accounts sometime in the 70’s. And Ally Bank, an online bank where I keep some money because the savings interest rates are better, pays interest on checking. Not a lot, but it’s better than charging a fee!

  3. PhillyDom says:

    Charles Schwab Bank – no fees, pays interest, reimburses ATM fees, and even gives you a day’s advance notice before bouncing a check to give you time to deposit money to cover it. You have to open a Schwab brokerage account to get their checking account, but you don’t have to use the brokerage account.

  4. SuperSpeedBump says:

    Prior to getting married I was with a small bank that had only 3 branches. They were great. They knew my name, had no fees, remembered things about me, and didn’t give me a whole lot of hassle when I went to to do business with them. All I had to do was have a minimum balance of $100… which for me was not a problem.

    Then I got married and moved closer to my Wife’s job. I closed my account, got a joint account, and everything got worse. Fees were on everything! Foreign Purchase Fee, ATM ‘Access’ and ‘Usage’ Fees, 24 Hold on Deposits. No one remembers our name, and they give me gruff about little things all the time. Things that were never a problem at my old bank… where they knew who I was.

    And what are all these fees for? I think it had a lot to do with paying Aaron Rodgers to be their official spokesperson.

    We’re in the process of switching to a Credit Union.

  5. craftman1 says:

    “The banks have access to these funds to loan out, invest and (hopefully) make a positive return on.”

    The Federal Funds rate is [much] lower than in the past, they are making way less with the deposits than they used to. The “free” checking service – don’t forget they are providing you a service, nobody has to keep their money in a bank – used to be covered by 4-6% returns. Now with basically 0-3% returns they have to charge separate fees for the actual services they are providing.

    It’s the same as with baggage fees. Something used to be proclaimed “free” even though the costs were just not transparent. Now that they are transparent people get enraged and demand action as if something evil is going on.