A controversial decision by First National Bank of Chicago to charge some customers $3 per transaction for using tellers has already caused some backpedaling by the bank and has raised a bit of tension with First Chicago Corp.'s merger partner, NBD Bancorp.

Early last month, First Chicago's lead subsidiary quietly sent notices to customers saying the bank had decided to cut in half the amount needed in a savings account to get unlimited free teller visits, from $5,000 to $2,500.

The bank also halved the minimum balance for a basic savings account from $500 to $250, and increased the number of free teller visits per month, to four from two. (The free visits can also be used at non-First Chicago automated teller machines.)

Robin Foote, a First Chicago senior vice president, initially said the changes were for simplification. "Customers were telling us this (products and fees introduced in April) was complex. They had a different minimum balance to remember. This just made it easier."

But later she admitted that the public outcry over the fees did have an impact. "The amount of attention that we received had a lot of people focusing on the low end of the market, so we went back and reexamined our products," she said. "When we looked at savings, in fact there have been some competitive developments that left our position in the market weakened."

Meanwhile, NBD Bancorp spokesman Richard Johnson said the Detroit-based bank has "no present or future plans to institute teller fees" at any of its offices. After the merger, that's a decision for the management in Illinois, he added.

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