Boston's USTrust is making a play for the marketing spotlight by slamming big banks' fees in an effort to beef up its own consumer business.
The lead bank of $2 billion-asset UST Corp. recently rolled out advertisements targeting customers at big Boston-area banks.
Many banks have seized on big banks' merger announcements or product and service changes to promote themselves. Now, UST is taking aim at pricing, particularly automated teller machine fees, checking and savings account charges, and rates on home equity loans.
"Because of the recent and pending mergers in our market area, there's quite a bit of turmoil in the customers' minds," said Suzanne Moot, executive vice president of retail banking and marketing for the bank and its holding company.
"USTrust has long held a strong position in banking local businesses," said Neal Finnegan, chief executive. "With our new consumer strategy, we hope to build the same strength in serving local consumers."
USTrust's marketing budget dwarfs those of many smaller counterparts who might like to do the same thing, said Jay M. Burke, a small-bank advertising and marketing consultant in Boston.
Many smaller community banks that also offer no-fee products and services "don't have the advertising budget to gain the exposure," he said. "What USTrust is doing, many smaller banks have done but in local community forums."
USTrust, whose loan portfolio is about two-thirds commercial credits, hopes to boost consumer lending and other consumer business areas by promoting its existing and new consumer-friendly offerings. These include prime-plus-zero home equity loans and free use of other banks' ATM machines.
In newspaper, billboard, and local transit advertisements that began last month and are slated to run through June, USTrust is promoting itself as a better alternative to specific banks for specific products.
One ad, for example, precedes Bank of Boston's logo with a huge "FEE CHECKING" and USTrust's with a giant "FREE CHECKING."
Similar ads target BayBanks on ATM fees, Fleet Financial Group on savings account fees, and Providence, R.I.-based Citizens Bank on rates for home equity lines of credit.
Karen Schwartzman, a spokeswoman for $46.5 billion-asset Bank of Boston, said it provides free checking for customers with at least $5,000 in combinations of accounts including deposits, mutual funds, and some loans.
James Dorsey, a spokesman for $14 billion-asset Citizens, had no complaint about the USTrust ad. "We love it," he said. "They're drawing attention to our product." Citizens' volume of home equity loans is up, he said.
Spokesmen for Fleet and BayBanks declined to comment.