First Chicago Corp. tried the stick. Citicorp chose the carrot. And now Chase Manhattan Corp. is attempting a third way of encouraging customers to stay away from branches in droves.

In late June, the New York bank launched a new service, called Chase Direct, designed to make remote banking less impersonal.

Those who choose the 24-hour-a-day phone service can reach a banker who, Chase says, will have a better record of customers' previous calls than in the past. Now, Chase says, customers won't get frustrated by having to give the bank the same information "again and again."

But whereas Citicorp waived ATM fees and minimum balance requirements for all customers who use alternative delivery channels, Chase is making a more obvious play for affluent customers. Unless a customer maintains a balance of at least $6,000, Chase Direct costs $20 per month.

The bank says it is trying to reach people who want the convenience of remote banking as well as a more personal, high-touch "relationship" with their bank. At a news conference, Chase unabashedly referred to the 21 customer service representatives who staff the new service as "Cyber- Mildreds" - the warm, friendly local banker transported to the information superhighway.

First Chicago's decision to charge some customers $3 for some teller transactions was also widely seen as an effort to appeal to more affluent customers.

David S. Berry, director of research at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc., said these new services and fee strucutures are more alike than different. "They are segmenting their customers to figure out where they make money," he said.

Those banks are hardly alone in seeking ways to reduce costs by getting customers to use remote delivery channels that are cheaper than staffing teller lines at branches.

U.S. Bancorp, for example, offers an account, for a flat fee, with no charges for using an ATM. But customers of the Portland, Ore., bank are allowed only two free teller transactions. Additional visits to the branch cost $1.25 each.

"It was introduced with no negative publicity," said Rodgers L. Harper, a managing vice president at First Manhattan Consulting Group.

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.