Banc One Corp., which rolled out an unconditional guarantee on trust service last year, paid back $156,180 in annual fees to 16 dissatisfied clients.
The Columbus, Ohio, banking company honored a policy to return the fees to clients who complained about the quality of trust service, its executives said.
Ten of the clients who expressed dissatisfaction decided to stay with Banc One after getting their money back.
"I don't think I've been ripped off yet," said Garrett H. Jamison, president of Banc One's fiduciary and specialized services group. The system-which promises to return annual fees to dissatisfied trust clients- has given Mr. Jamison an easy way to track service problems, he explained.
"I have the reasons they wanted their fees back," Mr. Jamison said. "It tells me I don't have a systemic problem."
Mr. Jamison started the fee-return policy in Banc One's Texas subsidiary in 1991. Last year he brought the service guarantee to all 12 states in which Banc One does trust administration for both personal and institutional accounts.
The complaints came from eight of those states.
During the six years the guarantee was available only in Texas, the bank returned about $85,000 to clients. Though returned fees increased after the policy became more widely available, refunds are small compared with trust revenues.
Banc One booked $279 million in fiduciary fee revenue in 1996, the latest year for which data are available.
The nature of the complaints varies. One custody client got a fee back after complaining that the bank had mispriced a security. Other complaints involved what the bank calls "operating errors," such as statement errors.
The Banc One policy is not universal. Mr. Jamison said he knew of six instances in which the company did not apply the policy because it is engaged in litigation with clients.
Litigation in trust usually involves disputes regarding investment performance, which cannot be guaranteed; beneficiaries' role in making investment decisions; or how much is disbursed.
Banc One's service guarantee, while unusual, is not unique. Crestar Financial Corp. and Comerica Inc. also guarantee service on trust accounts, but Detroit-based Comerica only offers the policy in Texas.
The state is the birthplace of the policy, where Mr. Jamison once worked at InterFirst Corp., a Dallas predecessor of Banc One, with Thomas D. Hogan and David Folz, now of Crestar and Comerica, respectively.
Last year, PNC Bank Corp. put a twist on the guarantee by advertising a policy in New England to pay $500 to a charity of a dissatisfied customer's choice. PNC is the only banking company to promote such a policy in ads. A spokeswoman said no one had taken up PNC on its offer.
Mr. Jamison said he fears advertising Banc One's policy to potential clients would raise questions about the quality of the bank's service. Instead, Banc One relationship managers are told to introduce the policy at review meetings with clients.
Yet Richmond, Va.-based Crestar does promote the policy, according to Mr. Hogan, group executive vice president of its investment group.
"It's worked really well for us from a sales standpoint," he said. "We don't think it's the only reason people hire us. But when it gets down to pros and cons, it's one more check in the plus column."
Besides differences in how they are introduced, the guarantees themselves vary somewhat. At Comerica Bank Texas, trust clients can get back the preceding month's fees after complaining.
Crestar, which has offered to refund annual fees to new trust clients since 1993, has taken the practice into its retail bank.
Mr. Hogan said only two clients had asked for their fees back-a total of less than $7,000-and he could not remember exactly what disappointed them.