Now that the New York Legislature has passed a basic minimum banking services law, its members are trying to figure out how to make that law reality.
The problem is especially thorny in low-income communities where branches are closing as part of industrywide consolidation.
A subcommittee of the state Assembly's Banking Committee held hearings on the issue Tuesday, as part of the New York Banking Department's efforts to fine-tune the Omnibus Consumer Protection and Banking Deregulation Act of 1994. The legislation passed in January.
The new law requires banks to offer checking accounts with low minimum balances. and minimal fees for automatic teller machine withdrawals.
William J. Bosies Jr., group vice president of legislation and regulation at the New York State Bankers Association, said banks are getting well acquainted with the new law.
"All of our publications have [had articles] about basic banking services," he said.
But consumer concerns remain on issues the law was aimed to address, primarily because technology and banking consolidation are moving faster than regulation can keep up.
"How can people for whom basic banking is intended take advantage product when there are net closings of bank branches across the state?" asked the banking department's acting superintendent, Carmine
Since 1978. the number of New York City commercial branches has declined 7.8%, while the suburban branch total grew 10.3%. according to the Assembly banking panel.
Mr. Tenga called for state funding for start-up community development banks and credit unions that could take the place of closing branches.
"Community development credit unions could meet the needs of low- and moderate-income neighborhoods. but sufficient seed money is often lacking," he said. "Perhaps public funds could be used for this purpose."
He also said some banks that are closing branches today could continue minimal services in the neighborhoods affected, by maintaining ATMs and making some sort of deposit-taking available.
Mr. Tenga said banks are required to notify the department and customers 90 to 180 days before a closing.