As part of a broad campaign to attract more middle-income customers, Citigroup said Thursday that it would offer a new automatic savings feature for its checking accounts.
AutoSave users will be able to electronically transfer a designated sum into a separate Citi savings or investment account on a weekly, biweekly, or monthly basis.
There will be no extra charge for AutoSave, the bank said.
"We want the neglected middle-income consumers to think of Citi as their champion," said Joseph J. Plumeri 2d, Citi's head of North American retail banking. "We want to change the paradigm of banking."
Citigroup also said it would reduce the monthly fee for its EZ Checking product to $7.50 across its 435-branch domestic network. Right now, fees for those account holders who do not maintain a $1,500 minimum balance range from $9.50 a month in New York to $25 in California.
The bank also plans to offer free financial needs analyses to customers beginning this spring, Mr. Plumeri said. Citi wants "to become the instruction book" for the average American, he added.
Mr. Plumeri, who is also head of Citigroup's Atlanta-based Primerica Financial Services unit, said he wants Citi branch staffers to adopt the same sales-oriented attitude that Primerica sales representatives have.
Over the next six months, about 3,000 branch employees are to be trained and licensed to perform financial analyses of customers and to sell sophisticated investment and insurance products.
Mr. Plumeri said he planned to build up branch staffing to support the effort and could add 500 to 1,000 branch employees over the next "couple of years."
Stephen J. Liguori, business manager for Citibanking North America, said the bank is tapping an underserved market.
Consultants said the automatic savings feature on Citi's checking accounts is relatively new to banking, though securities firms have offered such transfers for years.
"It adds an additional level of convenience for customers and gives people an incentive to consolidate balances with that institution," said Les Dinkin, principal at NBW Consulting Group in Westport, Conn.
The program is also a low-cost way for the bank to gather new assets under management through its investment products, increase the number of accounts cross-sold, and strengthen its customer relationships, consultants said.
AutoSave will be available for all checking accounts, but is being heavily promoted with Citi's EZ Checking. The bank is scheduled to begin marketing the feature today in New York, Miami, San Francisco, Chicago, and Washington.
Blue-clad Citibankers are to hand out $25 vouchers to entice passersby to open accounts. Mr. Liguori said the bank expects to give away $1 million during the promotion, which ends May 31.