Hoping to stave off customer defections and boost account openings, Citicorp has created a lower-balance checking account.
EZ Checking's minimum balance to avoid monthly charges is $1,500-in line with those at other New York-area banks. But account holders will not get some of the perks that higher-balance Citi accounts offer.
Citibank will let customers open EZ Checking accounts only through May 1.
The move represents an about-face for $310 billion-asset Citicorp. Last fall Citibank announced an account with a $6,000 minimum balance and called it the perfect "relationship" product. The idea was to offer one account that would allow customers to link checking, deposit, and loan products to meet the minimum balance requirement. Citibank assumed the account would also bring in more cross-sales.
But the launch triggered a tidal wave of criticism from customers and the press.
EZ Checking was created in response to customers who complained that the higher balance requirement was beyond their reach.
Citibank said about 10% of its 1.9 million account holders fall into that category. Some customers had closed their accounts when the $6,000 minimum balance became effective last month.
"A lot of our customers picked up the phone and told us they couldn't make that minimum," said Stephen J. Liguori, vice president and head of retail banking in the New York region. "We decided that account was probably not for everyone."
Customers can link EZ Checking, like the account with the larger minimum requirement, to any Citibank product to meet the minimum.
But EZ Checking has charges the other account does not have: a $1 fee for each check written over the maximum of 10 checks a month, and another $1 fee for using non-Citibank automated teller machines more than five times a month. EZ Checking also requires direct deposit of payroll checks.
Consultants said the promotion seemed to be nothing more than an attempt to salvage a tarnished public image.
"It's really more of a rebate" for customers who were forced into the higher-balance account, said Gerard Hergenroeder, a consultant at Speer & Associates in Atlanta. "It's not going to have any long-term impact."
Consultants also said EZ Checking showed consumer sensitivity by Citibank.