Bank marketers view the holiday season as a prime forum for their craft. But with the recession pressing both businesses and consumers, many financial institutions are cutting marketing budgets this year while tying many of their programs to local charities.

Glenfed Inc., the nation's fourth-largest thrift company, has trimmed its holiday tree budget in a move expected to save it well over $100,000.

The Glendale, Calif.-based company traditionally puts skyline-dominating strings of lights in the shape of Christmas trees atop its major buildings in Florida and California. This year, only four such displays have been constructed.

Lease Fees Hefty

Each electronic tree is leased for at least $15,000, a thrift official said. Glenfed, which is in the middle of a strict company-wide cost-cutting regimen, plans to contribute some of the savings to local charities in its various markets.

In Grinnell, Iowa, the Grinnell State Bank is positioning itself as a good citizen by asking people it helps to in turn help others during the holiday season.

The bank, which has $48 million of assets, sponsors free weekly movies for senior citizens throughout the year.

During the holiday season, it is requiring for admission a donation of a nonperishable food item as part of its participation in a local food drive.

The bank is also fielding volunteers for various holiday projects and events around town.

The $50 million-asset First State Bank in Hollis, Okla., is doing "no more, but no less" than in prior years, according to Pam Patrick, assistant vice president for marketing.

In other words, it continues to be a major sponsor of "Jackrabbit Junction," the Christmas village set up each year in the heart of town.

First State buys candy canes and donates money for decorations and lights that decorate the village.

The bank's contributions are acknowledged throughout the Western-theme village, which is highlighted byplays, music, and other holiday programs. Ms. Patrick would not disclose the size of the bank's Christmas budget.

American Express' travelers check unit is repeating last year's successful "Most Thoughtful Gift" promotion.

Every time a customer purchases a gift check from a bank or thrift during the Christmas season, American Express makes a donation to the Toys for Tots program sponsored by the U.S. Marine Corps.

The company said that more than 1,300 financial institutions were selling the gift checks, up 44% since last year.

Participants Build Sales

The financial services giant says banks that participated in the program last year saw 15% higher growth in gift check sales than those that did not.

American Express, which would not disdclose its marketing budget, promotes the program through displays and brochures at banks and through a radio promotion in six major markets.

The biggest holiday program at New York's Chase Manhattan Bank is its "Gifts of the Season" sweepstakes promoting use of the bank's Visa and MasterCard.

The program offers cars users the triple allure of cash prizes, discounts on jewelry and other purchases, and warm feelings related to charitable contributions made by Chase for each card purchase.

With each monthly statement in December, January, and February, the bank's 10 million cardholders receive a game card with scratch-off boxes.

If any purchase or cash advance on the statement falls within the cash range printed in one of three boxes, cardholders win an amount printed on a corresponding scratch-off box. Chase promises more than 200,000 prize winners and one grand prize of $25,000.

The bank also is donating half a penny to the Children's Literacy Initiative every time a purchase is charged on a Chase credit card between Nov. 1 and Jan. 31, 1992. Chase has guaranteed a $200,000 donation to the charity, which works closely with the early-childhood Head Start program.

Chase also is a founding sponsor of a national radio program, "Mrs. Bush's Story Time" that promotes the organization through damages by the First Lady of popular children's stories.

A Chase spokeswoman said the budget for the program is "several million dollars," but she would not elaborate.

There are, of course, more traditional Christmas-season marketing appeals, ones that are purely commercial.

In statements this month for American Telephone & Telegraph Co.'s Universal card, the company announced that it reduced annual interest rates on its credit card to 16.4% from 17.4%. "Just in time for holiday shopping and quick cash," it breathlessly proclaims.

AMERICAN BANKER/Bank Rate Monitor's [TM]

Consumer Money IndexMarket CREDIT CARD PERSONAL AUTO 12/10 12/3 12/10 12/3 12/10 12/3New York 19.23 19.23 17.43 17.43 12.65 12.65Los Angeles 19.31 19.31 19.25 19.25 11.30 11.33Chicago 19.19 19.19 16.60 16.60 11.14 11.18San Francisco 19.74 19.74 18.62 18.62 11.55 11.58Philadelphia 18.29 18.29 14.58 14.58 10.88 10.88Detroit 18.23 18.23 15.00 15.00 9.50 9.50Boston 18.68 18.68 17.19 17.19 11.59 11.65Houston 18.15 18.15 16.18 16.18 9.92 10.00Dallas 18.30 18.30 15.50 15.50 9.87 9.98Washington D.C. 18.93 18.93 16.88 16.88 10.85 10.85BRM Index 18.81 18.81 16.72 16.72 10.93 10.96

The Bank Rate Monitor Index is the average of rates being charged by the 100 largest banks and thrifts in the nation's 10 largest markets on the dates indicated. Other rates quoted are the lowest and highest offered at the same institutions. Auto loan rates are for a $9,000, 48-month, new-car loan with a 20 percent down payment. Personal loan rates are for a $3,000 unsecured personal loan with a 24-month term. Credit card rates are fixed rates only and do not take into account differing annual fees or grace periods.

SOURCE: [C] Bank Rate Monitor, North Palm Beach, 33408 All inquiries: (407) 627-7330

Auto, personal and credit card ratesLOWEST PERSONAL LOAN RATES 12/10/91Beneficial Svgs Bk, Philadelphia 12.49%Continental Bank, Philadelphia 12.50Commonwealth Fed S&L, Philadelphia 14.00HIGHEST PERSONAL LOAN RATESBank of America, San Francisco 20.00%Manufacturers Hanover, New York 19.80Wells Fargo Bank, San Francisco 19.25LOWEST AUTO LOAN RATESFirst of America Bk, Detroit 9.00%Sovran Bank, Washington 9.20Comerica, Detroit 9.25HIGHEST AUTO LOAN RATESManufacturers Hnvr, N.Y. 15.50%Citibank, N.Y. 14.90Chemical Bank, N.Y. 13.90LOWEST CREDIT CARD RATESEastern Bank, Boston 16.75%Germantown Svgs Bank, Philadelphia 16.80Sovran Bank, Washington 16.90HIGHEST CREDIT CARD RATESWorld S&L, San Francisco 20.90%Homestead Savings, San Francisco 20.90Citibank, Washington 19.80

Ellen Braitman contributed to this article.

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