JPMorgan Chase & Co. has simplified the disclosure forms for its checking accounts, becoming the first large back to adopt model disclosures proposed by the Pew Charitable Trusts.
The new disclosures use plain language to outline monthly service, overdraft and other checking account fees for the bank's basic "Total Checking" account. They will be available online starting Thursday.
JPMorgan Chase currently has approximately 8 million Total Checking account customers. The bank plans to roll out similar disclosures for its other checking accounts, including its Student Checking and Premier Plus Checking accounts, in early 2012.
"We found a lot of ways to improve the way we were describing things to customers," Ryan McInerney, chief executive of Chase's consumer bank, told American Banker in an interview on Wednesday.
"We took the recommendations from Pew and then built on those with a lot of customer research," including focus groups and one-on-one interviews, he adds.
Pew and other consumer advocates have argued that banks should make account fees more transparent, particularly to improve their ability to service low-income consumers and those who do not have or do not regularly use bank accounts. Consumers broadly have become more sensitive to fees, especially as many banks recently started raising or adding new fees associated with checking accounts.
A Pew report published in October found that one third of low-income households who closed an account between 2009 and 2010 said hidden or expected fees were the reason for leaving their banks.
McInerney says JPMorgan Chase removed certain "legacy terms" included in the older disclosure forms, because they tended to confuse customers.
"The legacy terms weren't nearly as clear as what customers told us how they would describe them," he says.
"Posting order" is one example, says McInerney. "What customers told us was: 'Oh, [that means] how deposits and withdrawals work.'"
The new disclosure uses phrases like "how deposits and withdrawals work," and "the order in which withdrawals and deposits are processed" instead of the usual industry jargon.
"We're trying to deliver a much better experience for our customers, and rethinking everything we do," McInerney adds.
The bank also announced that it has eliminated several fees associated with its Total Checking account, including an account closing fee. The bank used to charge a $25 fee for any accounts closed within 90 days of opening.
"We hope this is the kind of thing the [model] will provide: the opportunity to make some fee decisions," Susan Weinstock, director of Pew's Safe Checking in the Electronic Age Project, told American Banker.
She adds that Pew has heard from another large bank that plans to roll out streamlined disclosures in line with Pew's model box soon. Some regional banks and credit unions are also expected to follow suit.
Weinstock also says the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau should require similar disclosures by all banks going forward.
"We've talked to them about it," she says.
JPMorgan Chase says that it informed the CFPB of its new disclosures.
Sens. Dick Durbin and Jack Reed sent a letter to the bureau in November endorsing the Pew model disclosures and asking the CFPB to require banks to post the form on their websites.