To address consumer worries stemming from merger-and-acquisition activity, Massachusetts' division of banks is posting on the Internet a list of 300 banks and credit unions and the fees associated with their checking accounts.
Listed alongside the name of each institution are the types of checking accounts offered, the minimum amount necessary to open an account, the minimum balance required, any monthly service fees, per-check fees, number of free checks, and any overdraft fees.
The service, which is set up in table form and lists the institutions alphabetically, notes any fees associated with stop-payment transactions, money orders, and using the bank's or a foreign automated teller machine. It is expected to be especially helpful in light of Massachusetts' heavy merger-and-acquisition volume of late.
"Basically, the reason for putting it together goes back to the bank consolidation in Massachusetts in the last eight years and more specifically in the last year," said Thomas J. Curry, the state's commissioner of banks. "There was some concern whether consumers had alternative banking services available to them."
Massachusetts, which started the service in late December, got the idea from New Jersey, which in March 2000 became the first state in the country to provide such a service, according to the state's department of banking and insurance. In November the department updated its consumer guide, which includes all 158 banks and thrifts in New Jersey, and added credit unions to the mix.
But New Jersey was motivated more by grievances about fees.
"The governor's office had received many complaints about ATM fees so it felt the best way to handle it was to get consumers the information they need to shop around for other services," said Laura Otterbourg, a spokeswoman for office of Gov. Christine Todd Whitman.
Stu Cameron, director of government relations at New Jersey Bankers Association, said the service is good for consumers without being a burden to banks.
"The administration's philosophy has been one to protect the consumer, but also to allow the free-enterprise system to work," Mr. Cameron said.
The state of New York posts similar fee information online, but it only covers two regions, New York City and Buffalo. Users can get information on checking accounts, online banking, ATMs, debit cards, credit cards and lines of credit, all of which has been obtained through a third-party research company.
In Massachusetts, consumers can link from the state's home page to the department of banking site. Users can search for an institution by name or location and get the main office address, phone number, and Web site link (if available) of the participating banks and credit unions.
The information is also available in print form and is intended primarily to help comparison-shoppers. For example, a consumer who is adamant about free checking may not want to bank with the Andover Bank, which charges a $2.50 monthly service fee and $1 per check after the sixth check. Abington Savings Bank, on the other hand, offers eight types of checking accounts, including one that is completely free.
Steven Antonakes, senior deputy commissioner of Massachusetts Department of Banks, said banks generally don't mind being stacked against competitors this way because the report is essentially free advertising. All the information in the 100-plus-page report was provided by the banks voluntarily.
"While it is a consumer vehicle, it is set up to link to a bank's Web site," Mr. Antonakes said. "Some see it as a potential marketing device."
Massachusetts hopes to add other search functions and branch information. Feedback has generally been positive, but it is unclear how many consumers know about the service.
"We don't have the resources for a marketing effort," Mr. Curry said.