Public outrage over new bank fees is paying off at financial technology startup PerkStreet Financial Inc.
Consumers are frustrated as large and regional banks add fees or increase the prices they charge for checking accounts. The banks are trying to recoup revenue lost due to recent rules capping the debit card interchange fees.
Though it's not clear that consumers are actually moving away from big banks en masse, PerkStreet's founder and chief executive says that the prominence of new bank fees has been a boon for the company.
"Our job marketing to get people in the doors …got a lot easier as banks started increasing fees," PerkStreet CEO Dan O'Malley said on Monday, during a panel discussion at an annual cards and payments loyalty conference in New York. (The conference was sponsored by American Banker and its publisher, SourceMedia Inc.)
The Boston, Mass.-based online banking provider, which was launched in late 2009, has shifted its marketing from highlighting its debit card perks to urging consumers to switch banks.
"We went from not being able to efficiently acquire customers by running ads about 'Switch your bank, it's a much better experience in terms of perks,' to being able to do that in about a one-week span," O'Malley added at the conference.
O'Malley previously co-founded Capital One Financial Corp.'s payments division. He said customers started paying more attention to PerkStreet's marketing after Bank of America announced its now-retracted plan to start charging a monthly $5 fee for debit card use.
"That wasn't even part of our business plan, to be able to compete head-to-head on getting people to switch. Our message was always about perks," he said.
Unlike B of A and other big banks, PerkStreet will not have to comply with new federal caps on debit interchange fees. Those caps, which went into effect on Oct. 1, sparked B of A's debit fee announcement.
In fact, O'Malley said those caps created a "huge opportunity" for PerkStreet. The company's partner bank, The Bancorp Bank, is exempt from the swipe fee caps, because it has only $3.4 billion in assets. The so-called Durbin amendment to the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, which required regulators to restrict debit card swipe fees, carved out an exemption for banks with less than $10 billion in assets.
Because PerkStreet does not have to worry about making up lost revenue on reduced interchange fees, it can focus on increasing benefits for customers, O'Malley said.
"The biggest thing on our plate is just continuing to increase amount of cash-back" rewards to consumers, he said.
Going forward, he predicts that "there's probably a one-year period of time where people are going to be open to switching [bank accounts] in ways that they have not been in the past."