Standing in front of Chase Manhattan Corp.'s Park Avenue headquarters Thursday, community activists accused the company of charging "exorbitant" automated teller machine fees.
Two community groups representing minorities and low-income consumers unveiled a report stating that average ATM fees at Chase are "significantly higher than (at) most other major banks in the country."
The groups - Organization for a New Equality and East Fulton Street Group/21st Century Partnership - said Chase earns significant income from its machines but lags in philanthropy and community reinvestment. They also said that as bank consolidation continues, the high price of electronic transactions will limit access by low-income consumers.
The Rev. Charles R. Stith, president of the Boston-based Organization for a New Equality, which specializes in community reinvestment issues, said Chase's ATM fees are "three times as high as Citibank's" and have a "disproportionately adverse impact on low-income families."
The fees are charged to Chase customers, and are not to be confused with surcharges, which Chase does not impose.
He said the groups targeted Chase because as the largest U.S. banking company, it "sets the pace" for the industry.
Although cameras and reporters were nowhere to be seen, several Chase executives came out of their offices on the springlike summer day.
John M. Imperiale, Chase's vice president of community relations, said the bank has worked with the groups in the past, sponsoring mortgage fairs, economic conferences, and investment fairs.
"We have a close enough personal relationship that they could have called us," he said in an interview. He offered to talk to the protesters' leaders after their speeches, but they requested an audience with Walter Shipley, the bank's chairman.
Responding to the accusations, a Chase statement said: "Chase's ATM fees are reasonable and in line with industry standards. Fewer than half of Chase's customers pay any ATM fees at all."
Chase offers a "lifeline" account for individuals who don't maintain a minimum balance, offering 10 transactions of any type for $4 per month. Additional transactions cost 50 cents each.
The report - produced by Organization for a New Equality, the East Fulton Street Group/21st Century Partnership of Brooklyn, and the Greenlining Institute of San Francisco - said Chase's fees were higher than those of several other banks across the country.
The report also said the bank's $18.1 billion nationwide commitment for community reinvestment is less than that of others such as Wells Fargo & Co., which in December earmarked $45 billion for that purpose.
Liam Carmody, president of Carmody & Bloom, a Ridgewood, N.J.-based consulting firm, confirmed that Chase charges 75 cents per ATM transaction for customers whose accounts fall below their minimum balance, and $1.50 for ATM transactions at other banks' machines. By contrast, Bank of America and Wells Fargo charge nothing for "on us" transactions and charge $2 at competitors' machines.
Nonetheless, Mr. Carmody said Chemical "has done more for investing in low-income areas and black businesses than any other bank in the country."
Mr. Carmody has worked with Chemical, whose management emerged dominant after its merger with Chase Manhattan.
Rev. Stith's organization suggested that Chase eliminate fees for customers using its own machines, as Citibank has done, or "contribute half of its ATM fees to ensure than low- and moderate-income communities have access to the necessary hardware and software" to participate in electronic banking.
Rev. Stith said the groups linked ATM services and community reinvestment because the former have become a contributor to banks' bottom lines. "What are the implications for communities if they don't have access to a computer?" he asked.