In an ongoing campaign to mop up its image, Providian Financial Corp. has unveiled a deposit product designed to offer higher interest rates than passbook savings accounts and more liquidity than certificates of deposit.
Planned Savings will require a $500 minimum opening deposit and carry no monthly fees as long as the customer maintains a balance of at least $1,000. People falling below that amount will pay $5 a month, but this fee will be waived if they deposit at least $50 a month. The interest rate will be 5% at first, and the account will allow one withdrawal per month.
We want to encourage people to put away money every month, said Jody Bhagat, senior vice president of global e-commerce at San Francisco-based Providian. We provide the middle market a way to start saving with a low balance. The minimum for Providians certificate of deposit is $5,000 and funds cannot be withdrawn in the first six months.
Since Providian agreed with federal regulators in June to pay a whopping $300 million to settle a variety of complaints about its credit card business practices, it has set out to show what a good citizen it is. Among other things, the lender commissioned a savings-habits survey through the Consumer Federation of America which was an enemy of Providians when the complaints were getting it a lot of unwanted attention.
The survey found that Americans lose $30 billion to $50 billion a year in interest payments by keeping their money in low-yield passbook accounts instead of investing in money market accounts or U.S. savings bonds. Caravan Opinion Research Corporation International did the polling for the Consumer Federation, interviewing 507 men and 501 women in July.
Shailesh J. Mehta, chairman and chief executive officer of Providian, used the survey results to illustrate the need for Planned Savings. The cost of funds for these small savers is not much higher, but the issue is servicing and transactions costs, he said. If they use the Internet and telephone, we can pass on those savings.
Providian offers its deposit products primarily through the Internet and by phone, and has only a few branches for in-person banking. The company will market Planned Savings to its credit card and CD customers.
At a news conference Tuesday in Washington, the day before Planned Savings was announced, Mr. Mehta stood beside Stephen Brobeck, executive director of the Consumer Federation. The two organizations have had a rocky relationship because of the complaints about Providians fees.
American savers are leaving billions of dollars on the table, Mr. Mehta said.
Steven Brobeck, executive director of the Consumer Federation, emphasized the cost of the passbook habit. If savers shifted these funds to CDs or U.S. Savings Bonds, they would earn over $13 trillion in interest over 30 years, he said. Earning more interest would serve as a significant incentive for families to save more.
Mr. Brobeck said people keep too much money in low-yield savings accounts because they lack knowledge about yields, or they require liquidity.
That Providian had a place at the podium alongside the Consumer Federation is notable. A few months ago Mr. Brobeck said he was troubled by Providians aggressive marketing to lower-income households.
At Tuesdays press conference Mr. Brobeck made only oblique reference to Providians grievance record. They have settled outstanding consumer complaints, he said before going on to discuss the survey.