RBS Citizens on Tuesday unveiled free checking with no monthly fee or minimum balance requirement as long as the customer makes one deposit a month of any amount.
Free checking is a major reversal for Citizens, which had raised its monthly fee on checking accounts in mid-2012 from $4.99 to $9.99.
The new "One Deposit Checking" account can be opened with as little as $25, and is part of the Providence, R.I., bank's strategy to offer more products to checking account customers.
"We think this one is a game-changer because it's just so easy," says Brad Conner, vice chairman of consumer banking at RBS Citizens Financial Group, the holding company for the $130.1 billion-asset Citizens. "If you make one deposit, you will never pay a maintenance fee." (RBS Citizens is a subsidiary of the Royal Bank of Scotland.)
The percentage of large banks that offered free checking fell to 27% in 2012 after banks with more than $10 billion of assets experienced a sudden decline in swipe fee income after Congress capped fees on debit transactions. The cap on interchange fees, championed by Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., was included in the Dodd-Frank Act and took effect in October 2011.
While the trend has been to do away with free checking, a handful of other banks, notably the $59 billion-asset Huntington Bancshares (HBAN) in Columbus, Ohio, have embraced the product as part of a strategy to attract customers fed up with fees.
The $18.4 billion-asset TCF Financial (TCB) in Wayzata, Minn., brought back free checking in 2012 after an earlier decision to eliminate the product caused frustrated customers to leave the bank in droves.
Citizens said it will no longer offer its basic "Green" checking account that had charged a $9.99 monthly fee to new customers. The fee got waived if a customer made five transactions per month or maintained an average daily balance of $1,500.
The bank also launched another checking account called "Value Checking," with a fixed $3.99 monthly fee that includes designer checks, paper statements and one free out-of-network ATM transaction.
Citizens also will not charge overdraft fees for transactions of $5 or less on the new checking accounts.