Santander Bank will change its customer screening policies to allow more lower-income applicants to open checking and savings accounts.
In doing so, the Boston-based subsidiary of Spain's Banco Santander becomes the third major bank to revamp the way it uses ChexSystems, a consumer reporting database that reviews potential customers' banking history.
The bank's decision was announced Friday by the office of New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, which has been investigating ChexSystems' role in the screening process.
In his inquiry, Schneiderman has found many banks that use ChexSystems' services wind up rejecting account applications of consumers whose accounts at other banks contain blemishes, such as unpaid overdraft or bounced-check fees. The rejections have disproportionately affected lower-income individuals, many of whom have had no choice but to turn to higher-cost alternative providers, such as check cashers, for their financial transactions, the attorney general's office said.
Under the deal struck with Schneiderman's office, the $77.3 billion-asset Santander will continue to screen new applicants for past episodes of fraud, but it will no longer screen for "account abuse," such as a history of overdrafts or closed accounts. The bank will also put $500,000 toward publicizing the agreement in low-to-moderate income neighborhoods in New York.
In the past year, Citibank and Capital One Financial have both made similar agreements with the New York attorney general regarding their use of ChexSystems.
"We are pleased to have reached an agreement with the Attorney General's office," Maria Tedesco, managing director of retail banking for Santander Bank, said in a separate statement. "We believe this change to the screening process for new account openings will make it easier for consumers who might have been denied services based on their banking history the ability to open checking or savings accounts at Santander."
The new policy is expected to take effect Sept. 30.