A northern New Jersey mayor said last week that his town would no longer do business with PNC Bank Corp., because of the bank's controversial policy of fingerprinting check-cashing customers who do not have PNC accounts.
John Inglesino, mayor of Rockaway Township, said he would yank the town's multi-million-dollar deposit account from the Pittsburgh bank and give most of the business to Summit Bancorp in Princeton.
Mayor Inglesino said the move was intended to send a message to big, out-of-state banks that put profits before customer satisfaction.
Thumbprinting has fallen under harsh criticism by consumer groups and politicians who, like Mayor Inglesino, believe the policy is "intrusive." Mayor Inglesino also contends that thumbprinting is a veiled attempt to increase market share.
"It's nothing more than a heavy-handed way to get more deposits," the mayor said.
Thumbprinting has become common bank policy. Banks in 27 states have begun to require those without accounts who wish to cash checks at their branches to make a thumbprint on checks, using a special "inkless" pad.
Proponents of the policy say it is a good deterrent to check fraud. PNC, which began thumbprinting nonaccount holders in its 242 New Jersey branches in September, has reduced incidents of check fraud by those customers some 70%, said spokesman Jonathan Williams.
Summit, the state's largest home-grown bank, does not have a thumbprinting policy and has no plans to enact one, said spokeswoman Barbara Horn.
Mr. Williams said PNC's "touch signature" program was part of a coordinated attempt to reduce many types of fraud, and he added that "we have had excellent acceptance" with it throughout the bank's branch network.
PNC is not the only New Jersey institution to feel the heat of local political leaders. First Union Corp., based in Charlotte, N.C., ran into criticism after it started thumbprinting nonaccount holders in its 311 Garden State branches last April.
Last summer, Ocean County, N.J., politicians threatened to pull a $50 million deposit account out of First Union. The bank countered by issuing photo identification cards, allowing 1,600 county employees to cash payroll checks without thumbprinting, a First Union spokeswoman said.
With a population of 25,000, Rockaway Township employs 200 people and makes more than $100 million in transactions annually, Mayor Inglesino said.
The municipality has had a deposit relationship with Summit and its predecessor bank, UJB Financial Corp. However, the town's payroll services have been handled by PNC and its predecessor bank, Midlantic Corp., he said.
Summit won the payroll business after a review by the Town Council, the mayor said.
Mayor Inglesino, a part-time mayor who also has his own law practice, comes from a banking family. His father is a senior vice president at Bank of New York Co., and his brother is a private banker for Summit.
The mayor said he had not been in contact with other elected officials in the state about banding together to force the issue with First Union and PNC.
"I'm not on a mission," he said. "I'm one lonely mayor in one sleepy town."