Wells Fargo & Co. is phasing out a common small-business checking account, and Glendale Federal Bank has seized the opportunity to promote its competing product.
Begining May 1, Wells Fargo will no longer offer new customers an account that allowed them to make up to 25 deposits, write 200 checks, and deposit 250 checks each month for a $24 fee.
"It just has not been a popular account," said Lucy Reid, Wells Fargo executive vice president for business banking."We add or eliminate products fairly often."
Ms. Reid said about 5% of the $108-billion asset bank's customers use the product, which Wells business brochures call a "packaged checking account." In response to Wells Fargo's checking account changes, Glendale Federal, a $14-billion asset Southern California thrift that began targeting small businesses in 1995, has been aggressively marketing a similar account.
"We felt it was a good opportunity to extol our account," said Terry Hess, Glendale's director of business banking. Mr. Hess said a "couple dozen" Wells customers have switched to his thrift.
Glendale plans a series of advertisements in California describing its checking account and encouraging small-business owners to move their accounts from Wells Fargo.
"We're flattered that the competitors are duplicating our product line, but what we pay attention to is the customers," Ms. Reid said.
In addition to the newspaper, radio, and billboard ads, Glendale's sales staff is distributing fliers about the checking account changes and calling on Wells Fargo customers.
One ad pokes fun at Wells Fargo's stagecoach logo and asks "Trampled in a fee stampede?" The other features an illustration of a Wells Fargo banker stepping on cowering small-business owners.
"Glendale has aggressively pointed out the differences between the larger institutions and ours but we try to do it in a humorous manner," Mr. Hess said. Donald Hance, manager of small-business banking at Union Bank of California, said most of the area's banks benefited from customer turnover following Wells Fargo's merger with Los Angeles-based First Interstate Bancorp.
Glendale's attack ads increase the turnover, Mr. Hance said.
"The Glendale Federal ads pique customer's desire to move," he said. "Glendale Federal has benefited most directly, but we have all benefited."
San Francisco-based Wells Fargo, which pioneered the low-cost method of issuing credit lines by direct mail, is the second-largest bank lender to small businesses nationwide.
Accounts such as the one Wells Fargo is phasing out are popular with small retailers who frequently use the branch network to conduct their transactions.
Wells Fargo offers two other small-business checking accounts-one with a fee for each deposit or check and another designed for business that write and deposit less than 200 checks a month.