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Banks battle for customers

By Marcie Geffner · Bankrate.com
Thursday, October 13, 2011
Posted: 2 pm ET

Will big banks' losses be community banks' and credit unions' gains?

That's the presumptive winners' hoped-for outcome as consumers supposedly take up in arms over new bank fees for debit card use.

The Credit Union National Association, or CUNA, a trade group that represents credit unions, said in an Oct. 7 statement that consumers who are "upset by the recent spate of news about escalating bank fees on debit cards and checking accounts should take their business to a credit union where fees are lower and service is better."

"We want consumers to know they can fight back against big banks by saying 'no' to more fees. They should give credit unions a close look and take advantage of credit unions' emphasis on service over profits," CUNA CEO Bill Cheney said in the statement. "This is the time."

Not to be left out, the Independent Community Bankers of America, or ICBA, an industry group that represents community banks, issued an Oct. 11 statement that said now is "the perfect time" for consumers to "join the 'go local' movement" by switching their accounts away from big banks to community ones.

"By doing so," President Sal Marranca said in the ICBA statement, "consumers will realize the litany of benefits that come with banking with a community bank, including a relationship-based banking experience, superior customer service and the pride that comes with reinvesting in one’s community."

The two statements went on to tout the advantages of credit unions and community banks, respectively, pointing out various statistics and so on.

The American Bankers Association, or ABA, meanwhile, has been attacking the Durbin Amendment, which triggered the new debit card fees, and issuing statements about the Volker Rule, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Deposit Insurance Fund and the Federal Home Loan Bank system.

The ABA is also trying to tie the credit unions' wings by opposing federal legislation that would let them expand their business-lending activities.

Whether all this posturing will result in better products and lower prices for consumers remains to be seen, especially given the complexity of fee schedules, high switching costs and general apathy on the part of the public.

Follow me on Twitter: @marciegeff

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