Been a while since you got a nice freebie from a bank? How does $20 worth of gas sound?

As part of a promotion for Kasasa, a national brand of rewards checking and savings accounts offered through community banks and credit unions, 40 financial institutions will “take over” gas stations in 20 major cities starting Aug. 15. The kicker? You don’t even have to sign up for an account to get the money.

From Rachel Witkowski at American Banker:

The promotion involves community banks and credit unions that offer deposit products through Kasasa, which is owned by consulting firm BancVue. The free deposit accounts offer perks such as an above-market interest rate, cash back or rewards for iTunes and Amazon.com.

“As a community bank, we’ve been involved in every kind of town fundraiser but a gas station takeover … is outside the box,” says Carlie Olson, the chief financial officer at Pioneer Bank in Mapleton, Minn. “It gives us the opportunity to showcase (the deposit accounts) while giving back to the community.”

Pioneer and other banks and credit unions will offer $20 of free gas per person to the first 200 people at a given gas station — until they dole out $4,000 at the station. Patrons are not required to open an account to get gas. Atlanta; Dallas, Texas; Chicago, New York City; and Washington, D.C., are among the 20 cities targeted with the promotion.

“Gas is a metaphor for giving something back when you don’t expect it,” says Gabe Krajicek, BancVue’s chief executive. “We want people to anchor in their brain that Kasasa gives you unexpected benefits.

Giveaways like this really underscore the differences out there in the consumer banking marketplace right now. Even as many large national banks are adapting to regulations like the Durbin amendment by cutting back services and raising fees, small banks and credit unions are finding new ways to engage with alienated large-bank customers, and offering them a real value proposition: free checking and some impressive perks, in exchange for doing more of your banking electronically and dealing with a smaller network of branches and ATMs.

These days, with mobile and online banking rapidly gaining consumer acceptance, I think a lot of people are willing to take that bargain. But beyond that, it just looks like community banks and credit unions are just straight-up outhustling many of the largest banks out there. I’m hopeful we’ll see diversification and competition in consumer banking increase as a result.

What do you think? Is giving away gas a good way to win new customers? Are community banks and credit unions outhustling large national banks?

Follow me on Twitter: @ClaesBell.

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