Consumers tired of rising checking account fees regularly threaten to switch to community and regional banks, but that talk is cheap, experts have found, MarketWatch reported.
As financial institutions introduced more checking account fees after the recession, people started switching to smaller banks, according to Moebs Services, an economic research firm in Lake Bluff, Ill.
From 2008 to 2012, 15 million to 24 million accounts switched from large to smaller banks with assets of $10 billion or less, says Mike Moebs, economist and chief executive of Moebs Services. But the pace of switching has slowed considerably in the last two years from a peak of 1 million switchers a month in 2010 to between 1 million and 2 million a year. "It has continued but not nearly as rigorously," he said.
Despite this, the number of free checking accounts has dwindled over the last four years. Only 59 percent of banks currently offer free checking accounts, a drop of 8 percentage points over the past year and down from 80 percent of banks that offered free checking accounts in March 2010, according to Moebs' recent survey of 2,890 large and small banks and credit unions.
Checking accounts are a relationship builder for banks, said Chris Cole, senior vice president at the Independent Community Bankers of America.
Customers of smaller community banks might relish a more hands-on banking experience, but they are complaining.
Around 66 percent of Americans are still angry at big banks for their role in the financial crisis and 26 percent feel guilty for banking with a big bank, according to a survey by Kasasa, which offers checking and saving accounts at community banks and credit unions. But 72 percent of people also said they'd consider switching to a big bank if their financial institution raised checking fees, according to a separate 2012 survey by personal finance website Bankrate.com, up from 64 percent in 2011.