Alert: Here’s a bank that avoids fees

Jar filled with pennies

Newton's third law of motion states that every action has an equal and opposite reaction.

What does this have to do with banking?

In the current hard-scrabble banking environment, it means that for every bank that jacks up its fees, an equal number may drop them completely in the hope it will attract the presumed hordes of customers seeking a fee-free safe harbor.

Let's not get carried away; far more banks are going fee-crazy than not these days. But the more that do, the more some may lean in the opposite direction where disgusted customers roam.

Huntington Bancshares -- a Midwest regional bank based in Columbus, Ohio, with branches in its home state, as well as Michigan, Pennsylvania, Indiana, West Virginia, and Kentucky -- recently broke from the herd and blew up its fee structure to introduce what it calls "Asterisk-Free Checking."

Asterisk-Free Checking has no origination fee, monthly maintenance fee, minimum balance requirement or check/debit card usage requirement. As if that weren't enough, it throws in a little swag, including free debit card, linked savings account, identity theft resolution and a program called 24-Hour Grace.

That last feature, which Huntington introduced last year, is great for habitual over-extenders. It gives you a day to bring your account balance into the black before it dings you with an overdraft charge.

Huntington CEO Steve Steinour admits that the move, part of the bank's evolving Fair Play philosophy, runs contrary to the mainstream.

"In fact, according to a recent American Bankers Association Survey, 81% of banks plan to increase checking account maintenance fees, 77% will impose or increase fees on other programs, and 66% will abolish free checking altogether," he notes.

What makes Steinour run in the opposite direction? Because our customers want us to, he says.

"While we're foregoing some fee income with this new checking account and 24-Hour Grace, doing the right thing for our customers is doing the right thing for our business. And we are continuing to take care of our shareholders by attracting and retaining more customers throughout the Midwest."

At a time when big banks are waging fee war on their own customers, it's good to see a few like Huntington break from the stampede and return to customer-centric banking. Most of us would live long and happy lives if we never see an asterisk again, especially at our bank.

Let's hope such forward-thinking strategies gain some traction with value-minded shareholders.

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