Competition begins for fleeing big bank customers

Jar filled with pennies

Who's absolutely in love with Bank of America's new $5 monthly debit card fee?

Small community banks and credit unions, that's who.

Both the Independent Community Bankers of America and the Credit Union National Association dusted off the welcome mat for consumers following the Bank of America announcement and news that Citigroup would begin charging a $15 monthly fee to checking customers.

Want to flee the fees?

"This is the time," said CUNA CEO Bill Cheney in a statement.

Where I live in Florida, one local bank quickly pounced on the biggest advertising opportunity in years for the little guys. Perhaps you've seen similar promotions crop up where you live, particularly in light of the Bank Transfer Day movement.

Community Bank, which has 17 locations in southwest Florida, took out a rare, and perhaps its first, full-page ad on page 3 of the St. Petersburg Times that reads:

"$5 per month for your debit card?
Forget it.
We will PAY YOU $5 per month to switch to the superior service of Community Bank."

That's right: This bank will pay you $5 a month for one year if you open a new Value Checking account by New Year's Eve.

Granted, it's not a toaster. But it is a clear indication that small banks recognize the opportunity bonanza they've been handed by the nation's largest banks.

Heck, Community Bank didn't even need to mention Bank of America by name, such is the depth of public enmity over the announcement that a new $5 monthly fee will land on BofA debit card users beginning in 2012.

But as the late, great home shopping pitchman Billy Mays would say, "Wait! There's more!"

Five days later, Bank of America responded with its own page 3 full-page ad with the headline, "We're working to help keep the Florida economy moving forward."

Initially, I thought it was a clever bit of satire, perhaps from those guys down the hall at PolitiFact injecting a little levity into a prime ad hole.

But no, this self-promoting puff piece was all too real and familiar.

In it, Bank of America comes on like a combination of Mother Teresa and Captain America, feeding the poor, inventing small business lending, modifying loans (I know -- with a straight face!) and curing Parkinson's disease.

OK, I made that last one up.

It was exactly the same sort of misguided, misaimed, mistimed, misanthropic belly-flop that so rankled Floridians when BP employed it after giving the Gulf of Mexico a free lube job.

I don't know how far $5 goes with the average consumer these days, but it doesn't take a full-page ad to convince me that I'd rather have it enter my pocket than leave it.

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