Yes, there are still banks that look out for customers

Upside down $20 bill

Let us pause a moment from bashing the banks for their recent money-grubbing behaviors to applaud MidSouth Bank for its proactive program to cure customers afflicted with chronic overdraft disease.

What? A caring bank? Yep, they still exist.

Down in Lafayette, La., MidSouth CEO Rusty Cloutier thinks a little differently about his customers.

It troubles him when he sees someone rack up overdraft fees they can't afford, time and time again.

Even though those fees help keep MidSouth's lights on, in Cloutier's view it's just not right to stand idle while customers dig themselves into debt.

So this year, Cloutier launched Fresh Start, an innovative program that dedicates two "account analyst counselors" to track down customers who have overdrawn their account six times or more within a 12-month period and help them live within their means.

It's the type of program that's all but extinct at major banks today, despite the urging by the FDIC last year for banks to do exactly what MidSouth is doing.

Sadly, the folks that Cloutier hopes to help have now become part of major banking's business model, a predictable income stream that the bigs say they need if they're to survive.

Fresh Start has reached out to 1,800 customers since March with this proposition: You can pay back the overdraft charges at your own pace based on your take-home pay with no additional fees or interest if you agree to have your overdraft privileges suspended until your checkbook balances.

Research firm Haberfeld Associates claims that 5% of all bank customers account for 65% of all overdrafts and on average will overdraw their accounts 60 to 80 times a year and have no problem paying the fees.

Simply put, they don't want or need help.

Cloutier says that's fine; if they don't want help, MidSouth won't pester them.

But he's seeing results among customers who were too afraid or embarrassed to act.

"Customers want to know that their banks are looking out for them," Cloutier says, "even if it's just sitting with them and convincing them that the sun will come up tomorrow."

When will other banks see the light?

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