Bank of America Corp. is working on sweeping changes that would require many users of basic checking accounts to pay a monthly fee unless they agree to bank online, buy more products or maintain certain balances.
The plan by the nation’s second-largest bank by assets is the latest sign of stresses in the banking industry at a time of low interest rates, slow economic growth and new rules limiting many types of service charges. Many other big banks, including J.P. Morgan Chase & Co.—the nation’s largest—and Wells Fargo & Co., have rolled out plans that aim to raise fee revenue or push customers to do more business with the bank.
Those efforts are tricky, because they risk upsetting the banks’ best customers or drawing fire from politicians. Bank of America retreated last fall from a new $5 debit-card charge following a customer revolt and a wave of criticism.
The search for new sources of income is especially pressing at Bank of America, where 2011 revenue dropped by $26.2 billion, or 22%, from its 2009 level, Wall Street Journal reported.
Bank of America pilot programs in Arizona, Georgia and Massachusetts now are experimenting with charging $6 to $9 a month for an “Essentials” account. Other account options being tested in those states carry monthly charges of $9, $12, $15 and $25 but give customers opportunities to avoid the payments by maintaining minimum balances, using a credit card or taking a mortgage with Bank of America, according to a memo distributed to employees.