LOMBARD, Ill. (11/16/10)--Offering a free checking account is the top reason consumers say they would switch financial institutions, according to new research by Raddon Financial Group. Of consumers surveyed, 39% said they would switch if free checking changed. "Forget about deposit rates, loan rates, NSF (nonsufficient funds) fees, online banking, ATM or branch locations," said Raddon in its report. "Consumers indicated that they don't care about those things nearly as much as they value their free checking accounts. More precisely 39% of consumers indicated that they would switch financial institutions if you messed with their free checking." The study noted that the nation's biggest banks eliminated truly free checking accounts, but "each still offers consumers a way to get to 'free.' Whether it is through relationship- or channel-based activity, consumers are able to avoid service fees and retain their highly coveted free checking by giving the institution something in return. Requirements such as direct deposit, a minimum number of monthly debit card transactions or combined balance minimums are often easy for many consumers to meet." The research group, based in Lombard, Ill., noted that financial institutions that elect to keep their free checking product "may find themselves at a competitive advantage over their counterparts." Other changes that would prompt consumers to switch financial institutions include:
* Service quality, 35%; * Convenient branch locations, 29%; * Fair overdraft/NSF service charges, 20%; * Access to surcharge-free ATMs, 19%; * Convenient branch hours, 19%; * Deposit rates, 17%; * Online banking technology, 16%; * Large ATM network, 16%; * Overdraft coverage for checks, 14%; * Loan rates, 14%; * Overdraft coverage for ATM/debit, 13%; * Range of products/services, 11%; * Mobile banking technology, 6%; and * Other, 5%.