Those who bank at Wachovia aren't alone in their concern over their banking service these days. Washington Mutual customers are also in a holding pattern, wondering how the takeover of their Seattle-based bank by JPMorgan Chase will play out.
NEW YORK — Shannon Burdette has been a Wachovia customer for five years but feels like she’s been settling for less customer-friendly banking than she wants. She’s not optimistic things will change, now that her Wachovia bank accounts have been sold to Citigroup.
“My husband and I have a credit card through Citi and we like that,” she said. “They’ve always been really good, but I don’t have great expectations for the personal-banking side.”
Those who bank at Wachovia aren’t alone in their concern over their banking service these days. Washington Mutual customers are also in a holding pattern, wondering how the takeover of their Seattle-based bank by JPMorgan Chase will play out.
Seattle resident Karawynn Long said she was happy enough to stay with WaMu for 10 years. She will likely wait for the two banks to combine systems before deciding whether to look for a new bank.
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“I’m just going to wait and see how it all shakes out and what they change,” she said, but added she’s a bit skeptical. “It’s always possible things get better, but it’s much more likely it’s going to get worse for the consumer. We’ll see.”
Those who watch the banking industry say her instincts may be correct.
Ed Mierzwinski, consumer-program director for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, said account holders should pay careful attention to the paperwork they receive from their new banks.
Existing accounts at the banks that are taken over will be converted into new accounts at the parent, he said. “And most of the time the new account has higher fees and fewer features.”
It’s also important for consumers to keep track of online banking, direct deposits and other electronic transactions, because there have been cases where two banks had difficulty merging their computer systems, Mierzwinski said.
“It’s turned out in many mergers there were a lot of burps involved,” because the computer systems were not compatible, he said. “If your account number changes, your whole electronic banking world could have trouble.”
Charles M. Kahn, a finance professor at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, agreed. “Quite frequently it does lead to difficulties making one system compatible to another,” said Kahn, who has studied bank consolidation.
It’s really in customer service that consumers are most likely to see change, he said. “Large banks are no fun at all; they get incredibly clumsy with the consumer.”
Bart Narter, a San Francisco-based banking analyst with research and consulting firm Celent, said the nature of the two big takeovers won’t change the competitive landscape much in terms of the number of branches open in most areas.
Citi is expanding into the Southeast and Chase will move into the West Coast, both new markets to them for the most part, he said.
“There was minimal geographic overlap,” between Chase and WaMu, for instance. “It’s not giving Chase a massive market concentration in a single market, except maybe in New York,” where there is enough competition that it likely won’t matter to consumers, he said.
Likewise, except for three states — California, Texas and to a lesser extent New York — Citi and Wachovia didn’t have a large overlap either.
“These are very competitive markets,” Narter said, which means consumers still have choices if they want to switch banks. “You start worrying in the less competitive states.”
As for raising fees, Narter noted all banks have looked to fees for overdrafts and related matters as revenue sources in recent years — and at some companies they now produce half of all retail income.
“It’s not like Wachovia and WaMu didn’t think about fee income,” he said.