Is There a Stigma Attached to Free Checking Name?
A very brief online article last week announced that sometime this year Discover Bank is going to launch a free checking account.
This is wonderful news for consumers and for those banks and credit unions that continue offering Free Checking. I see it as a confirmation that the free checking account remains alive and is flourishing.
What interests me the most is the account name ultimately chosen by Discover Bank.
Why the interest?
Because three of the nation’s largest and most familiar online only banks refuse to name their free checking accounts Free Checking. Instead they settle on a less descriptive name as follows:
- EverBank’s free checking account is named Yield Pledge Checking
- ING Direct’s free checking account is named Electric Orange Checking
- Ally Bank’s free checking account is named Interest Checking
Yet, there are other online-only banks that obviously believe the name Free Checking provides a distinct marketing advantage.
- First Internet Bank of Indiana’s free checking account is named Free Checking
- Redneck Bank’s free checking account is named flat out free checking
- USAA Savings Bank’s free checking account is named Free Checking
For the past few years I’ve been extremely curious why a bank would offer free checking yet not only avoid naming it Free Checking but refuse to aggressively promote it as being “free.” This wasn’t always the case.
In fact, it’s a relatively recent phenomenon.
During the 1980s, 1990s, and into the early part of the 2000s, most banks and credit unions offering free checking named their accounts Totally Free Checking or FREE Checking. Others went as far as coming up with variations on the name “Free Checking.” Some examples include:
- Express Free Checking
- Beyond Free Checking
- Fee Free Checking
- Positively Free Checking
In fact, over the past several years I’ve developed a list containing over 90 variations with the name Free Checking.
Looking back, there have always been bankers who’ve avoided offering free checking while others offering it chose not to aggressively promote it. In fact, the mega-banks didn’t begin offering free checking until the mid-to-late 1990s when it became a competitive necessity.
And we see how quickly they abandoned it a couple of years ago.
Over the years, I’ve encountered a number of naysayers who believe the free checking account should be avoided as it attracts primarily poorer, low-balance customers who are not profitable. This belief is what prompted some bankers to avoid offering the account while others maintained a low profile about its existence in their product menu. It’s the second group that failed to aggressively promote their free checking account.
I’ve always suspected that a number of bankers avoided free checking as they simply didn’t want to be ridiculed by their fellow bankers at the local country club. It’s as if there is an unwarranted stigma attached to the free checking account.
Whatever the mistaken beliefs about free checking, senior management of the first three, online-only banks listed above realizes the account’s importance both to consumers and to the bank but elect to keep a low profile in naming and promoting it.
So, it’ll be interesting to see which approach is taken by senior management of Discover Bank. Will they name their new free checking account Free Checking – or some variation thereof – or will they follow the lead of Ally, ING Direct, and EverBank and bury it with a less-descriptive name?
By the way, Ally Bank could have named its free checking account Free Interest Checking while ING Direct could have chosen Electric Orange Free Checking. And EverBank could have named its free checking account Yield Pledge Free Checking.
I’ve yet to come across any information from any of these banks as to why they avoided including the word “free” in the account name. Perhaps someday someone will enlighten me.
The question I’ll then have to ask myself is whether or not their answer is credible.