Banking & finance

Huntington disclosure policy gets poor marks

By

August 13, 2013

Huntington Bancshares has won fans with some of its consumer-friendly policies, but it hasn’t fared well in a new report on checking-fee disclosure.

Huntington scored next to last among 25 large banks — with 13.5 points out of a possible 30 — in WalletHub.com’s report on disclosing fee information online about checking accounts.

Huntington was far behind some of its competitors in the Columbus market. Fifth Third tied for first with a perfect score, JPMorgan Chase tied for fifth with 27.5 points, U.S. Bank tied for 10th with 26.5 and KeyBank was 14th with 25.5.

Only M&T Bank, based in Buffalo, N.Y., was worse than Huntington, with five points.

The report rated the banks on a scale of zero to 10 in three categories: visibility of major fees, accessibility of fee information and clarity of fee information.

Huntington was one of five banks that registered a zero on accessibility because they did not provide a link to fee schedules from their Web pages that had information about checking accounts.

“I’m actively trying to get to the fee schedule, and I can’t find it,” said Odysseas Papadimitriou, WalletHub’s founder and CEO.

Huntington got five points for visibility of major fees and 8.5 points for clarity.

At a time when many banks are charging for checking accounts or setting conditions to keep them free, Huntington offers a checking account that is fee-free with no conditions and gives customers 24 hours to cover an overdraft before imposing a fee.

The policy has driven big growth in checking accounts for Huntington, with the bank adding about 300,000 accounts over the past three years.

Huntington noted that Money magazine has rated its checking account as one of the best in the country the last two years.

Bank spokeswoman Maureen Brown also said that Huntington does have disclosures about fees on its website for consumer checking, savings and money-market accounts and “We consistently direct customers who are seeking out this information to this online resource.”

The bank said it is working to integrate the link with the account-product pages on its website, a process that should be complete in the next two weeks. The bank said the survey was conducted at the time that process began.

Papadimitriou said disclosures that are easy to understand and find are important to consumers so that they can compare the fees each bank charges. The average checking account has 30 fees, and some impose 50 fees, he said.

The report found a lack of uniformity in fee-disclosure policies among the banks that were examined.

Some banks may disclose eight or nine fees and features associated with an account upfront while others may list only two or three. Consumers who don’t take the additional step to read through fee schedules can be misled by looking only at the fees listed upfront, the report found.

Meanwhile, another group of banks provides a short summary disclosure based on the model form developed by the Pew Charitable Trusts meant to help consumers make choices about bank accounts.

Federal regulations and laws have imposed regulations on credit cards that have made their fees clearer and have required more disclosures about repaying debt on the cards.

“On checking accounts, it’s the Wild West,” Papadimitriou said.

He compared the current situation to airlines that charge fees for multiple services beyond the price of a ticket, making it difficult for consumers to compare the actual cost of a flight among various airlines.

He said he would like to see regulators require all banks to use the same disclosure form. He also would limit the number of fees that banks can impose to 10.

“Regulators just dropped the ball and they’re letting banks decide to do what they want,” he said.

mawilliams@dispatch.com