How much do banks charge for checking? FirstBank will tell you

Filed under: Banking & Finance,Daily News |

A digital billboard in Denver flashes the message FirstBank wants customers to know: They offer free checking.

Just text FirstBank with your bank’s name, the billboard says, and the bank will text you back with details about how much your bank charges for checking accounts.

It’s a quirky little marketing campaign that began in mid-September highlighting the national discussion of banking fees that has dominated the news.

And, it’s working. FirstBank, the largest privately owned bank in Colorado, saw a 22 percent rise in new accounts this September over last September, said Dave Baker, president of First Bank, which is headquartered in Lakewood and operates 125 locations in Colorado, Arizona, and California.

“There is a lot interest in this topic right now,” Baker said. “There is a lot of news now in what is going on the banking market.”

Last month, Bank of America announced it would charge $5 monthly fee starting in 2012 for use of its debit cards. Other banks are considering the move. The debit card monthly fees coincide with a new regulation that caps the fees banks can collect from store owners when customers swipe their debit cards – something that generated millions each year for banks.

Bank of America’s debit card fee will be rolled out in stages starting in 2012. The company has not said which states would be first.

Shopping for a new bank has already started, Baker said. There are about 100 banks in Colorado. Nine of the top 10 have eliminated free checking, he said. And, according to the flashing billboard, FirstBank isn’t one of them.

“We feel very good,” Baker said. “New account activity is up – it’s getting a lot of play. It’s topical with the public right now.”