Chase Makes Checking Accounts More Consumer-Friendly: Will Others Follow?

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Chase (Stock Quote: JPM) became the first big bank on Thursday to adopt new simplified disclosure forms developed by the Pew Health Group as part of a larger initiative to make the terms and conditions associated with checking accounts more accessible to consumers.

The North Carolina State Employee’s Credit Union and the Pentagon Federal Credit Union have also agreed to voluntarily adopt the forms.

Chase, which is currently America’s largest bank, says it is adopting the forms because of the benefit they offer its customers. 

“We set out to be as clear and concise as possible,” Ryan McInerney, CEO of Chase’s Consumer Bank, said in a written statement. “This is another important step we’re taking to improve how we serve customers across Chase.”

The move follows several other attempts Chase has made this year to please consumers. In late October, Chase became the first big bank to nix its controversial debit card fee, leading Wells Fargo (Stock Quote:  WFC), Regions Financial (Stock Quote: RF), SunTrust Bank (Stock Quote: STI) and, ultimately, Bank of America (Stock Quote: BAC) to abandon plans for similar fees as well. Chase also squashed two additional checking account fee test programs in November.

Philip Van Doorn, senior bank analyst with TheStreet, says the bank’s effort to become more consumer-friendly is largely out of necessity. 

“They had better be in an environment where you have a new unfettered [CFPB] that is going to be aggressive on this type of issue,” Van Doorn says. Essentially, Chase is being proactive about making changes that are likely going to be enforced by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau sometime in the near future anyway, according to Van Doorn.

Pew’s form closely resembles the simplified credit card agreement prototype released by the CFPB last week. The bureau also released two simplified mortgage disclosure forms in May.  In a press release, Pew urged the CFPB to require financial institutions to provide checking account holders with a version of the simplified disclosure form as well.

>>Click here to see a copy of Chase’s new disclosure form.

If other banks aren’t interested in following suit, they should reconsider.

“It’s obviously a great-looking disclosure,” Van Doorn says. “All forms should be this way.”

Big banks have experienced widespread customer backlash in 2011, mostly in response to controversial debit card fees. In fact, the fees inspired a national movement called “Bank Transfer Day,” which prompted nearly 500,000 consumers to defect to credit unions between Sept. 29 and Nov. 25.

2011 was the year that consumers made their voices heard. Read about some of their biggest battles in this MainStreet roundup.