Will Bank of America Customers Defect?

NEW YORK (MainStreet) – The nation’s largest banks have been slowly piling on the checking account fees ever since the Durbin Amendment to the Dodd-Frank Act capped debit card swipe fees and the profits that banks get from them. And while consumer outrage at the death of free checking has been largely muted, Bank of America (Stock Quote: BAC) may have become the first major bank to set off a customer rebellion.

The bank announced last week that it will charge a $5 monthly fee to checking customers who use their debit card to make a purchase, and customers are not happy, to say the least. In a poll conducted by TheStreet, a whopping 83% of readers said they planned to leave the bank in response to the new fees.

While it seems unlikely that Bank of America will actually lose 83% of its checking account customers, the number doesn’t bode well. After all, in the wake of Netflix’s price hike and subsequent service split, a similar poll of TheStreet readers found 54% promising to quit the service altogether and another 37% saying they would subscribe to only one of the two services going forward. Indeed, Netflix said last month that it expects to have a million fewer subscribers in the third quarter of this year than it had previously predicted, a sure sign that subscribers are already quitting in droves.

So can we expect Bank of America customers to do the same?

“I think disenfranchised consumers that are annoyed are going to find a way to leave,” says Madeline K. Aufseeser, senior analyst for the Aite Group, a financial services research firm.

The question, then, is how many customers will be annoyed enough to actually jump ship. Kit Yarrow, a professor of psychology and marketing at Golden Gate University who specializes in consumer psychology, says that Bank of America can’t rely on any kind of customer loyalty to keep even long-time customers on board.

“There’s already less of a sense of loyalty to any company unless they’re truly amazing at customer service,” she says, citing the increasing ease by which consumers can research alternative businesses online. “And banks have even less ability to influence loyalty.”