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11 posts from November 2011

Hotels' Warped View Of The (TV) World

[Editor's Note: I am pleased to feature another post by guest author R. Michelle Green, the Principal for her company, Client Solutions. She is a combination geek girl, personal organizer, and career coach. She has studied what makes some individuals embrace or avoid information technology. (She’s definitely one of the former.) Michelle helps others improve their use of technology in their personal or professional life. Today, she discusses the habit by hotels to limit their customers' high-definition TV quality and choices.]

By R. Michelle Green

What used to be the relaxing part of an evening away from home in a hotel has become a teeth-gritting, fingernails-on-chalkboard experience for me. Hotels currently force you to look at warped images on TV.

This used to be a big deal only for cineastes and directors (well said, Mr. Spock), when small television sets could not do justice to widescreen movies.

Several examples of television screen aspect ratios Now, any image is in jeopardy. This picture may help explain. A circle on a regular TV can, depending on the TV setting or the broadcaster’s whim (grrr, TBS), look like a vertical oval, a horizontal oval, a circle with the tops/bottoms cut off, or a circle with black bars along its sides. Next time you look at a news show, you may notice that nothing too important is going on in the far left or right of the screen. They do that because broadcasters and content providers know that a third of US households still don’t have a high definition TV. Worse, some broadcasters alter the original image, cutting, cropping, stretching or squeezing it (no matter how weird it makes people look) so you won’t see black bars at the side or the bottom. Would you listen to a radio station that transmitted garbled or mangled music? Would you keep using speakers that did the same? So why do we tolerate distorted TV images?

TVs used to be simpler: you needed on/off, up/down, maybe sleep, mute and closed caption. Today’s digital TVs, however, are computers themselves. On Auto Wide, my Sony TV seems to ‘ask’ each channel what’s the biggest picture I can give my owner, and then delivers that (distorted or not). Watch the cable box display when you first turn a digital TV on: the readout changes for a split second. That’s a software handshake in progress. The TV is no longer a passive receiver of information. So hotels must control the TV’s use as a computer, limiting not only a hacker’s access, or a geek’s ability to play non-hotel entertainment, but also anyone’s potential to alter color, tint or sound quality.

Just because I understand the phenomenon doesn’t mean I like it.

When I first saw the distorted LG screen image in a hotel, I said, no problem. I just need the original LG remote, and not this downscale hotel-only remote designed to push paid product. That hotel couldn’t (wouldn’t?) provide one. I complained to no avail. The next hotel I stayed at cordially and quickly brought me the LG remote. Hotel mode locks out all the functions, however, with the exception of volume and channel changing, even on the original remote. I hear my fellow tech geeks – what about the control buttons on the TV itself? Yes, this TV had those buttons (not every TV will) – but they were locked out too.

One more chance: I had a laptop and a WiFi connection. Surely the net could give me direction where the hotel engineering staff couldn’t. I tried some hacks that might have worked back in the day, but no more. I learned to my dismay that many hotel TV menus can now only be accessed with remotes carried by the manufacturer’s installer, and used in concert with the remote left with the hotel (the ultimate in authentication and authorization).

It’s a small and perhaps pointless crusade, with energy, food, water, and jobs at issue across the world. I laugh at myself when I go to friends’ homes and feel driven to adjust their TV’s aspect ratio. But would it kill someone to make a hotel remote that permitted us to see images correctly?

© 2011. R. Michelle Green. Reprinted with permission.

Banks Promote Credit Cards Over Debit Cards

Remember this Visa commercial from 2006-07:

Now, watch this 2011 commercial:

Do you notice the shift? In 2007, banks pushed debit cards. They mentioned "debit" since the emphasis then was speed and convenience. The newer commercial never uses the word "debit." Why?

Now that swipe fees have been reduced and banks see the difficulty in charging consumers monthly fees for debit cards and checking accounts, the push seems to have shifted back to credit cards -- where the banks can make more money.

During the last four years, consumers have switched from credit cards to debit cards as they pay off their debt. Bloomberg News reported:

"Consumer credit in the U.S. unexpectedly dropped in August by the most in over a year. The $9.5 billion decrease followed an $11.9 billion increase the previous month,.."

And, consumers are paying off other debt too:

"Non-revolving debt, including educational loans and loans for autos and mobile homes, dropped by $7.23 billion in August, the biggest decrease since Aug. 2008. Revolving debt, which includes credit cards, fell by $2.27 billion."

Sure, this is affected by unemployed consumers and consumers who lack confidence in the economy. My point: decreasing debt affects the banks' ability to make money.

It would seem that banks now want consumers to go back to the way it was, since banks can make money from interest charges on credit cards. I would advise consumers to pay with the payment method that best suits your needs, not the banks' needs. Keep paying off your debt, too.

Will you switch back from debit cards to credit cards? I won't, and I hope that you won't either.

Happy Thanksgiving!

First, I would like to thank all of my readers. Readership is up 40%+ compared to this time a year ago. And comments volume is substantially higher, too.

Second, I would like to wish everyone a happy Thanksgiving holiday. Have a safe, enjoyable long holiday weekend. I am taking a break.

Wanting, Waiting -- For Facebook To Justify My Love

[Editor's Note: Today's blog post is by guest author R. Michelle Green, the Principal for her company, Client Solutions. She is a combination geek girl, personal organizer, and career coach. She has studied what makes some individuals embrace or avoid information technology. (She’s definitely one of the former.) Michelle helps others improve their use of technology in their personal or professional life. Today, Michelle tackles the practice by Facebook to selectively display your friends' status messages.]

By R. Michelle Green

On Facebook (FB), I have 150 friends (like Dunbar, I think more than that is just not manageable, maybe even absurd). That’s above FB’s quoted avg of 130 friends, (likely higher now since I quoted that same stat last December, and anecdotally but obviously, that number differs by age). I embraced some of the early FB tools, like Groups, to manage multiple and disparate friend networks. But Facebook’s tools aren’t cutting it for me. I’m not happy.

FB is a creature by, of and for digital natives – like some huge shark, it’s always moving, changing. As a result, FB can be disorienting, even alienating, for those of us who don’t “live” there, and only occasionally visit. (Who knew one day my tech geek disdain for AOL’s simplicity would become an elder n00b nostalgia for consistency and predictability?...) I feel frustrated at not seeing more from some of my friends, particularly those who, like me, are busy enough that the quick and easy broadcast of an interest or whim is attractive. I believe such friends also tend to visit, rather than inhabit, Facebook. FB (understandably so) caters to its residents far more than its tourists, so I hear a lot from a few, and nothing from many.

With more and more social network choices* available to me, I decided to run an experiment or two. I knew a little about Edge Rank, FB’s way of privileging photos and links over text updates to maximize time on site, so I used a photo for my first test. I asked people to like the post if they saw it. Over three weeks, just 23 of my 150 friends liked, messaged or commented on a beautiful picture of bananas foster. Maybe it’s just the 80/20 rule, where 80% of the outcomes are provided by 20% of the users; 20% of 150 is 30, not too far from my unscientifically identified 23.

I might have stopped there were it not for the unfortunate death of a friend. Within an hour of his death, I posted a status update saying goodbye, sharing it only with the 14 people sub-group on FB who knew him. No one commented, messaged or in any way acknowledged the post. I saw these same people IRL three days later – no one mentioned having seen it. What happened? Was it just a glitch, and somehow the post was never seen? I might once have thought so, but I no longer trusted Facebook. The silence after my friend’s death struck me viscerally, not just intellectually.

I’m enough of a scientist to ask a lot of questions. Was it age? Bananas Foster responders ranged from 15 to 64. Could it be access? If only 15% of my friends responded, maybe 85% aren’t logging on? Not likely, based on Pew Internet Life studies. Two thirds of adult Americans use some social network site; and 96% of them use FB. Of those who are FB users, 83% log on at least once a week; 52% log on daily (FB agrees), and 31% several times a day. And while we’re not Australia or Israel, Americans spend about 6 hours per month logged in. Parse that another way: the average online FB session in the US is 23 minutes and 20 seconds. Surely that’s enough time for a friend to see my post and respond…

Almost exactly a year ago, I warned my FB friends that if they wanted to stay in touch with someone, they shouldn’t rely on FB to do it for them. Satisfaction is the difference between expectations and outcomes; maybe I just want too much from Facebook Nation. I am conducting one more test, posing a question to a specific sub-group of 35 FB friends. My question – can you hear me? And if not, should I follow 6 million other Americans, and leave FB behind?

(*What are those choices, you ask? Google+ or another competitor? And what of FB? Take down everything? Abandon the site, leaving a profile pic with forwarding information? Use HootSuite or TweetDeck to mechanically update my status every other week with “I’m not really here?” Another post, for another day, Gentle Reader. What would you suggest?)

© 2011. R. Michelle Green. Reprinted with permission.

Unannounced Changes To The MBTA Charlie Card System

I love using mass transit. It's the environment-friendly choice.

I use the subway frequently. Most of the time, the MBTA here in Boston works pretty well. The re-loadable payment cards are really convenient. However, a recent change by the MBTA left me inconvenienced and puzzled.

If you use a Charlie Card, then pay attention. It seems that the MBTA modified their payment card systems... and didn't tell their customers. You may find that your Charlie Card abruptly stops working. Several friends have reported this. If your card stops working, don't throw it out. Here's why.

Look at the identification number on the bottom front of your Charlie Card. If it is printed in red font, then your card is one of the defective ones. The cards with black font work. I suspect that the font type is just a symptom of an underlying problem with the card's internal magnetic encoding.

The MBTA management is strangely silent on the subject.

The cynic in me wonders if the MBTA is hoping to enjoy a windfall of cash when customers discard in the trash their non-working Charlie Cards. Don't throw out your defective Charlie Card. Visit one of the MBTA customer service offices and demand a working replacement. You'll get one with the same amount of stored value which was on your old card.

I spent a half hour this afternoon doing just that at the MBTA Customer Service desk at the Downtown Crossing Red Line station. The customer service rep was very polite. She was able to easily and quickly read the stored value on my defective card, and provide a replacement. By her attitude, it seems that she has encountered this situation before.

So, a word to the wise. You have been warned. Maybe next time, MBTA management will be proactive and alert its customers. If you have experienced a problem with your Charlie Card, share your story below.

Making Data-Sharing Choices With Incomplete Information

This morning, I signed into my Discover credit card online account to read the new privacy policy which the bank had sent several e-mail messages about. Since writing this blog, I have learned two things: banks constantly tweak their terms and privacy policies, and it is important to read the fine print. Frankly, I found the online experience unsatisfactory.

The new policy clearly describes what Discover shares about sharing cardholders' personal information. Some of this personal data sharing is necessary (and appropriate) for banks to report consumers' balances to credit reporting agencies (e.g., Equifax, Experian, TransUnion). Note that the policy includes three types of companies (e.g., Affiliates, Non-Affiliates, and Joint Marketing):

Personal information sharing in new Discover Privacy Policy

The new policy also defines the three classes of companies Discover does business with and shares cardholders' personal information with:

Company category definitions in the new Discover Privacy Policy

This new policy doesn't list the actual company names within each category. It leaves cardholders to guess, and make an uninformed decision about whether to share their personal data where Discover allows above. And, you can't make your sharing decisions online at the website. you have to call the toll-free number.

This incomplete disclopsure makes the new privacy policy pretty useless for the following reasons:

  1. The policy doesn't provide enough information (e.g., specific company names by category) to make an infomred decision,
  2. For one class of companies, cardholders have to go hunting in another document,
  3. The new policy didn't highlight what had changed from the old policy, and
  4. The whole data-sharing decision process forces Discover cardholders to be financial experts about Discover's business relationships in order to make a decision about whether to share their personal information.

The new Discover Privacy Policy is also available to the public here. The above policy is not full, honest, transparent disclosure. Not even close.

While at the website, I sent this secure message to Discover to try and get an answer:

"This morning, I read online your new privacy policy about changes in information you share with affiliates, non-affiliates, and joint marketing companies. I found the whole online experience unsatisfactory, since it never provides examples of actual companies in each category. This makes it difficult for customers to make informed choices. When will you update the policy with actual company names?"

To try and learn more, I also started an online chat with one of the Discover customer service representatives. The text of that chat is below. Note that the representative provided only an example of a corporate affiliate:

"Katie: Thank you for visiting What questions can I help you with today?
George: I have a question about the new privacy policy. Which companies are affiliates, non-affiliates and joint marketing?
Katie: That's a great question! Our corporate affiliates are GE Money Bank (Sam's Club and Wal-Mart Discover Cards) as well as HSBC as we do offer a Discover Card through them."

Hmmmmm. I didn't say anything but I recognize the GE Money Bank and Wal-Mart company names from this prior post. The online chat session resumed:

"Katie: As to who is included as a joint marketer; I am not sure. I can forward that information to a specialist and email you back as soon as I hear from them.
George: Is there a list somewhere, so I can make an informed decision about whether or not to share my personal data?
Katie: Those partners should be listed in your most recent Cardmember Terms and Agreement. Would you like me to mail you a copy of that document?
George: Yes, please.
Katie: Thank you. Can I help you with anything else today?
George: It would be nice if you listed the companies online at the website privacy policy and terms policy. Please tell your managers of this request.
Katie: I can certainly forward your feedback! Have a great day, Mr. Jenkins!"

Sadly, Discover isn't the only bank that does this. Many banks and non-financial companies have similarly incomplete privacy policies.

Move Your Money To... Walmart? A Good Deal?

This blog has covered extensively the ways banks have "mugged" consumers via higher fees, higher interest rates, traps, and tricks. I was surprised to read in the Tuesday the New York Times a report about some consumers moving their money to Walmart Money Centers, instead of to banks or credit unions. Move your money to Walmart? Really?

After reading the newspaper article, I visited the Walmart Money Centers website to learn more:

Screen image of Walmart Money Centers website

By offering several a la carte banking services (e.g., debit card, money transfers, bill pay, money orders, credit cards, check cashing, and checks), Walmart has wormed its way into banking. If it walks like a duck, sounds like a duck, and smells like a duck -- then it must be a duck. How was this allowed to happen?

Apparently, many consumers who don't have a checking account (e.g., referred to as the "unbanked") are using Walmart Money Centers to cash they paychecks, since the fees are lower than at many banks. I have mixed feelings about this. Here's why:


  • It benefits consumers to have a competitive choice since Walmart Money Centers offer lower check-cashing fees than banks and payday lenders. That could create a downward pressure on banks to lower their fees to remain competitive
  • I see the benefit to Walmart of paying its associates via Walmart debit cards. This removes or lowers the middle-man processor costs

Now, the disadvantages.

First, "banking" with Walmart is still very expensive for consumers. A $3.00 fee to cash a $800.00 weekly paycheck is really an effective annual interest rate of 19.5% ($3/$800 x 52 pay periods per year). That same $3.00 fee on a $400 weekly paycheck equals a 39% effective annual interest rate.

The Walmart MoneyCard (e.g., debit card) is expensive, too. The $3.00 fee to load money onto a card, plus the $3.00 monthly maintenance fee is really an effective annual interest rate of 18% (assuming a $300 paycheck and 26 pay periods per year). So, a consumer is paying 18% to access their own money. What? That 18% is a rate similar to many credit cards, where a consumer can avoid the interest charges by paying their balance in full at the end of the month.

While Walmart Money Centers may seem like an attractive option, it's really expensive "banking." Better to find a credit union with free checking and save both the $78 in annual check-cashing fees and $108 in annual debit card fees.

Second, I can understand the benefits for Walmart of paying its associates via Walmart debit cards. The benefits for Walmart Associates are questionable at best, given the above debit-card fees. The lack of banking choice is troublesome:

"Walmart associates may receive their pay either by direct deposit or through the First Data Money Network program and may access their wages through the Money Network MasterCard Paycard(R) or Money Network(TM) Checks."

This reminds me of the old "company store" practice from the 1800's where companies forced their employees to shop only at the company store, and kept them in debt bondage -- only it's worse today. How? Keep reading.

Third, the lack of disclosure and transparency is extremely troubling. If a consumer left Bank of America for a Walmart Money Center, then you are still banking with some of the same companies that perform outsourced, back-office financial transactions. According to a 2009 Reuters press release:

"Walmart, MasterCard Worldwide and First Data today announced a new, more sustainable payroll program designed to reduce the number of paper paychecks and pay stubs distributed each year to Walmart and Sam's Club associates... "

Alert readers will remember that First Data is a joint venture partner with Banc of America Merchant Services to process BofA debit card transactions. When I asked Bank of America to explain this joint venture, they declined to comment. And, there's more.

Wal-mart operates its Money Centers by outsourcing functions to Moneygram. According to Hoovers, Moneygram:

"... sells MoneyGram-branded cash transfers and money orders at some 227,000 locations around the globe. It is the leading provider of money orders in the US, issuing some 175 million annually. Wal-Mart is MoneyGram's largest money-transfer and money order agent, accounting for more than a quarter of the company's revenues. MoneyGram also offers in-person and electronic bill payment services, letting users pay everything from mortgages to utilities, and processes official checks for financial institutions."

In September, Fitch Ratings announced in a press release:

"MoneyGram has been informed that it is being investigated by a federal grand jury in connection with its consumer anti-fraud and anti-money laundering program matters for the period 2004 to early 2009. A prior similar investigation led to MoneyGram paying an $18 million fine..."

Thomas H. Lee Partners and Goldman Sachs own about 85% of MoneyGram.

Fourth, I thought that Walmart was prohibited from banking. The New York Times reported:

"Four years ago, Wal-Mart abandoned its plans to obtain a long-sought federal bank charter amid opposition from the banking industry and lawmakers, who feared the huge retailer would drive small bankers out of business and potentially conflate its banking and retail operations. Ever since, Wal-Mart has been quietly building up à la carte financial services, becoming a force among the unbanked and “unhappily banked,” as one Wal-Mart executive put it."

Fifth, the fine print about the Walmart MoneyCard states the following about its debit card:

"The Card is issued by GE Money Bank, member FDIC, pursuant to a license from Visa, U.S.A. Additional services provided by Green Dot Corporation. Not available in all states. Issuance fee, monthly fee, and other fees apply..."

This means that Walmart outsources its debit card operations to GE Money Bank, where cardholders' money and accounts are insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) which insures banks. So, the FDIC is effectively insuring Walmart! I'll bet you didn't know that. Neither did I until I read the fine print. How did this happen?

I hope the New York Times reports more about all of this.

My main point: if consumers choose to "bank" at Walmart Money Centers, you should know who you really are doing business with. The Walmart brand name appears the retail stores, but several outsourced companies actually process its financial transactions -- just like the big banks.

Me? Walmart Money Centers do not appeal to me for both the reasons above, and plus several Walmart business practices. Hence, I have boycotted Walmart since 2000.

What do you think? Are Walmart Money Centers a good option? If you have moved your money to Walmart, share your experiences.

ScanScout Settles With FTC About Flash Cookies Used For Tracking Consumers

ScanScout has agreed to settle with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) about charges the company used deceptive marketing with a website privacy policy that claimed consumers could opt-out of online tracking, when they couldn't opt-out because the company's website used the Flash cookie technology to collect data which browser settings couldn't block. An FTC press release summarized the terms of the proposed settlement:

"... bars misrepresentations about the company’s data-collection practices and consumers’ ability to control collection of their data. It also requires that ScanScout take steps to improve disclosure of their data collection practices and to provide a user-friendly mechanism that allows consumers to opt out of being tracked."

During the lawsuit and before the settlement agreement, ScanScout merged with Tremor Video. The consent order (PDF), which applies to the merged company and its subsidiaries, stated:

"... officers, agents, representatives, and employees and all other persons in active concert or participation with any of them, who receive actual notice of this Order by personal service or otherwise, whether acting directly or through any entity, in connection with the online advertising, marketing, promotion, offering for sale, sale, or dissemination of any product or service, in or affecting commerce, shall not misrepresent in any manner, expressly or by implication: (A) the extent to which data from or about a particular user or the user’s online activities is collected, used, disclosed, or shared; or (B) the extent to which users may exercise control over the collection, use, disclosure, or sharing of data collected from or about them, their computers or devices, or their online activities."

The consent order also stated that within 30 days of the approved consent order, the company:

"... place a clear and prominent notice, including a hyperlink, on the homepage(s) of its website(s), which states, “We collect information about your activities on certain websites to send you targeted ads. To opt out of our targeted advertisements click here.” When selected, the hyperlink shall take consumers directly to the mechanism... that enables users to prevent respondent: from collecting data that can be associated with a particular user, or that contains any unique identifier, including user ID or Internet Protocol (IP) address; from redirecting users’ browsers to third parties that collect data, absent a click or other affirmative action by such user; and from associating any previously collected data with the user..."

For five years after the approved consent order, the companies must save and forward to the FTC both complaints from consumers and all company documentation proving compliance with the consent order.

During the summer of 2011, a class-action lawsuit was filed against AOL, Brightcove, and ScanScout about the use of the Flash cookies technology to secretly track consumers' online usage.

The proposed settlement agreement is open for comment by the public until December 8, 2011, after which the FTC will decide whether to make it final. To submit comments, follow the online comment instructions at this website. Comments submitted via postal mail should be sent to: Federal Trade Commission, Office of the Secretary, Room H-113 (Annex D), 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, DC 20580.

To learn more about the various tracking technologies, browse posts in this blog about browser cookies, "zombie cookies," Flash cookies, "super cookies," and etags. The FTC OnGuard Online website also contains a section about the various online cookies technologies.

CUNA Says 650,000 Consumers Have Already Moved Their Money To Credit Unions

The Credit Union National Association (CUNA) has estimated that since September 23, when Bank of America announced its plans to introduce a $5.00 monthly fee for its customers to use their debit cards, about 650,000 consumers have opened accounts at credit unions. That total is more than the number of people who joined credit unions during all of 2010.

That bears repeating. About 650,000 consumers have moved their money to credit unions. They didn't pledge to move their money, or make a vague promise. They actually moved their money.

Those 650,000 new credit union accounts are estimated to be worth about $4.5 billion or just under $7,000 per account. And, Bank Transfer Day -- the November 5 date promoted by the Occupy movement -- hasn't arrived, yet. Many credit unions are open and ready to help consumers move their money on Bank Transfer Day. CUNA President/CEO Bill Cheney said:

"The results indicate that consumers are clearly making a smarter choice by moving to credit unions where, on average, they will save about $70 a year in fewer or no fees, lower rates on loans and higher return on savings."

As I see it, that $70 annual savings is a minimum savings, assuming the big banks will probably find other ways to introduce new fees, rather than do the sensible thing and cut costs.

CUNA is the national trade association that represents credit unions in the United States.

According to CUNA, many consumers have visited the website to find credit unions near where they live and work. Read this article for more search tips to find a credit union. While some of the big banks have cancelled their plans for a monthly debit card fee, there are more reasons to move your money.

Yes, the backlash against the big banks is well underway.

Data Breach Via Insider Identity Theft at North Carolina Hospital

The Data breach cause that scares me most is insider identity theft because it involves employees that should be trustworthy, and aren't. It also emphasizes that the company, hospital, or government agency have an aggressive "red flags" program in place to monitor who accesses sensitive consumer information (e.g., customers, patients, clients, employees, contractors), and compliance with data security policies.

Yesterday, the News-Record reported a data breach involving protected patient information at High Point Regional Health System. An employee took home 47 patients' files, and later returned them. Officials believe the data breach occurred between September 14 and October 6. Hospital representatives learned of the breach last month by an employee at Premier Imaging LLC, a hospital subsidiary. The employee has since been fired.

The breached records included patients' names, residential addresses, dates of birth, Social Security numbers, driver's license numbers and insurance information -- all of the critical data elements for thieves to assume another person's identity and do significant damage with health or financial accounts. An investigation by the health system could not determine whether the former employee has any patient information in her possession or has used it in any way.The hospital has notified affected patients, and arranged an identity protection service for the affected consumers.

Specific data security rules exist for hospitals and health care organizations. According to the Health & Human Services website, the information that must be protected includes:

"Information your doctors, nurses, and other health care providers put in your medical record; conversations your doctor has about your care or treatment with nurses and others; Information about you in your health insurer’s computer system; billing information about you at your clinic; and most other health information about you held by those who must follow these laws."

The companies that must follow this law are called "covered entities," and include doctors, pharmacies, nursing homes, HMO's, health plans, health insurance companies, and vendors hired under certain conditions.

Some Banks Reverse Decisions To Add New Debit Card Fees

[9:28 AM EST] A prior blog post announced plans by several banks to add new fees for consumers who use debit cards. In a press release on Friday, October 28, Wells Fargo bank announced that it was ending its five-state test program with a $3.00 per month debit card fee. According to a bank spokesperson:

"As we adjust to changes in our business, we will continue to stay attuned to what our customers want..."

In a press release yesterday, Sun Trust Banks announced the termination of its Check Card fees for its Everyday Checking customers, effective November 2, 2011. And, customers who had already been charged the monthly debit card fee will receive a refund. Customers will not need to take any action to receive the refund. According to a Sun Trust Banks spokesperson:

"We believe banking is a relationship business and recognize the importance of responding to client preferences... We've listened to our clients' feedback and will provide the convenience and security of check cards at no additional charge as part of all of our checking accounts."

On Friday, the Los Angeles Times newspaper reported:

"... JPMorgan Chase said that after its own eight-month testing of $3 monthly debit card fees it had decided against imposing them on its customers. Citibank, US Bank and Union Bank are among other major institutions that have now taken the no-debit-fee pledge."

Yes. Listening to your customers is always wise. Doing so sooner could have saved these banks a lot of time, effort, money, and embarrassment.

What about Bank of America? I checked the bank's online Newsroom for a press release or an announcement, but didn't see any. The same Los Angeles Times article also reported:

"Earlier Friday, Bank of America backpedaled, saying it would make it easier for its customers to avoid the fee by waiving the charge if they also used BofA credit cards, maintained minimum account balances or made certain direct deposits. Details of the revised plan had not been finalized, a person familiar with the changes said."

What? That doesn't sound any different than what a Bank of America spokesperson told me previously. It seems the bank's position really hasn't changed, despite plenty of consumer feedback otherwise. This is unsatisfactory. To learn about how to find a bank to move your money to, read this article.

If you are unsure about whether to keep your money at Bank of America, I strongly suggest that you read this Truth-out article.

[November 1, 2011 1:00 PM EST Update: The Boston Globe newspaper reported that bank of America has stopped its plans to charge checking account customers a monthly $5.00 debit card fee.]