Santander reaches accord with N.Y. to expand bank account access

Thu Feb 19, 2015 10:15pm EST
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By Karen Freifeld

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Santander Bank, N.A. has agreed to change the way it screens applicants for checking and savings accounts, becoming the third bank to reach such a pact with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

The accord, expected to be announced Friday, comes amid concerns the current screening process makes it harder for lower-income consumers to open accounts, forcing them to rely on high-cost alternatives like check-cashing outlets.

Santander agreed to adopt new policies governing its use of ChexSystems, Inc., a consumer-reporting agency used to analyze the banking histories of consumers who apply for accounts.

Citigroup's Citibank agreed last month to change how it used ChexSystems, as did Capital One, a unit of Capital One Financial Corp, in June.

Such databases often punish lower-income consumers for relatively small financial errors, according to Schneiderman.

Santander now uses a scoring product for basic checking account applicants that screens for the risk of loss and fraud, according to a copy of the agreement obtained by Reuters.

Under the agreement, it will only screen to see whether an account was closed based on a report of earlier fraud, or for Santander accounts that were overdrawn, closed and not paid back.

Maria Tedesco, Santander's managing director of retail banking, said the agreement should "make it easier for consumers who might have been denied services based on their banking history the ability to open checking or savings accounts."   Continued...

A man walks past a Santander bank branch in central Madrid February 3, 2015. REUTERS/Andrea Comas