When a bank, particularly a bank that functions without branches solely or almost completely online, wants to increase its deposits, they employ several specific tactics. The bank increase the interest rates on the savings accounts, establish a significant marketing and advertising push, and if they’re smart, offer new customer or referral bonuses. Let’s go back in time to look at some of the most recent pushes and what would have happened if you stuck with some of these banks.
In 2006, the savings account known at the time as HSBC Direct offered a high interest rate yielding 5.05% and a new customer bonus in the form of a $25 gift card. If you chose HSBC at that time or during a short time the following year when the bank tempted customers with a 6% APY for new money, you would not be in terrible shape today. HSBC Direct’s replacement, HSBC Advance — a change in name only — now offers lower interest rates, comparable to ING Direct.
UFB Direct in June 2008 offered a 5.31% APY, the highest rate among the biggest online savings accounts. They were relatively unknown, however, in comparison with other high-yield savings accounts. If you had become a customer, you would have experienced unexplained rate reductions while the bank was still active, a change in ownership, and now a takeover by the FDIC. First, the Waterfield Mortgage Company acquired Union Federal Bank from its original parent company, Huntington. Recently, FDIC has taken over the deposits of Waterfield and UFB Direct. Customers have reported that the bank will be sending checks to customers for the balance of their accounts.
In January 2008, one of the banks with the highest interest rate, OneUnited, offered 5.30% APY. Today, this bank offers a comparatively low 1.01% on the first $100,000 in each individual’s account. OneUnited is still operating, but the bank involved with an ethics scandal in Washington. Representative Maxine Waters from California, whose husband is on the bank’s board of directors and who owns stock in the company, allegedly met with the bank’s officials to help save the bank from collapse in September 2008 by securing $12 million TARP funds.
In August 2008, DollarSavingsDirect entered the scene as another offering of Emigrant Bank, in effect, a cousin to Emigrant Direct. DollarSavingsDirect was actually the rebirth of a bank specifically designed to market to Hispanic customers in New York, and to attract attention to its new online-only incarnation, offered a high interest rate of 3.75% APY. After a brief interest rate increase, DollarSavingsDirect’s rate began to decrease and fall faster than many other online banks, landing at today’s rate of 1.2%.
A marketing push and abnormally high interest rates could mean a bank is in trouble, searching for an increase of deposits to help save it from collapse. When choosing a bank, consider looking at more than just the bank with the highest interest rate at any one time.
Check historical savings account interest rates to determine which banks are consistently towards the top of the list and research stories of customer service. It rarely makes sense to move money from one bank to another every time a new bank shows up with a too-good-to-be-true interest rate or promotional bonus.
Updated June 16, 2011 and originally published August 26, 2010.