ING Direct gets into the chequing market

In an interesting corporate strategy shift, ING Direct is now getting into the chequing and bill payment market. The salient details are similar to the local credit union that I deal with, mainly no transaction charges and a nominal fee for other basic services (ordering cheques, writing bank drafts, etc.).

ING Direct used to start off as a basic business model where you can save your money at a high rate of return – ING Direct would then use this as collateral to write mortgages, and then make the money off the spread between the mortgage rates and the savings interest paid. As their deposit base grew, they eventually morphed from giving their clients the best rates available to just giving slightly above average rates for savings. They are now out-competed by Ally and other providers.

As there is nothing preventing competition for funds, the only barrier for customers to switch banks is simply to fill in an application form. Since the interest spread between ING Direct and Ally is 0.5% on short-term savings at present, it is a $50 difference on a $10,000 deposit for a year. While this is not a gigantic amount of money, it is likely worth it for those that can spend the 20 minutes applying and getting an account.

As for the chequing account, I was assuming that the funds you leave on deposit would be earning ING Direct’s typical interest rate on savings, but it is not – apparently the first $50,000 will earn 0.25%, and the remainder will be earning more. This is far below the 1.5% that ING Direct offers.

So what is the point of opening an account? Typically the convenience of opening such a chequing account would be that it works completely in synergy with your main ING Direct account, and offering the high rate while you keep your cash idle in the account. Instead, you still have to go through the same procedure to transfer over your money from the high rate account to the lower rate chequing account, and then make the cheque or bill payment.

I don’t think this is going to attract the type of clients that ING Direct wants, mainly those that keep large amounts of deposits in the account.

It is also interesting how most banks probably take a loss processing these accounts – the big money maker on the retail end are for mortgages, loans and credit card interest debt.