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|Washington Mutual Takes Free Checking to the Next Level; Online Bill Pay Fee is Dropped and Optional Free Products Now Offered|
SEATTLE--(BUSINESS WIRE)--May 24, 2004--Washington Mutual, Inc. (NYSE:WM), one of the nation's leading retailers of financial services, today announced that its banking subsidiaries are dropping the fee for their online bill pay service for both individual and small business checking account customers.
Free online bill pay is among several add-on products and services that have recently been announced by the company and designed to provide additional value, particularly for its consumer Free Checking customers.
Clark Collins, senior vice president of consumer group marketing at Washington Mutual, said, "Free Checking has remained a popular core-relationship product since we were among the first financial institutions to offer it 10 years ago. Recently, while many of our competitors started pulling elements from our model, we were conducting research to offer additional choices to customers that would take Free Checking to a new level -- similar to what we did with retail banking several years ago."
Specifically, the company gauged consumer interest in additional free products and services such as an identity theft recovery product, a check card program called the WaMoola for School(R) program that benefits local schools, and free online bill pay service. Although they all were rated favorably, research found customer interest rose even more significantly when the options were packaged together. "Based on these findings, we realized that we were onto something," added Collins. "And we began to develop the concept of 'bundling' the optional products and services that customers can choose as a way to further differentiate banking with our Free Checking product."
Added Value to Differentiate Washington Mutual's Free Checking
Earlier this year, Washington Mutual launched two new products, Free ID Theft Services, available to individual checking account customers, and the ID Theft Inspect(TM) service, an enhanced product available to certain accountholders for a monthly fee, to respond to customer concerns about the possible impact of identity theft. Both products provide a package of benefits, which include an identity theft recovery unit staffed by specialists who can provide information on necessary steps to deal with identity theft and insurance coverage for certain out-of-pocket expenses such as legal fees and lost wages associated with identity theft.
In addition, the company rolled out an innovative program to benefit local schools. Called the WaMoola for Schools program, once the customer has enrolled their Visa(R) Check Card, it ties check card purchases to points that are converted to cash at the end of the year, with each designated school receiving a check from Washington Mutual.
As part of its strategy to provide additional value to customers, Washington Mutual also introduced in all of its branches the Free Business Checking account, making it the first of the top-10 financial institutions nationwide to offer free checking with no monthly service charge and no per check fee to small business customers.
The features of Washington Mutual's latest free additions, Personal Bill Pay(TM) and the Business Bill Pay(TM) products, include no monthly fee or per transaction fee and the "On Time Guarantee," by which payments are guaranteed if the customer initiates them at least five business days before the bill's due date and certain other conditions are met. In addition, payments can be made from any eligible Washington Mutual checking account to virtually anyone in the United States. Other features that distinguish Washington Mutual's service from some of its competitors include the ability to view payment history up to 18 months, schedule multiple bills in advance for one-time and recurring payments from the same screen, and set up payees and begin scheduling payments to that payee for the same day rather than the usual two- to five-day delay.
Initial Response Exceeds Expectations
In support of its new free services, Washington Mutual has recently launched a national advertising and marketing campaign entitled "Free Checking Deluxe." Promotions involve print, TV and radio advertising as well as direct mail and in-branch signage. In addition to spotlighting Washington Mutual's add-on products and services, the promotion also emphasizes the convenience of Washington Mutual's longer branch hours compared to many of its competitors.
The campaign initially began in March with a Free Checking focus and additional ads and broadcast spots were added as the company rolled out its new optional products and features. The "Free Checking Deluxe" campaign is expected to run through this November.
"Initial response from consumers for these add-on products and services and from the small business community to our Free Business Checking account has far exceeded our expectations," added Collins. "For example, enrollment in the WaMoola for Schools program has grown to more than 600,000 cards in the first ten weeks of the program. We believe the added value of 'Free Checking Deluxe' is already resonating well with customers. Furthermore, Free Business Checking account openings this past March were four times higher than small business account openings during a similar period a year earlier."
Washington Mutual Recognized for Innovation
Washington Mutual has been recognized for its innovation and retail banking strategy, both nationally and internationally. Fortune magazine announced that Washington Mutual was the No. 1 rated company nationally in the innovation category as part of its 2004 Most Admired Companies list, and the company was named the "Best Retail Bank -- Americas" in the Lafferty International Retail Banking Award announced last November.
About Washington Mutual
With a history dating back to 1889, Washington Mutual is a retailer of financial services that provides a diversified line of products and services to consumers and commercial clients. At March 31, 2004, Washington Mutual and its subsidiaries had assets of $280.77 billion. Washington Mutual currently operates more than 2,400 consumer banking, mortgage lending, commercial banking and financial services offices throughout the nation. Washington Mutual's press releases are available at www.wamunewsroom.com.
CONTACT: Washington Mutual Mary Kelley, 206-377-6878 Mobile: 206-459-0394 firstname.lastname@example.org SOURCE: Washington Mutual, Inc.