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How Chase slips a solicitation into your Cook County property tax bill

Friday, February 06, 2015
Crain's Chicago Business
by Steve Daniels

Cook County property taxpayers got a generous offer in their most recent bills, as Chicago's biggest retail bank makes an aggressive market-share play

If you're a Cook County homeowner, you probably don't look forward to seeing your property tax bill in the mailbox twice a year.

But the tax mailings that went out recently contained a pleasant surprise: a generous offer from JPMorgan Chase to give you up to $250 if you open both a checking and savings account at Chicago's largest retail bank.

Chase says this solicitation is the most it's ever offered Cook County property taxpayers in the decade since the bank began stuffing county tax bills with such deals.

Chase pays Cook County 3 pennies per envelope, and the offers reach nearly 1.8 million households. That amounts to a mere $106,000 Chase pays Cook County for such a potentially powerful marketing tool, according to the Cook County treasurer's office. It's the only such arrangement the country's largest bank says it has with any U.S. municipality.

Chase says it won its latest contract with the county in 2011 under a competitive bidding process.

CHASE WINS THE BID

A spokesman for the Cook County treasurer's office said in three rounds of bidding for the contract to process property tax payments, Chase has been the only bidder meeting the county's requirements.

"The Chase insert not only does not increase postage cost to the county, it has saved Cook County taxpayers more than $677,000 in postage costs," the spokesman said in an email. "We are scheduled to issue another (request for proposals) this year."

Chase's aggressive market-share push appears to signal that big banks are competing harder now for deposits after a period in which many banks had more deposits than they knew what to do with. Last year, for example, Chase offered Cook County property taxpayers $100 to open either a checking account or a savings account with at least $10,000 in it. This year's offer is $150 for just a checking account, $100 for just a savings account, or $250 for both.

In some ways, Chase's latest maneuver is akin to running up the score. From 2010 to 2014, Chase's market-leading deposit share in the Chicago metropolitan statistical area has climbed to 24.8 percent from 17.2 percent. Its market deposits in that time have soared 80 percent to $88 billion from $49 billion.

BENEFICIAL BUSINESS

Chase spokeswoman Christine Holevas wouldn't comment on how much new business the bank has won over the years through its arrangement with Cook County. But she made clear it's been beneficial.

“We think it's a good and effective method of reaching out to new and existing customers,” she said.

In an email, she cautioned against considering this latest offer a trend-setter.

“The next mailing could have an offer for $100 in savings for $10,000 in new money again—or something else,” she said. “What offer, when and with what delivery vehicle changes. We have multiple offerings with different rewards that we have found resonate with customers.”

While Chase has the benefit of accessing 1.8 million homeowners that other banks don't enjoy, there is no shortage of similar offers from competitors.

For example, Fifth Third Bank is now offering $200 for account openings. PNC Bank is offering between $75 and $300, depending on the account type and deposit amount. And BMO Harris Bank, the second-largest deposit-holder in the market behind Chase, is offering $150 for a new checking account.

The offers frequently require customers to sign up for direct deposit and sometimes necessitate using online bill-pay for at least one or two bills.



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