Pennies From Heaven Er, At Ms

TO BANKS, CUSTOMERS ARE about as welcome at teller windows as Bonnie and Clyde. It costs a bank twice as much to serve a typical customer at the window as it does at an ATM, say industry analysts. So some banks, to the vexation of depositors, are charging fees for seeing the teller. But one institution, Baltimore's 1st Mariner Bank, has just taken the opposite tack: paying folks to use an ATM.

The small, six-branch bank, which opened just a year ago, pays customers a quarter each time they go to an ATM--up to $1 per month. "We need to build our customer base," says CEO Edwin Hale. Since the program began only in July, it's too soon to tell if this has worked. But some larger banks are using ATM incentives, too. BankAmerica, for instance, just started reducing basic monthly checking fees from $8 to $4.50 for customers who do withdrawals and deposits on an ATM.

Trouble is, most big banks prefer the stick to the carrot. This spring, First Chicago irked a lot of customers when it implemented a $3 charge on smallish account holders each time they make a withdrawal or deposit with a teller after four to six visits per month.

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