In the 1990's Banks across the country were offering everything from $50 gift certificates and books to casserole dishes and clocks - even toasters - to lure back customers and stem a seven-year decline in deposits as Americans shifted money into stocks and mutual funds.
U.S. time deposits, including CDs, totaled about $1.05 trillion at the end of last year, down from $1.17 trillion in 1990, according to the Federal Reserve. In the decade, assets in mutual funds surged to $6.82 trillion at the end of November from $1.07 trillion at the end of 1990, the Investment Company Institute said. Opening the door
Offering freebies for deposits gives banks "a way to get the customer in front of us," says Ken Lewis, president and chief operating officer of Charlotte, N.C.-based Bank of America Corp., which has more deposits than any other U.S. bank. Just getting customers back in the door "gives us an opportunity to sell other products as well," he said. Chairman's brainchild
North Country's arrangement with Weatherby in Atascadero, Calif., is the brainchild of Ronald G. Ford, the bank's chairman and chief executive.
"It's a high-end product that fits the lifestyle here," said Ford.
The 53-year-old Ford, who owns seven Weatherby rifles and shotguns, hunts black bear and white-tailed deer in Michigan - and elk and mule deer in Colorado, pheasant in the Dakotas and moose in Canada.
North Country, which started offering the Weatherby's more than 10 years ago, displays the guns on its branches' walls. In the Upper Peninsula, where some schools close for the start of hunting season in November, guns on the walls don't necessarily raise eyebrows.
"I'm not thrilled that they're giving out rifles, but I wouldn't join picket lines against it," said Marj Jackson Levin, president of Michigan Citizens for Handgun Control in Birmingham, a Detroit suburb. "I can't say that they shouldn't be giving guns away." The program has brought in millions of dollars of deposits from customers in every state, said Rose Garvin, a North Country Bank & Trust manager and federal firearms license holder.
It eventually led to other giveaways, such as grandfather clocks and golf clubs, but guns are still the most popular.
North Country advertises its CDs in hunting and gun-enthusiast magazines, attracting hunters and collectors. Its costliest giveaway, available with a $14,911 deposit in a three-year CD, is Weatherby's Athena Grade V Classic Field 12gauge shotgun. It comes with oil finished stock and rose and scroll engravings on the side plate and carries a suggested retail price of $2,919.
Cost aside, the Weatherby is "a very excellent product," Ford said. And customers are satisfied with the program, apparently: None of the guns was ever turned against his bank in a robbery.
Denver Post business writer Louis Aguilar contributed to this report.
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