02/29/2012 10:53 pm ET Updated Mar 01, 2012

JPMorgan Chase Argues Bank Accounts Are Like Netflix Or Gym

JP Morgan Chase wants consumers to believe that a maintenance fee for a checking account is just another ordinary item in a household's monthly budget, accounted for in the same way as Netflix fees and a gym membership.

Earlier this week, the head of the Chase's consumer banking division Todd Maclin said he would "celebrate" if the bank could charger even higher fees, according to the New York Times' live blog from the bank's investor day conference. On a presentation slide to investors, Maclin compared Chase's fees of $10-12 a month with other consumer fees. The examples he gave included a Netflix streaming subscription ($8), a gym membership ($25) and an online subscription to the New York Times ($15).

Bankers may try to normalize fees by framing them in the same category as other extra services, like movies or magazines. But there is a key difference. While a bank account is a service with a cost, consumers already underwrite it by giving the bank a "loan" in the form of their deposits. If customers are lending the bank their money, why are they also paying fees?

The banking industry has defended its fees, and says the cost of acquiring and maintaining checking account customers is in the hundreds of dollars per person. All big banks have lost billions in revenue following new restrictions over how they can charge make money from overdraft and interchange fees--and that has them eyeing new ways to make money from customers. They are treading carefully though, cautious of igniting another customer backlash like the one that happened last fall with Bank of America's proposed $5 monthly debit-card fee. On Thursday morning the Wall Street Journal reported that Bank of America hasn't given up on charging more fees.

JPMorgan Chase said earlier this week most customers who have less than $100,000 in deposits and investments are not making them any money.

Yet thousands of other smaller banks and credit unions are doing just fine with middle-class customers who have less than one hundred grand in the banks--and they don't need to charge fees to do it. Eighty percent of credit unions offer free checking accounts, according the Credit Union National Association. Other financial institutions reward--not charge--customers for the privilege of using their money, including Perk Street Financial, which offers free debit-card account with 2 percent cash back, and access to more than 40,000 ATMs nationwide. Online bank Ally offers free checking and rebates on ATM fees and ING Direct's checking and saving accounts are popular for higher-than-average interest rates and other fee-free services.

Switching to fee-free bank account can be harder that it seems, however. As reported in Huffington Post last month, some banks including Bank of America, can reopen closed accounts if electronic deposits or charges are made to the account, even by accident.