Don't fool yourself into thinking that Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) actually wants your business. If anything, quite frankly, it'd probably rather have nothing to do with you and your measly checking account. Take your business elsewhere; it doesn't care.

I say that with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek, but there's some truth to it. In 2011, Moebs Services estimated that the average checking account costs the nation's biggest banks between $350 and $450 a year. Meanwhile, the average revenue per account was $268 a year. That leaves a sizable deficit that must either be recorded as a loss or recouped elsewhere.

Needless to say, Bank of America most assuredly did not choose the former route. Also needless to say, the ways in which it recouped the deficit were not popular among its customers. Lest you have any doubt, I encourage you to read the comments readers left on this article.

Its decisions in this regard have not been consequence-free. In addition to the tens of billions of dollars in regulatory fines, legal settlements, and litigation expenses that it's racked up over the past few years, it's also suffered considerable reputational damage.

A 2007 survey by J.D. Power & Associates put Bank of America at or near the top of its peer group in every region of the country in terms of customer satisfaction. By contrast, the same survey this year ranked it as the worst-performing bank across the board.

These issues, in turn, go a long way toward explaining why the banking behemoth has had, as my colleague Amanda Alix described it, an attack of the warm and fuzzies.

In a letter to employees at the beginning of the year, CEO Brian Moynihan emphasized that the bank must clean up its act if it's to have any hope of competing against the likes of JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo, of which consistently outperform the Charlotte-based lender when it comes to customer satisfaction. "It just boils down to being better than we are today," Moynihan said in a video played at the gathering.

But whether the bank is genuine remains to be seen. I say this for two reasons. First, as we've come to find out, multiple former employees have alleged that they were instructed by superiors to lie to customers seeking mortgage modifications under the 2009 Home Affordable Modification Program.

And second, in a presentation on the bank's "customer relationship model" at a recent industry conference, the bank made a point to distinguish between its "retail" and "preferred" customer bases.


Retail Customers

Preferred Customers

Number of customers

40 million

8 million

Total Deposits

$117 billion

$273 billion

Average Deposits



Source: Bank of America investor relations.

While the former outnumber the latter by a factor of 5-to-1, the principal strategic objective with respect to its retail base concerned cutting the costs associated with servicing their accounts. Meanwhile, its top priority with respect to preferred customers was "deepening the relationship."

The Foolish bottom line
At the end of the day, there's no getting around the fact that Bank of America is a business that owes a duty to its shareholders to maximize profits. At the same time, one can't help but wonder whether choosing its shareholders over its customers will ultimately accomplish this objective.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.