Now Your Teller Could Be Less of a Tell-All

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Banks used to market themselves based on service, convenience and low checking fees. From now on, they could also tout themselves on the basis of who's the least annoying. That's after Chase Manhattan, America's third largest bank, announced Tuesday that it will no longer sell information about its customers' finances to telemarketers, and won't release any information at all without written consent. It wasn't an entirely selfless move — New York attorney general Elliot Spitzer, who accused Chase of violating the self-imposed contract terms of its new accounts, nudged the bank into reform.

But it could prove to be profitable. While no other major banks have so far indicated a willingness to follow Chase's lead, that will surely change if the bank can leverage its new hassle-free status into a marketing tool. All things being equal, it's hard to imagine anyone not choosing the bank that shields them from name-butchering telemarketers trying to push life insurance or investment "opportunities." The reform drew immediate praise from consumer groups, including the Consumers Union and the ACLU, which, in the wake of computerization, have increasingly focused on protecting the privacy of personal data. In response to these lobbying efforts, Congress passed a law in November that prevents banks from releasing a customer's financial data to outside firms if the customer asks them not to (which doesn't go as far as Chase's move to require consent before selling the info), and some states have recently enacted "do not call" laws in which individuals can place their phone number in a registry of numbers that's off-limits to telemarketers. Soon they'll be back to knocking on doors...