By Karen Freifeld
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Santander Bank, N.A. has agreed to change the way it screens applicants for checking and savings accounts, becoming the third bank to reach such a pact with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.
The accord, expected to be announced Friday, comes amid concerns the current screening process makes it harder for lower-income consumers to open accounts, forcing them to rely on high-cost alternatives like check-cashing outlets.
Santander agreed to adopt new policies governing its use of ChexSystems, Inc., a consumer-reporting agency used to analyze the banking histories of consumers who apply for accounts.
Citigroup's Citibank agreed last month to change how it used ChexSystems, as did Capital One, a unit of Capital One Financial Corp, in June.
Such databases often punish lower-income consumers for relatively small financial errors, according to Schneiderman.
Santander now uses a scoring product for basic checking account applicants that screens for the risk of loss and fraud, according to a copy of the agreement obtained by Reuters.
Under the agreement, it will only screen to see whether an account was closed based on a report of earlier fraud, or for Santander accounts that were overdrawn, closed and not paid back.
Maria Tedesco, Santander's managing director of retail banking, said the agreement should "make it easier for consumers who might have been denied services based on their banking history the ability to open checking or savings accounts."
In New York, 9.7 percent of households do not have a bank relationship, according to a study cited by Schneiderman's office.
Nancy Orlando, a bank spokeswoman, said the changes would be implemented at the bank's U.S. branches, located in the Northeast, by Sept. 30th.
Santander took over Sovereign Bank in 2009 and changed its name to Santander in 2013. It is a unit of Spain's Santander Group.
CheckSystems, which is owned by FIS, said it was not involved in account decisions. “ChexSystems provides information collected from the financial institutions that are subscribed to its services," a ChexSystems spokeswoman said. "ChexSystems does not make any decisions regarding if consumers are granted services."
Schneiderman also has been looking into JPMorgan Chase & Co over its use of customer-screening databases, according to a person familiar with the matter.
A JPMorgan spokeswoman declined comment.
(Reporting By Karen Freifeld; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)