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Banking by Design: A New Way to Bank

Information for this post provided by Union Bank.

Ever get frustrated with your bank? Ever wonder why you have to pay for features or services you never use, or why the details about your bank accounts are so difficult to read and understand?

I’ve definitely been there! I’ve written before about my former relationship with overdraft fees and the chaos of trying to figure out what my bank was going to charge me for next. For a long time, I considered going to a cash only system to pay my bills – I was tired of trying to keep up with an ever-changing banking system that seemed determined to cost me as much money as possible. I know from talking to many readers that I’m not the only one who has experienced this.

Enter Union Bank’s new program, Banking by Design.

What is Banking by Design?

Banking by Design is a program that seeks to reinvent the traditional checking account by separating out features and allowing consumers to choose only the ones they need. The Banking by Design checking account provides a greater level of transparency, showing you exactly what fees (if any) you’ll pay and what those fees cover.

For example, do you want to receive paper bank statements every month? I know I don’t! Yet many banks expect me to pay a monthly fee that includes statement delivery as a “service.” And while I can usually opt out of paper statements, I can’t always opt out of the fee. Why should I pay for something I don’t even want? According to Union Bank, I shouldn’t have to.

How Does it Work?

I was so sad to learn that Banking by Design is only available in California right now. (It will be rolling out soon in other states where Union Bank has branches, though.) But that didn’t stop me from using the only California zip code I know – 90210, of course! – to take a look at the account configuration options. Note: Never use fake information to sign up for a bank account. I did not actually complete the application process; I just wanted to view the options.

Once I entered the zip code, I was taken straight to the configuration page:

First and most important – the Banking by Design account comes with a standard fee of $3 a month. It’s listed right at the top of the screen. However, you can waive that fee with a direct deposit of at least $250 each month. That amount is much lower than the $500 or $1000 most other banks require to avoid a monthly fee.

Next, you can select from a number of account features (many of which are free) such as online banking and text alerts. Since I don’t need things like a safe deposit box, paper statements, or the ability to receive wire transfers, I was able to configure a completely free checking account with all the features I use regularly, except for bill pay, which is $1.50/mo. (though it’s free until December 31, 2013).

I wasn’t able to complete the entire process since I don’t live in California, but I love the way Banking by Design allowed me to see all the options upfront and select them according to the monthly cost. The monthly cost for a Banking by Design account is whatever you set up in the beginning, with no hidden fees or “oops, we forgot to mention this” charges.

The Bottom Line

For someone who has difficulty keeping up with finances (like I used to), Banking by Design is a great way to control your checking account. You can select all the features you need without paying for ones you don’t, which is a total change from the way most bank accounts operate. Personally, I love the idea of a customizable bank account and can’t wait to see the impact of Union Bank’s Banking by Design on the offerings from other banks and companies. If you’re in California and decide to try out Banking by Design, I hope you’ll let me know what you think of it!

What do you think – are customizable checking accounts what America needs to revolutionize the banking industry? Would something like this help you feel more comfortable using a traditional bank?


  1. What a good idea! i hope other banks catch on and follow suit and fast! if union bank was online i would switch today I'm so over…bank fees! LOL see what i did there <——

  2. I like the idea of knowing exactly what is available and what the fees would be. But I think I'll still stick with ING and no fees until they start sucking now that they've been bought out. If that happens, I've heard good things about Ally too. I like the idea of having almost everything available at no additional cost at all. But Banking by Design beats the hinkier ways of regular banks any day…

  3. Great articles. Most of the banks are aggressively charging you without cause. Base on my personal experience, even though I have enough balance, they will call to report that you are short of fund for your check, because the certain amount they already deducted for check penalty. If bank didn’t touch my account balance, my fund will be enough.
    I am praying that one day all banking system will improve with high quality customer service and without collecting hidden charges.

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