11/21/2011 01:44 pm ET

Debit Card Fee Debacle: Big Banks Could Lose $185 Billion In Deposits Next Year, Report Finds

Big bank interest in netting a profit on the backs of customers may end up backfiring.

The top 10 retail banks are projected to lose $185 billion in deposits over the next year if they don't address consumer concerns, according to a recent study from cg42, a firm that consults with banks. Bank of America, Citibank, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo account for nearly three-quarters of the loss, the study found.

Big banks riled customers over the summer and into the fall when they started announcing they would charge fees for once-free services. Consumers, lawmakers and even President Obama criticized Bank of America for proposing to charge customers $5 to use their debit cards for purchases starting in 2012. The bank, and others including Wells Fargo and JPMorgan Chase, ultimately backed away from the fee after waves of criticism.

Still, the backtracking wasn't enough to keep consumers happy. More than 650,000 customers joined credit unions between September 29 -- the day Bank of America announced the fee -- and the first week in November, according to the Credit Union National Association. That's more than the 600,000 that joined credit unions in all of 2010.

In addition, 40,000 new members joined credit unions on November 5 alone, the culmination of a social media push known as "Bank Transfer Day" to encourage consumers to take their money out of banks and put them into credit unions.

Some banks may be suffering more than others from consumer ire, the cg42 report found. BofA has the highest level of "brand vulnerability" -- a measure of a company's risk of losing its customers and potential financial loss that could result from consumer frustration -- according to the report. Citibank and Wells Fargo round out the top three.

Wells Fargo is slated to lose the most in deposits over the next year, the report found. Cg42 estimates that the fourth-largest U.S. bank by assets will lose $48 billion in deposits over the next year if it doesn't address customer concerns. The firm projects that BofA will lose $42 billion in deposits in the next 12 months.

BofA netted $6.2 billion in profits last quarter and Citigroup earnings were up 74 percent. Wells Fargo took home a net income that fell short of analysts' estimates.