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Bank provides college ID that doubles as ATM card

A Sovereign Bank at Logan Airport.

Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe

A Sovereign Bank ATM at Logan Airport.

Sovereign Bank is providing smart ID cards to two colleges that will not only get students into dormitories, but may also help get Sovereign into their wallets.

The identifications, free to Wheelock College in the Fenway and Mount Ida College in Newton,will double as a Sovereign ATM card. Students don’t have to open Sovereign accounts, but as part of the agreements with the schools, Sovereign automated teller machines will be installed in student activity centers, Sovereign said Thursday.

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Jackie Jenkins-Scott, president of Wheelock, said the school hopes to save money and simplify students’ lives by providing bank functions on the card. It will contain two strips and keep information about college life, dormitory entrances, and spending on meals and books, she said, separate from the bank account.

Sovereign won’t have access to the student data, she said.

“We really liked the program that Sovereign offered for privacy and protection,” Jenkins-Scott said. “We’re looking forward to seeing how it evolves.”

The front of the card looks like any other college ID, emblazoned with the school logo and a photo of the student. Sovereign, and its parent company’s name, Santander, are on the back corner of the card.

Wheelock and Mount Ida are two of the first Boston-area colleges to adopt dual cards, Sovereign said. But such programs are increasingly popular as financial institutions chase the college market and move beyond free Frisbees, keychains, and other promotions they have relied on for years to land students as depositors.

According to the consumer organization United States Public Interest Research Group Education Fund, 129 colleges and universities have such ID-ATM card partnerships with banks. They include the University of North Carolina, Temple University, the University of Minnesota, and Northwestern University.

College students have always been an important market for banks, because they tend to stick with their accounts after they graduate.

College graduates also earn more and are likely to need some of the bank’s other products in the future, including home mortgages and auto loans.

Meanwhile, universities and colleges, strapped for funding following state and federal budget cuts, are turning to ID card programs to reduce costs, as well as to build partnerships that could lead to sponsorships and naming rights that can bring in millions of dollars, say analysts.

But these deals have also caught the attention of regulators. This year, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau launched an inquiry into debit cards and other products marketed to college students after receiving complaints.

Laws enacted since 2008 have targeted the aggressive marketing of credit cards to students. But the same rules — limiting giveaways and requiring universities to disclose their financial agreements with banks — do not apply to the debit cards, said Rohit Chopra, the student loan ombudsman with the consumer bureau.

“Students should know they’re not required to use the checking account and debit card product endorsed by the school,” Chopra said. “What’s in the best interest of the student is not always what’s chosen by schools.”

Deirdre Cummings, legislative director for the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group, an advocacy organization, said the partnerships allow banks to market to a college’s student body and save the school money, so students should share in the benefits.

Colleges and universities should negotiate lower student bank fees and other protections in these deals, Cummings said.

“It’s the university’s responsibility to get the best deal for their students,” she said.

Wheelock College did not ask for lower fees, Jenkins-Scott said. “We didn’t try to interfere with the bank’s business,” she said.

The school already had a relationship with Sovereign and uses the bank for its own accounts.

This summer, Sovereign gave Wheelock a $100,000 grant for financial literacy and other programs.

At Mount Ida, as part of the rollout of the cards on Thursday, its social media sites provided links for students and faculty to open accounts with Sovereign.

While these are Sovereign’s first college ID card partnerships in the United States, the bank’s Spanish parent, Banco Santander SA, has issued more than 6 million cards worldwide. Sovereign, soon to be rebranded as Santander, hopes to expand the program.

“Establishing new customer relationships is very important to the bank, and we’re committed to helping young people manage their finances responsibly,” said Eduardo Garrido, director of Santander Universities, the bank division that develops partnerships with colleges and universities.

Deirdre Fernandes
can be reached at deirdre.fernandes@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @fernandesglobe.
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