Friday, September 30, 2011

Bank fees and bullshit

About a month ago while making a fairly routine transaction via phone banking I was informed by the customer service representative that they were now using a security token to increase the security of all accounts. I could purchase the token for the very low 'introductory' price of $20.

Er, no thanks. A security token, in my opinion, adds needlessly complicated additional steps without really adding all that much security, since it's a physical device that can be just as easily stolen as my cards, pin number or account details.

It was at this point I was informed that the use of the security token was now compulsory on all accounts and I had 30 days to purchase one at the low, introductory price of $20 or my accounts would no longer have access to the 'pay anyone' feature or the 'bpay' feature. Essentially, my money would be held hostage unless I physically withdrew it from an ATM or branch. On top of this, the security token fee would be increased to $49.95.

I was instantly outraged. No matter which way you look at it, it's another bank fee. I already pay a monthly service fee, ATM fees, excess transaction fees, card fees, EFTPOS fees, in-branch withdrawal fees, a passbook fee, direct debit fees, in-branch transfer fees, phone banking fees. I'm think, but I may have to double check, I also get charged a fee for walking past the bank branch or for thinking about making a transaction. This blog is probably costing me $8.50.

The token was the last straw. I pointed out to the customer service representative that at the rate they are charging me fees I won't have any money left to protect.

"We do offer a rebate to offset some fees. Would you like me to see if you are eligible?" This actually flawed me. It seems the bank is charging so many fees that many of their customers can't actually afford them and go into overdraft (which of course attracts a fee) so they offset that in some cases.

"How about instead of offering a rebate, you just charge less fees?" I said. "This security token is just another bank fee."

"Well we are selling it to you at cost." She said and I took a deep breath.

"I guess you'd like me to thank you, a major bank who's boasted record profits in the last financial year, for not making additional profit off what is largely an unnecessary process you've forced on me." There was silence. "If the bank feels that this level of security is necessary to protect it's customers than the bank needs to absorb that cost or else implement a more cost effective system."

"I understand your concerns but we can't do that." At the end of this conversation we were at a stalemate. The bank refused to waive the fee and I refused to pay it. I made several more telephone calls and emails all with pretty much the same result. They understood my concerns, they just didn't care.

After pissing and moaning about it for 27 of the 30 days they'd given me, I went into the branch today to close my accounts and move on to greener (and hopefully cheaper) pastures. The teller excused herself when I told her I wanted to close up my accounts and returned with the branch manager.

Now they cared.

The branch manager wanted to have a deep and meaningful discussion about why I was leaving. I told him simply "You've pushed me away with all the bank fees and this ridiculous security token is the last straw. As of next week I won't be able to pay my mortgage unless I pay a $20 fee. So I'm done with this bank."

He put on his concerned face and started making all kinds of helpful suggestions about direct debiting my mortgage. I pointed out that also draws a fee. Yes but it's a lower fee. Had I considered switching my mortgage to them? What if, instead of doing online bank transfers I withdrew more money at the ATM to have less transactions and therefore less fees. He was full of all kinds of helpful suggestions, but rather selfishly, I like to manage my finances around what's convenient for me, not what's convenient for the bank.

"How about you just close my accounts like I asked?"

"Well now, I'm sure we can find some way to help you." He was using a tone now that was starting to really piss me off. The "don't worry your pretty little head about it" tone you often get from salesmen and tradies. If he asked me if I'd spoken to my husband about it I would have to insert a sharp object into his eye. "If the security token fee is what's troubling you, we can waive that."

Are you serious? After how many weeks of infuriating phone calls and emails where they insisted that they can't help me, suddenly, as I'm walking out the door, they can waive the fee. I actually had to close my eyes and count to ten. Afterwards, I smiled sweetly at him.

"I've been banking with you since I was 18. I always thought this bank was one of the better ones." He was smiling proudly now. "But the last few weeks have proven me wrong. You guys don't care. All the good will that was built up is now gone." At this his face turned to stone and he informed me that they require two weeks notice to close accounts.

Is my money employed with them? What is this give notice business? He wouldn't elaborate beyond it being their policy. It seems we were right back to not caring again. He also refused to let me withdrawn the money I had in those accounts because I didn't have my passbook with me, though I did have my ATM card and had always been able to withdrawn that way in the past. "Well you can't now" he said like a petulant child. Annoyed and frustrated I stormed out.

I intend to return (to a different branch) next week and try again. Interestingly, I went to the bank that we have our mortgage with to open an account. I said to the accounts manager "I don't want to pay any fees. I'm serious. I have my mortgage with you so you're already getting two grand a month in interest. I think that's more than enough." He smiled and said "No worries." Then offered to get me a cappuccino.

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  1. Grrrrrrrrrr-ing on your behalf.

  2. Banks have been brilliant in the last thirty years or so to build us toward a cashless society. They understand that customers find it a hassle to carry cash, and that online merchants don't even take cash. They've created a whole economic system that requires a middleman.

    It's the "we can't do that" mentality that has to go. Sure you can. You just can't continue to lavish your self-destructive CEO and board members with outrageous bonuses. How about they actually earn their goddamn salary again, and let the bonus be just that: a fucking bonus! The mentality at large now considers the bonus an obligatory part of employment for the upper class. "I just don't know how I could live without that extra quarter of a million bonus at the end of the year." But, you know, if we don't protect those bonuses for those fat cats they might quit investing and we'll all be unemployed so we should just keep quiet and keep mollifying them.

    Sometimes I think of that scene in Doctor Zhivago where the peasants take control of the large, nice homes and I get jealous. Sure, the Soviet experiment failed, but how satisfying must it have been in 1917 to have been part of that revolution!

  3. Oh god. Go to a Credit Union. I'm with one here in Canada and I don't pay any fees on my normal activities.

  4. @Redact_That It's infuriating.

    @TravisMcClain I can't help but feel like this bank has forgotten that I am the customer. It treats me like it's doing me a favour by letting me bank with them. If this attitude has filtered down to the tellers, I can only imagine that the mentality of the upper management. Some house storming is probably just the kick in the pants they need!

    @BrightSide The truly sad part about it is that this particular bank started out as a credit union. They were all about community banks owned by and run for the community. :-(

  5. It's true just like any other business banks have a right to make a profit. If you listen to the guy who says we need to go back to smaller banks guess what that would turn that bank into a larger bank wouldn't it, how can you move ahead if you go backwards. Nice try buddy. Will I continue using banks, well of course we all do unless you plan on asking your employer to pay you in cash and stuff it in your mattress. Our most important thing in our lives is our financials and to keep that in order I will pay for those services. 5 dollars get over it, I don't see you canceling your 50 dollar cable bill if your so pinched for cash.

  6. Hi Anonymous, Thanks for your comment. I don't have a problem with banks making a profit. I actually prefer they make a profit since if they didn't the chances of my money being secure in there would be quite slim. No, what I have a problem with is banks charging copious amounts of fees for services they make compulsory but that aren't actually necessary.

    I'm not sure where you got that this was all over $5 and it's not about being strapped for cash. Just as a bank wants to make a profit, I want value for my money. As a consumer it's my responsibility to shop around for the best deal, it's what keeps industries competitive. I mean, you wouldn't pay $50 for 'cable' if you could get it for $30 would you?

  7. I love it!! Keep up the good work for the rest of us apathetic ones.

  8. I hate all banks. That's pretty much all they do all day is sit around and think up new ways to charge you more fees. All of there fees are complete bull and the few that are justifiable are completely over charged ok I made a mistake probably cost them 7 or 8 bucks but they charge you close to 20. I know for a fact some banks will mess with what charges are coming and going first with the goal of trying to get you to over withdraw your account so they can surprise charge you another fee then when you cant pay that right away so now your account is negative after so many days surprise another fee o now your mad and want to close your account guess what another fee