Federal treasurer Peter Costello says he has told the country’s big banking groups that they are to limit or cut entry and exit fees on bank accounts to as close to zero as possible.

Speaking on the Virginia Trioli program on ABC local radio in Sydney this morning, Costello said he had called the banks to a meeting to discuss fees and other banking matters (mortgage lending practices have been previously mentioned).

He was replying to questions about the latest Reserve Bank study on bank fees, which revealed the country’s banks lifted non interest fees and charges 4% in the year to 31 March to more than $9 billion. That was an increase of $330 million to $9.25 billion, but that was the smallest increase for nine years, a point the bankers’ mouthpieces grabbed onto, saying that it represented the impact of competition.

“Exit fees and entry fees should be low to zero and you should be able to get out of one bank easily and move into another,” Costello said. “I do give notice to the banks that exit and entry fees should be as low as possible”

But when asked what he would do if they weren’t, Costello said he would look at the issue “step by step” – that’s pretty mealy-mouthed from the man who has presided over the emergence and maintenance of the banking oligopoly that’s dominated by the Big Five, NAB, ANZ, Westpac, Commonwealth and St George.