It is with much interest that I have been following Crikey’s debate regarding bank fees. Interest for a couple of reasons.

First, I do not believe some of the fees are fair and a bank’s ability to charge them is questionable. Second, as a bank manager, I see my obligations as a constant struggle between managing the relationships of my customers and balancing my responsibility always (and I mean always) to increase profit returns from my business, a retail banking branch.

Fees are a daily issue with my customer base. My branch is in a socio-economic area that has (in my opinion) a higher proportion of customers whose account behaviour exposes them to fees for payments that are either late, dishonoured or honoured.

A favourite fee (in jest) of mine is applied to an automatic transfer between several of a customer’s accounts, especially when there are insufficient funds. If the payment is forced through, the customer is charged a $35 honour fee so the payment is made as requested. Given that this payment will overdraw the customer’s account, the customer is then charged a $35 overdraw fee. So that’s $70, charged automatically for transferring some money a customer didn’t have from one account they own to another! Yes, I agree, this just defies logic to me, but we live in an ever-increasingly automated world…

I have a simple rule – if I wouldn’t have expected a fee to be charged for a situation, then I don’t expect my customers to pay it and I will then refund it. Simple.

This doesn’t mean I am in the business of reversing fees. Accounts have rules or limits and these are there for a purpose; if someone makes a choice to break these and expects or anticipates a fee, then I cannot help. I will do my best to restructure or change accounts to minimise fees to best match my customers needs.

Retail banking is a service-based industry and in a user-pays society, a fee for service is not a new concept. Having said that, I see new fees introduced or existing fees increased on a regular basis and from my professional perspective, for little other reason other than to increase direct revenues.

This leaves a bad taste in my mouth, given that we are always told to focus on the needs of our customer. Sure! easy! But do they need more fees and charges?

Author’s note: I wish to remain anonymous as I have little to no doubt my comments are beyond my position’s ability to comment on behalf of my employer. I have not quoted any official policy of my employer, simply my views and approaches. But I feel they will not see the distinction.

Peter Fray

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