BANKS and financial institutions have become notorious for finding myriad ways to charge their clients fees for the various products and services they offer. Some banks, for example, charge clients for checking the balance on their accounts from a bank teller machine. The fact that people find such practices objectionable was driven home when this particular fee was recognised as the Most Absurd Bank Fee of 2012, in a survey carried out by Czech website Bankovnipoplatky.com and the Hospodárske Noviny financial daily.
The fee received 8,227 votes, i.e. it was picked by 36 percent of people who attended the survey. Taking second place was a fee for managing a mortgage or credit account, with 4,927 votes (22 percent), followed by a charge for receiving an account balance receipt via e-mail, which received 3,756 votes (17 percent). In fourth place was a fee for establishing or changing the standing order for payments from accounts, with 3,571 votes (16 percent), and in fifth was a fee for having a third party deposit money directly at the counter, which earned 2,247 votes (10 percent).
The survey took place in two rounds and was conducted with 53,495 bank clients from the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
“The aim of the survey is to point out the nonsensical and absurd banking fees about which the banks’ clients complain, and to contribute to their reduction,” Patrik Nacher, owner of Bankovnipoplatky.com, told The Slovak Spectator.
He added that another aim is to initiate a dialogue over such fees as well as the quality of banking services in general, and relations between banks and their customers.
Moreover, the fact that several banks have either abolished the fee or reduced its price shows that the banks consider such survey results to be “relevant feedback”, Nacher said. He added that some of them even use the term “the most absurd fee” in their advertising campaigns.
Fees at Slovak banks
At the moment there are several banks in Slovakia which charge their clients for checking their balances via bank teller machines, the public-service broadcaster Slovak Radio reported on March 1.
While most of these banks, inluding Slovenská Sporiteľňa, charge their clients for checking the balance via the teller machines of other banks, ČSOB charges its clients for checking the balance on its own teller machines, SRo informed.
ČSOB spokesperson Zuzana Eliášová told The Slovak Spectator that the fees cover banks’ expenses that are linked with certain services, including the fee for using the bank teller machine to find out one’s account balance.
When asked about the possible influence of such inquiries on setting bank fees, Eliášová said that the bank “regularly re-evaluates the portfolio of offered products and services and evaluates their cost ratio”. But she stressed that the client can still choose between various products that are either cheaper or free of charge.
Štefan Frimmer, spokesperson for Slovenská Sporiteľňa, explained that the bank charges for checking one’s account balance from the teller machines of other banks because such services result in additional costs for the bank.
“Our ambition is not to set the fees based on surveys, but to offer the clients simple and understandable banking services for an appropriate price, in which we are successful,” Frimmer told The Slovak Spectator, adding that the bank tries to prepare the fees in such a way that its customers are aware of what they are paying.
Frimmer also said that while they do read the results of such surveys, they do not have any influence on the final decision over fees.
Consumer pressure vs. legislative changes
Among the changes to the law on banks passed at a government session on February 20 was a rule that prevents banks and other financial institutions from charging clients for managing their credit accounts.
The only exception to the ban is if a client asks for an additional service, like having information on the current state of a credit account periodically delivered to him/her, the TASR newswire reported.
Nacher says that the approach towards the regulation of fees in the Czech Republic and Slovakia differs. While in the Czech Republic changes often depend on pressure from clients, in Slovakia changes are often brought on by politicians and legislation.
The main difference is that in the case of the former, the clients unite and demand changes. The banks may resist these changes at first, but eventually one of them may decide to change its rules on charging clients. Though the banks’ responses may differ, you can actually see the change, and clients might choose between the different products and services they offer. Yet, in the latter case, the law abolishes the fee at once, which in fact eliminates the competitiveness between the banks in terms of the benefits they offer, Nacher said.
“Basically, the banks, which should fight for the client […], will unite [and] will have one enemy – the state,” Nacher explained, adding that the ones who will pay for this will be the clients.
11. Mar 2013 at 0:00 | Radka Minarechová