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Con: Fees, uncertainty may strain customer relationships with banks

By ALLISON MILES
Nov. 13, 2011 at 5:13 a.m.


Larger banks' decision to add fees to make up for lost revenue might be shortsighted, a Victoria banker said.

People maintain their relationships with banks on principle, said Ken Olan, executive vice president and chief retail and marketing officer for First Victoria National Bank. Such charges might leave bad tastes in people's mouths, even if they aren't the ones facing the fees.

"I think customers want to know they're being treated fairly," Olan said, noting First Victoria does not charge a debit fee. "It's a trust issue."

Banks find themselves maintaining precarious balancing acts as they attempt to keep revenue up, costs down and customers happy, said Carol Kaplan, a spokeswoman with the American Bankers Association. At this point, it's too early to know how most banks will handle the situation, she said.

"Every bank is going to do whatever it can to have the type of deposit products that are going to be most appealing," she said.

Wells Fargo in October instituted a pilot program across five states - Oregon, New Mexico, Nevada, Georgia and Washington - to test a possible $3 monthly debit card fee, said Joe Stroop, a company spokesman. The goal was to gauge customer reaction and see if people were willing to pay such fees.

"They told us they would not," Stroop said, explaining the company canceled the program and has no plans to institute such fees down the line. "Our practice as a company is to listen to our customers. They said they didn't want it, and we did not do it."

Bank of America added a $5 monthly fee, but revoked it Nov. 1 because of customer concerns.

"Our customers' voices are most important to us," David Darnell, the company's co-chief operating officer, said in a news release. "As a result, we are not currently charging the fee and will not be moving forward with any additional plans to do so."

Victoria resident Susan Gallagher, who banks with Bank of America, said she was concerned when the $5 charge first made its appearance.

"For us, we felt like, 'You weren't charging us before, so why start now?'" the stay-at-home mother said, noting she began looking into other banking institutions. "It just didn't seem right."

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